Photo Patrick Clenet, Wikipedia

NCCR LIVES strengthens commitment to life course studies at international level

Several members of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES participated in the annual Conference of the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (SLLS) in Amsterdam, September 23-25, 2013. The next conference will take place in Lausanne. See you in 2014!

The National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES) became member of the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies (SLLS) in 2012. NCCR LIVES Director, Dario Spini, is the global representative for Switzerland at the SLLS. He was in Amsterdam for the SLLS International Conference from 23rd to 25th September with other LIVES members in order to present their research.

The title of the conference this year was “Growing Up and Growing Old: Health Transitions Throughout the Lifecourse”. Keynote speakers were Eco de Geus, Professor of Biological Psychology, Co-Director of the Netherlands Twin Registry at the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam, Mark Hayward, Professor of Sociology, Director of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and Mel Bartley, Emeritus Professor of Medical Sociology, Director of the ESRC Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health, University College London.

The sessions covered a variety of topics relating to health in the life course, such as substance use, exercise behaviour, obesity, mental health, education, adolescence and transition to adulthood, old age, socioeconomic background, employment, and more, with about 150 presentations and 30 posters coming from more than 15 countries.

Two LIVES symposia

LIVES members organised two symposia: “At risk situations and well-being: the impact of personal resources”, and “Looking back: functional and psychological health among the generations of Swiss elderly (1979-2012)”.

The first one featured Christian Maggiori (IP7) with “Unemployed professional trajectories – evidences from the first two years of a Swiss longitudinal study”. The researcher showed that when former unemployed individuals find a job that is perceived as unstable, their well-being remain low and quite comparable to that of still unemployed people, whereas the well-being of persons who find a stable job rise up considerably. This finding challenges the dichotomy between employed and unemployed people regarding well-being.

The following presentation by Veronique Eicher (IP9) addressed “Coping with stressful situations in the professional domain”. Then Dario Spini (IP1, IP13) talked about “Social group participation as a coping strategy after the loss of an intimate partner”, and Rachel Fasel, scientific officer at the NCCR LIVES, about “Shattered beliefs: how to cope when the world is not a just place?” (see Book on war traces in former Yugoslavia crosses borders between scientific disciplines).

Other LIVES researchers also presented their work: Gilbert Ritschard, Stéphane Cullati, Mouna Bakouri, Nora Dasoki, Aude Tholomier, Michaela Knecht.

All of them had many opportunities to learn about the methods and findings of important panel studies in other countries like the USA, UK and France, among others.

Next year in Lausanne

The next International Conference of the SLLS will focus on social policy in a life course perspective. The NCCR LIVES team is looking foward to hosting this interdisciplinary event in the premises of the University of Lausanne from 9th to 11th October 2014.

"Lone Parenthood in a Life Course perspective" (Workshop)

The Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES organizes a workshop on June 6-7, 2014, at the University of Lausanne. Abstract submission (between 500 and 2000 characters) is December 15, 2013.

Lone parenthood is an increasing reality in the XXI century, reinforced by the diffusion of divorce and separation. Despite the significance of this phenomenon, current studies and official statistics say relatively little about the process leading to lone parenthood, the nature of such state (transitory, stable, recurrent) and its complementary aspect of non-residential parenthood. How rapidly do single parent re-partner if they do so? How long do people stay lone parents for? What roles do play the age and the number of parents and children? How are roles shared between residential and non-residential parents? How lone parenthood varies between countries, cultures, generations, and institutional settings? What is the role of legal regulations concerning shared custody, parental authority, and financial support to non-residential children?

A life course perspective is essential in order to better understand lone parenthood and non-residential parenthood as part of family dynamics. We address this call to social sciences researchers (demography, sociology, social psychology, political sciences, economics, law) with an interest in the topic of lone and non-residential parenthood. We particularly welcome empirical contributions (quantitative, a qualitative, or mixed methods) taking a life course longitudinal perspective.

The following topics are to be addressed in the workshop:

  • Different forms of lone parenthood (chosen vs. event-driven lone parenthood, in the presence or absence of the non residential parent, etc...).
  • Transitions in and out of lone parenthood and the processes implied in these transitions.
  • Socio-economic, psychological, social well-being of lone parents/non-residential parents.
  • Intergenerational and gender perspectives on lone parenthood/non residential parenthood.
  • Prevalence and characteristics of lone parenthood/non-residential parenthood in comparative perspective (cross national, cross cultural, cross generational comparisons).

The workshop will take place in Lausanne on June 6-7, 2014.

The deadline for the abstract submission (between 500 and 2000 characters) is December 15, 2013. Proposals can be sent to

Scientific committee:
Laura Bernardi (University of Lausanne), Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello (University of Bern), Cornelia Hummel (University of Geneva), Marieke Voorpostel (FORS)

17th European Conference on Personality

The 17th European Conference on Personality (ECP17) will be held at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), from July 15 to July 19, 2014.
NCCR LIVES supports the conference.

Submission is open. The deadlines for abstract submission are the following:

  • Submission of a symposium: February 1, 2014
  • Submission of an oral presentation or a poster: Frebruay 15, 2014
  • Feeback on abstract acceptance: April 14, 2014

More information on

Photo Hugues Siegenthaler

The first “LIVES Doctor” receives the Faculty Award in Economics and Social Sciences in Geneva

Matthias Studer, who was the first doctoral student of the NCCR LIVES to complete his PhD thesis, received on Friday September 20, 2013, a prize of 2000 Swiss francs. The thesis jury considered that half of his work would deserve a doctorate…

Member of IP6 and IP14 of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, Matthias Studer got his PhD in January 2012. His research has just earned him the Award from the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences of the University of Geneva.

In his PhD thesis, Matthias Studer shows that women do not have the same opportunities as men to access to doctoral studies and to obtain a PhD in the requested deadline.

The researcher’s demonstration used innovating methods in sequence data analysis. His skills helped develop the TraMineR toolbox, which is nowadays used worldwide.

During the thesis defense, the members of the jury underlined his “amazing maturity”, his “great working autonomy” and his “sense of pedagogy”.

Prof. Cees Elzinga, of the VU University Amsterdam, said that he had read Matthias Studer’s thesis with “great admiration (…) because it really contains two theses, each more than sufficient to be awarded with a doctorate.” He was refering to the demonstration of gender inequalities as well as to the development of methods.

For the 3rd time in a year, NCCR LIVES inform survey respondents

For the 3rd time in a year, NCCR LIVES inform survey respondents

About 2000 participants in the study on individual characteristics and professional trajectories received a newsletter in September 2013. Another study on the loss of an intimate partner in the second half of life also produced such a publication.

The National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES) is conducting several longitudinal surveys in the framework of its research projects. Large samples of the population in Switzerland thus regularly answer questionnaires about different topics.

These people were informed of the provisional findings of the IP7 and IP12 first waves.

IP7 is interested in the personal characteristics and professional trajectories. The team has just sent a second newsletter in September 2013, eleven months after a first edition about the data collected during the first wave.

IP12 work on couple, divorce and widowhood issues in the second life half. The team presented its initial findings in a newsletter published in March 2013.

All these documents are on line on the NCCR LIVES website in the French and German pages.

City of Mostar. Photo: Mura © iStock

Book on war traces in former Yugoslavia crosses borders between scientific disciplines

The conflict in the Balkans changed the collective identities and self-images of the population. A team from the NCCR LIVES is publishing a work whose theories and methods get off the beaten tracks. Its conclusions question existing theories in the literature. Its interdisciplinary approach goes to a level rarely achieved in this type of publication.

"In the contemporary world, there is certainly no shortage of fragile states, separatist nationalism, violent rebellion, or fierce repression. If the findings that are reported in this book inspire some observers to think differently about the underlying logic of collective action or encourage some researchers to document the collective experiences associated with the violent disruption or redefinition of the communities they are studying, then this book will have achieved its main purpose."

These are the last lines of the book War, Community, and Social Change. Collective Experiences in the Former Yugoslavia, edited by Dario SpiniGuy Elcheroth, and Dinka Corkalo Biruski, which has just been published by Springer, with contributions from some fifteen authors, half of whom are associated with the National Centre of Competence in ResearchLIVES.

"Invited voices"

Besides being a collection of contributions from psychologists, sociologists, demographers and historians, this work also contains the “invited voices” of an anthropologist, a human rights activist and a journalist. All the contributors try to show how the victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia have confronted and overcome these long periods of violence. Their conclusions demonstrate with what intensity the events of the last decade of the 20th century affected the exposed peoples.

Dario Spini, director of the NCCR LIVES, explains the use of the invited voices as “a way to show that our research results can also be seen in the visible and concrete realities.” In a more general way, he says the work is a “beautiful example of how interdisciplinary research can be carried out, with very different and complementary approaches using the same data.”

Door-to-door survey

What data is being used? The information comes from a survey conducted in 2006 among 5,500 individuals from six countries in the former Yugoslavia - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia. It was part of the TRACES project (TRansition to Adulthood and Collective Experiences Survey), financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Part of the team collaborated with academics from Belgrade, Zagreb and Zadar, as well as Sarajevo. The data was collected over three months by local interviewers who went door-to-door to collect the trajectories of the region’s residents by using life calendars. A questionnaire on the norms and representations of people born between 1968 and 1974 also formed part of the survey. This cohort, who became adults just at the time of war, was in fact more at risk of being involved in the conflict and exposed to it, at a particularly sensitive age.

On the basis of this data, the researchers worked with several themes. The chapter from Dusko Sekulic shows why ethnic intolerance is more a result than a cause of war. In an article by Jean-Marie Le Goff and Francesco Giudici, the complexity, the occurrence, and the evolution of mixed marriages before and after the war are carefully presented. In another section, Jacques-Antoine Gauthier and Eric Widmer address the displacement of populations and allude to the considerable role of the politicization of identities. Davide Morselli and Stefano Passini then go on to demonstrate that people who have a strong ethnic identification are more likely to be subject to a feeling of anomie, whatever their actual experiences.

The invited voices bring different perspectives to those derived from the data. Anthropologist Ivana Macek looks at the contrasts of submission and resistance during the siege of Sarajevo. Svetlana Broz from the NGO Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide (GARIWO) recalls the righteous and brave people who refused to follow the path of ethnic hatred. And Florence Hartmann, journalist and former spokesperson of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, shows how this legal instrument failed to answer the needs of the victims.

Questioning key concepts

The last part of the book adopts a clearly psychosocial point of view in order to concentrate on the collective dimensions of vulnerability and resilience, including contributions from Rachel FaselGuy Elcheroth, and Sandra Penic. These authors' observations lead them to question certain key concepts in the literature on this subject. For instance, Rachel Fasel shows that the belief in a just world, described in the literature as a stable resource for any individual throughout their life, has been severely shaken in the former Yugoslavia by the experience of the war. “In the TRACES project, we were working in a totally different context than what had been observed in previous situations, that were less tormenting,” says the researcher. “Actually we noted that the combination of victimization due to the war and socio-economic fragility led to less belief in a just world, which had an impact on the wellbeing of individuals. People not only need to eat and drink, but also to maintain positive beliefs, especially to believe in justice.”

Guy Elcheroth mentions other points that call specific certainties into question: “The literature in social psychology establishes a link between docility when dealing with public authorities and hostility when dealing with foreigners or minorities. This is the syndrome of the authoritative personality, which is absolutely relevant in some contexts. We also noticed this in Slovenia or in Croatia, which were experiencing a period of relative prosperity at the time of the survey. But it is much less the case when you look at regions that have been economically devastated. There a different phenomenon can be seen: the same individuals are often doubly distrustful towards their own public authorities and towards external scapegoats.”

The researcher believes that the book as a whole shows “how the war changed the beliefs of a whole generation.” The experience of working on TRACES also left its mark on the team. Guy Elcheroth has just obtained funds for continuing this line of research, now looking at pluralistic memories and transitional justice in Burundi, in Sri Lanka and in the Palestinian Territories. As for the other members of the group, from TRACES to LIVES, the common theme is of course the study of vulnerability, “a topic that has been with us for a long time,” says Dario Spini.

Spini, Dario; Elcheroth, Guy; Corkalo Biruski, Dinka (Eds.)
War, Community, and Social Change. Collective Experiences in the Former Yugoslavia
Series: Peace Psychology Book Series, Vol. 17
2014, XII, 241 p. 24 illus., 6 illus. in color.





The winter school 2014 will address several life course topics

The winter school 2014 will address several life course topics

From March 22nd to 29th, 2014, the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES and four other international research centres organise a winter school in Les Diablerets, little village of the Swiss Alps. The programme include friendship networks of older adults, personal characteristics in unstable professional context, and impact of spatial mobility on family life.

For this 2nd edition of the Winter School on Life Course, a new partner joined the organisers: the Ageing and Living Conditions Programme (ALC) of Umeå University, Sweden.

See the full programme with links to the workshops description.