Towards useful research to build social policies

Towards useful research to build social policies

The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) wishes to promote the dialogue between research and action. This is the objective of a round table, which will be open to the general public on June 21st, 2013 in Geneva. Prominent political and social figures will debate with scholars, under the guidance of journalist Esther Mamarbachi. Taking the example of family policies, participants will aim at targeting domains where new instruments are necessary to face the changing family structures and life courses. They will discuss the means to reach better knowledge transfer between researchers, policy makers and leaders of social organisations.

The round table on June 21st at Uni Mail – “How social sciences and society can meet? The building of family policy into question” – will gather several personalities representing the political sphere, the social domain or the academic community: Jean Blanchard, general secretary of the « Mouvement populaire des familles » (grassroots movement for family), Liliane Maury Pasquier, senator at the Swiss Council of States and vice-president of the Commission on Social Security and Public Health, Lucrezia Meier-Schatz, member of the Swiss National Council and director of Pro Familia, Sylvie Reverdin-Raffestin, director of Pro Juventute Geneva and president of the Cantonal Commission on Family, Walter Schmid, director of the Department of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Lucerne and president of the Swiss Conference for Social Welfare, and Dario Spini, professor of social psychology at the University of Lausanne and director of the NCCR LIVES.

Many researchers in social sciences will be present in the audience as this event will take place at the end of a two-day scientific conference on the topic of “Resources in Times of Vulnerability”. Esther Mamarbachi, who presents the Swiss TV programme “Infrarouge”, will moderate the round table. The organisers of the NCCR LIVES 2nd international conference are very much looking forward to the event. According to Floriane Demont, member of the scientific committee of the conference and equality officer within LIVES, “the interest of this round table is to be as much as possible in touch with the stakeholders’ concerns regarding family policies, to better understand their needs, in order for academic research to respond. We also aim at making LIVES competences known, so as to create links and to exchange on these questions.”

Innovative social policy measures

This is an important issue for the NCCR LIVES. For it got support from the Swiss National Science Foundation partly because of its ambition to enhance progress in the fight against vulnerability, by contributing to the development of innovative social policy measures. However, to do so, research results must reach the policy makers. Subjects of studies can also be inspired by the realities on the ground. Scholars should therefore create links with social actors working in the field. The way to implement this mix and match between research and action still has to be found.

The organisers of the LIVES conference thought the topic of family policy would be particularly pertinent in order to create bridges between research and action, as the family structures and life courses have changed a lot indeed during the past 30 years. This poses new challenges, for instance in the pursuit of work-life balance, or because of scarcity suffered by many families, notably single parent or immigrant households. Then arises the question of inventing new legislative and institutional instruments. Research can act as a source of proposals if new transmission channels are implemented to inspire studies and communicate results.

Bring the academic world closer to political leaders and the civil society in order to lay the foundations ofresearch that would be really useful to the people : Within the NCCR LIVES, the round table on June 21st could be a first step.

Researchers in the social sciences examine health research

Researchers in the social sciences examine health research

Members of the NCCR LIVES are involved in a symposium organized by the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences on June 14, 2013 at the University of Freiburg under the title: "Health Research. Perspectives in social sciences. "

The objectives of the conference are as follows:

  • Demonstrate the specific and innovative contribution made by the social sciences in the field of health research
  • Present and discuss the central concepts of dynamic health research oriented towards living quality and the structure of everyday life, including identification of their consequences and implications as well as associated methodological challenges
  • Develop new, forward-looking fields of research which have previously seen little study
  • Provide momentum for a research agenda creating new focal points and consolidation of expertise
  • Establish networks between participants spread across numerous disciplines and institutions
  • Help with the institutional integration of social science health research

The preparatory group is composed of Claudine Burton-Jeangros (University of Geneva, head of NCCR LIVES IP10), Céline Schmid-Botkine (FORS), Peter Farago (FORS, member of NCCR LIVES IP15), Dominique Joye (University of Lausanne, head of NCCR LIVES IP15), Mike Martin (University of Zurich), Julie Page (ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences), Martine Stoffel (SAGW, Bern), Markus Zürcher (SAGW, Bern).

The director of the NCCR LIVES, Dario Spini, will give a plenary lecture entitled "Vulnerability and resilience in life - knowledge and implications for research and practice," and the head of IP2, Claudio Bolzman, will participate in workshop II "Vulnerability and resilience in the life course".

Photo Reto Bürgin

Prof. Glen H. Elder, Jr.: "Studying Lives in Changing Times: a Life-Course Journey"

Distinguished by a doctorate Honoris Causa from the University of Geneva, the famous life course specialist shared on April 18, 2013 with NCCR LIVES members and a broader public some key facts of his biography tinged with elements of the paradigm that he played a role in developing.

For those who were on another planet than the social sciences for the last 50 years, let us start by noting who Glen Elder is. Howard W. Odum Distinguished Professor of sociology and psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA), he is the author of Children of the Great Depression.

First published in 1974 and many times reprinted in enlarged editions, this book is a major reference for the life course paradigm. It shows how the economic and social crisis of 1929 in the United States differently affected children born in 1920-1921 and those of 1928-1929. Whereas the youngest cohort had a very tough start in life because of family responses to hardship including coping with scarcity and emotional strain, the oldest cohort was indeed too old to be as vulnerable to family strain and too young to encounter the problems that their parents experienced in the labor market.

Prof. Elder was invited on April 18, 2013 at the University of Geneva for a lecture in the series of public conferences on Vulnerability in the Life Course organized by the Institute for Population and Life Course Studies (IDEMO) and the National Center of Competence in Reseach LIVES. On this occasion, he received in person the doctorate Honoris Causa that the University of Geneva had awarded him last fall during the Dies Academicus. He then gave a talk about his career in relation to the evolving field of life course studies, as viewed in terms of the following paradigmatic principles:

"Linked lives"
Lives are lived interdependently, and relationships shape how individuals interpret life events.

Glen Elder’s mother was an English teacher, who gave him for a lifelong interest in biographies. His father moved from a medical profession to farming: Prof. Elder feels he owes him his sense of innovation.

"Timing of lives"
The impact of life transitions depends on when they occur.

The Elder family moved to the countryside when Glen was 14 years old. “Before that I was a city-kid.” He thus went the opposite way compared to the majority. Once a student in social psychology, he also worked as an orientation counselor for the university, which gave him the idea for his master thesis on “Transition to College”.

"Lives in time and place"
We are the product of a context.

Longitudinal studies started in the 30’s in the United States. When Glen Elder became a post-doctoral researcher in the 60’s, he joined a University of California team that was working on the data that made him famous. Much has happened since then. “Life course publications were less than 50 per year in 1992. They are now above 600 per year. (…) Some of the students we trained are now sitting on the review committees,” rejoices Prof. Elder. “You are in the golden days now. Data are available!”

"Life span development"
Human beings develop beyond childhood - biologically, socially, and psychologically.

“It took me a life to develop a full understanding of the life course.” “Study after study, I saw repetitions, recurrent things,“ which became the material for his theories.

"Human agency"
Humans are not passive but are able to make decisions that shape their lives.

“My boss in Berkeley was continuously fighting for funds to support longitudinal studies in Washington. As a result, I had room to be creative.” “I had to innovate to minimize cost of data collection.” Mixed method was the way: “Qualitative data in the archive enabled us to recode, which enabled us to address new questions.”

Today aged 79, Glen Elder says: “One of the most noted observations of my career is the centrality of resilience in difficult times. Vulnerability and inequality are a cumulative process, but there are always ways out.” The same concept applies to himself. Outside the lecture room, he confesses: "I became a widow after 45 years of happy marriage. Three years later I met Sandy, and she brought light back in my life. I would never have expected such a miracle."

LIVES international conference

"Resources in Times of Vulnerability: Multidisciplinary Perspectives", with lectures by seven international keynote speakers and six LIVES senior members, University of Geneva, June 20-21, 2013, followed by a round table with different stakeholders to discuss the relationship between research and building of social policies.

Marc Perrenoud on double bass, wit Howard S. Becker on piano (a great interactionist sociologist), during the symposium "Howard Becker and the worlds of art" in 2010 (International Cultural Center of Cerisy-la Salle, France)

"Ordinary musicians": a job category, which UNIL listens to

Marc Perrenoud, a senior lecturer, researcher at the NCCR LIVES, and two assistants are conducting a qualitative study of "workday" musicians in Switzerland: people who are more familiar with insecurity than fame, and who are in practice more artisans than artists.

In the musical pecking order, there are performers with top billing whose sounds people pay to listen to reverently. Then, below, there is a whole range of musicians people listen to randomly at a trendy bar or a festival, or to whom they lend just half an ear in a restaurant or on a street corner. "We do not listen in the same way to different types of musicians, depending on whether we consider them artists, partners in an event or just auxiliary staff in the background. This typology is much more significant to the musician's status than the type of music they play," explains Marc Perrenoud, sociologist and researcher for project No. 6 at the LIVES National Center of Competence in Research: "Vulnerability at the Interface of Professional and Family Life: Gender and Occupational Differentials".

Since September 2012, assisted by two students working on their master's degrees, Frédérique Leresche and Jérôme Chapuis, Marc Perrenoud has been doing research in (mainly French-speaking) Switzerland on the musicians who struggle to live off their talents. Between the three of them, they have already conducted about 50 semi-structured interviews with musicians of all styles, members of a semi-professional group, tea-dance entertainers and street players.

The researchers are musicians themselves

All three researchers have a strong connection to music and the musical scene: Marc Perrenoud himself plays double bass and electric bass; while doing his master's and doctorate in France, he played about 600 times in very different public contexts, from Manouche jazz groups, to bebop and funk, to electronic post-rock. "My interests as an ethnographer overlapped those as a musician while diversifying and expanding employment options, all of which became research fields," he says.

In Switzerland, initial findings show that most ordinary musicians have a job on the side, often as music teachers, and some benefit from subsidies for their performances, thanks to the creation of associations of which they become employees or beneficiaries. This situation contrasts with that in France, where ordinary musicians are entitled to the special unemployment allowances available for entertainment workers, or in the United States, where they often split their time between the musical scene and a job outside of music just to put food on the table. Music education doesn't have the same importance in these countries as it does in Switzerland, where 20 percent of the population plays an instrument, compared to an average of 8 percent elsewhere, thus offering an almost natural opportunity for music professionals.

To be or not to be a professional musician

Living entirely from their passion, performing a range of tasks that include teaching - does this make musicians more legitimate? "Some of them seem to think so. But they could also be seen as similar to sports or art teachers, whose profession is different from those of athletes or visual artists," says Perrenoud. "We're still defining the scope of our subject, a basic scientific attitude that is too often neglected. It is all the more necessary in our case, because we are starting without a predefined list, with no filter created by others, since it is still virgin territory," he says. "In any case, we're adopting an interactionist approach, by working in the field, and we define musicians as those whose peers say they are. In France, I noticed that ordinary musicians tend to portray themselves as artisans rather than as artists. This is mainly due to their relationship with musical creation. If you're unknown, you're more often hired to play cover versions than your own music. This tension between art and profession necessarily makes them "lower-level" artists. But in Switzerland, the situation might be different, because they are less exposed to the pressure of playing music sets just to put food on the table..."

A small-scale, fragmented scene

On the other hand, in Switzerland, the musical scene is small-scale and fragmented by cultural regionalism and local subsidies. "If you're known in Bulle, that doesn't mean you'll get a break in Biel. Whereas, in France it is possible to make a local musical career, because there are several large cities where ordinary musicians can play up to 100 times a year within a range of 200 kilometers, with a pool of one million inhabitants."

In several months, once this qualitative study is over, the researchers don't rule out taking a quantitative approach. "That's on the back burner," says Marc Perrenoud, already satisfied by being able to pursue his favorite research subject at LIVES: "We're following careers, which calls for a longitudinal perspective. As for the question of vulnerability, it's not only connected to the economic insecurity that ordinary musicians suffer. We also study it as a process of disaffiliation that can appear in any environment, even one that's economically favorable, as is the case in other IP6 studies of elites, for example. The basic question is why do some people do better than others, what resources are involved..." A well-known tune at LIVES.

Poster of the UNIL Mysteries 2013 © UNIL

Life course perspectives revealed to young visitors at the Mysteries of UNIL

NCCR LIVES welcomes children to the next open house at the University of Lausanne from May 30 to June 2, 2013. At three stands there, researchers will aim to entertain while explaining key concepts of their work on the general theme "The worst and best of all worlds".

Utopia / Dystopia: Two conflicting visions of society in the future that the organizers of the Mysteries of UNIL have chosen as the main theme of the 2013 event on Thursday and Friday, May 30 and 31, and Saturday and Sunday, June 1 and 2. During the University of Lausanne's annual open house, this theme will be illustrated by the vision of a modern Titanic, a symbol of technological ambition and greater material wellbeing that might just turn into the nightmare of a shipwreck.

The LIVES National Center of Competence in Research – Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) has joined the crew to offer three presentations to visitors to Mysteries 2013.

"I am the king of the world!" (Stand No. 5)

At the first stand organized by NCCR LIVES, children will pass through a ship from its hold up to its prow in the style of a snakes and ladders game. On the way, they will run into life course events that will make them advance, retreat or stagnate, such as studying, unexpected health issues or family problems. The idea is to make them understand that we're all in the same boat: an economic crisis, for example, will affect all the players. Some key concepts of life course theory have been applied in a simplified manner to define the rules of the game: linked lives, agency, timing of lives, etc.

"A suitcase for capital goods" (Stand No. 6)

In the next stand, children will have to pack a suitcase to emigrate to a new world, from a pile of suggested items. In this role-play, they will be confronted by stern customs agents, who will check to see if what is in their luggage constitutes enough economic capital, social capital and cultural capital, sociological concepts that NCCR LIVES researchers know well.

"The tip of the iceberg" (Stand No. 7)

Finally, in the third game, human-sized icebergs rise up in front of the visitors, who will discover different shapes that age pyramids may take on depending on the country and period. Players learn about the demographic impact a war or famine has on a generation. They will get a look at the consequences that the falling birth rate and aging population has on modern societies, as well as the impact of high infant mortality in less advanced countries.

A substantial crew

Twenty-five members of NCCR LIVES will take turns over the four days at the three events to supervise the children, backed up by social and political science students. Among the volunteers will be many PhD students, senior researchers and even some professors, including the director and deputy director of the NCCR LIVES. This team represents half the staff of NCCR LIVES at the University of Lausanne. Three PhD students have been especially involved in designing the events, each in his own specialty.

Setting sail for popularization

For a national center of competence in research like LIVES, taking part in Mysteries of UNIL is a great opportunity to popularize the subjects we study, as requested by our financial backer, the Swiss National Science Foundation. This organization says that NCCRs are characterized by "research of outstanding, internationally recognised quality, (as well as) knowledge and technology transfer", especially to the general public.

Thus, young people are invited — with their classes or their families — to pass through the UNIL campus between May 30 and June 2, 2013. The idea is to let them know that social science research can be the best of all worst worlds....

Photo © LVES Hugues Siegenthaler

Publication of a book on active social policy in Europe

Giuliano Bonoli, professor at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) and member of the NCCR LIVES IP4, just published a book with Oxford University Press entitled "The Origins of Active Social Policy: Labour Market Policies and Childcare in a comparative Perspective".

The book of Prof. Giuliano Bonoli is the result of a study conducted as part of a project of the Swiss National Science Foundation and completed in 2010. It focuses on the reorientation of social policies towards promotion of the employment in seven European countries: Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Within the NCCR LIVES IP4 and IDHEAP, Prof. Bonoli researches the impact of activation of social network by the unemployed in their search for work in Switzerland. After following a cohort of job seekers in the Canton of Vaud and having collected data for a year, the team is now entering the phase of analysis. "We are getting the first results," he enthuses.

The themes developed in the book of Prof. Bonoli are not unrelated to his concerns within the NCCR LIVES : "The policies of vocational rehabilitation are one of the instruments of social policy put in place to fight against vulnerability. The study shows how these policies have been developed in Europe for the last twenty years,” he says.


Oxford University Press webpage

Since the mid-1990s European welfare states have undergone a major transformation. Relative to the post-war years, today they put less emphasis on income protection and more on the promotion of labour market participation. This book investigates this transformation by focusing on two fields of social policy: active labour market policy and childcare. Throughout Europe, governments have invested massively in these two areas. The result, a more active welfare state, seems a rather solid achievement, likely to survive the turbulent post-crisis years. Why? Case studies of policy trajectories in seven European countries and advanced statistical analysis of spending figures suggest that the shift towards an active social policy is only in part a response to a changed economic environment. Political competition, and particularly the extent to which active social policy can be used for credit claiming purposes, help us understand the peculiar cross-national pattern of social policy reorientation. This book, by trying to understand the shift towards an active welfare state, provides also an update of political science theories of social policy making.

Giuliano Bonoli, The Origins of Active Social Policy : Labour Market and Childcare Policies in a Comparative Perspective, Oxford University Press, 2013