Photo © Félix Imhof

2-day retreat on "Life Course and Social Policy"

On Tuesday 21st and Wednesday 22nd August, 2012 took place in Charmey (Fribourg) two days of thinking within the LIVES Social Policy Group closely with the IP5 “Overcoming vulnerability to unemployment: Possibilities and limits of the so-called "active" social policies”.

The objective was to compare the concepts and theories in the field of social policy analysis with those of the approach in terms of the life course. Despite the targeting of social policies towards specific age groups and the fact that some measures contribute to (re)produce critical age markers (eg distinguishing between "young" or "retired“), the life course perspective is too seldom found in the literature on the welfare state. The purpose of this retreat was therefore to further explore this relationship between social policy and the life course - particularly focusing on phenomena and situations of vulnerability, such as unemployment, social assistance, poverty or insecurity on the labor market.

The discussion was organized around three themes:

a) Under the heading "Normativity of the welfare state and the life course", a group led by Jean-Pierre Tabin discussed Karl Ulrich Mayer’s and Lutz Leisering’s classic texts on the relationship between the state and the life course. This group was especially interested in standards, categorizations and divisions which are mediated by social policies.

b) A second group led by Jean-François Bickel and Felix Bühlmann focused on the development of dynamic analysis of poverty, a perspective that is experiencing considerable methodological advances in recent years, but - somewhat ironically - experiences difficulties to locate the periods of poverty in a biographical perspective.

c) Youth and transitional labor markets were at the center of interest of a group led by Jean-Michel Bonvin (including on the basis of Dominique Anxo’s and Andreas Walther’s articles). The issue was to explore the similarities between the transitional labor markets perspective and the perspective of the life course. This group concluded that it is especially during transitions between training and employment, between employment and unemployment or between work and family responsibilities, that social policy can help expand the people’s field of possibilities with structural measures - although one should keep an analytical and critical distance towards "activation" policies.

This thinking has shown the potential of linking theories of the life course and those of social policy. But the discussion also made aware of the problems of international comparison, those related to the definition of the state or the ambiguous status of an individual approach to poverty.


Discussed articles

Alcock, P. (2004), “The influence of dynamic perspectives on poverty analysis and anti-poverty policy in the UK”, Journal of Social Policy, 33, no 3: 395–416.

Anxo, D. & C. Erhel (2008), "Irréversibilité du temps, réversibilité des choix ? Les fondements des «marchés transitionnels» en termes de trajectoires de vie", Revue Française de Socio-Économie, 1 : 199-219.

Dif-Pradalier, M., E. Rosenstein & J.-M. Bonvin (2012), “Vocational training as an integration opportunity for struggling young adults? A Swiss case study”, Social Work & Society (online journal), n° 1, 16 pages.

Layte, R. & C. Whelan (2003), “Moving in and out of poverty”, European Societies, 5, n° 2: 167–191.

Leisering, L. (2004), “Government and the life course”, in J. T. Mortimer and M. J. Shanahan (Eds.) Handbook of the Life Course, New York: Kluwer/Springer: 205-228.

Mayer, K.-U. & U. Schoepflin (1989), “The State and the Life Course”, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 15: 187-209.

Pollak, C., B. Gazier et al. (2008), "L’apport des analyses longitudinales dans la connaissance des phénomènes de pauvreté et d’exclusion sociale: un survey de la littérature étrangère".

Sandoval, D. A., M. R. Rank & T. A. Hirschl (2009), “The increasing risk of poverty across the American life course”, Demography, 46, no 4: 717–737.

Tabin, J.-P. & R. Enescu (2013). “Unemployment insurance, normativity and social work: first reflections”, forthcoming in Journal of Comparative Social Work.

Vandecasteele, L. (2010), “Poverty Trajectories after Risky Life Course Events in Different European Welfare Regimes”, European Societies 12, no 2: 257–278.

Walther, A. (2006), “Regimes of youth transitions. Choice, flexibility and security in young people’s experiences across different European contexts”, Nordic Journal of Youth Research, 14(2): 119-139.