Informing society

When politicians dwell on stereotypes of the Swiss people and their country, give credibility to myths, and feed fears to serve their own interests, it is no surprise that human and social sciences come under attack. It is, in fact, a good sign! It means that our knowledge is essential to understanding the world. And at the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming vulnerability: life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES), we have a social responsibility, as well as an important role to play in these issues, both in Switzerland and at international level.

Analysing vulnerability and resilience throughout the course of life will provide new food for thought, and reveal new solutions for confronting the difficulties faced by individuals. Here are two examples: one at each extremity of adult life.

A young man finishes his education and finds his first job, which he loses several months later when the company closes. In all probability, the job centre will encourage him to look for a new job, insisting that he must stay motivated. Yet research by Tomasik & Silbereisen (2012) shows that career paths can vary greatly, depending on the economic context. In a difficult economic situation, believing we alone are responsible for our professional success is detrimental to our wellbeing. Research into the professional integration of young adults based on the concept of capability, conducted by Professor Bonvin, provides the opportunity to consider alternative solutions. This is also the case for research by Professors Bonoli, Lalive, and Oesch, who assessed the possibility of job searching in groups.

The other example: an elderly lady has a fall at home. Her neighbour calls an ambulance, and the patient is taken to a hospital accident and emergency department. The consequences of the fall are not serious and there is no need to operate. However, when the doctor on duty examines the patient, he or she realises she has many other problems which need to be addressed, and asks for more tests. As a result, the elderly person leaves the hospital with more medication and several appointments with specialists. Yet her most pressing need is, in fact, home help to organise her daily life and avoid further falls, given that she manages very well despite her various physical problems. Research by Professors Kliegel and Oris provides new information about the real needs of elderly and very elderly people, as does a special edition of the Journal of Aging and Social Policy (in press) regarding centenarians, compiled by an international network led by Professor Jopp. The multidimensional approach to life course research shows that health and social problems are closely related. This has very direct implications for the organisation of services for the elderly.

Research is progressing, and the complex problems we are analysing are becoming more comprehensible. So, does that mean all is well? Not at all! First and foremost, the different teams of researchers do not yet communicate enough about the problems they are analysing, using different data and theoretical perspectives. The NCCR LIVES has already made an important contribution to increased communication between members of the different disciplines and Swiss universities. An example of this is the recent publication of Surveying Human Vulnerabilities across the Life Course by a team of about thirty of the centre's researchers.

This direction must be pursued. More regular and intense translation of empirical research, into a language suited to preoccupations at grass-roots level, is also necessary. One measure is the project to publish four "policy briefs" each year. They are being compiled by Pascal Maeder, Knowledge Transfer Officer at the centre, with help from researchers.

Finally, the general public must not be forgotten. The projects managed by our Communication Officer, Emmanuelle Marendaz Colle, in collaboration with the Biel/Bienne Festival of Photography, are concrete examples: one the one hand, an extraordinary three-part exhibition focusing on the theme of (in)visible vulnerability and resilience; on the other hand, the publication of the book, Downs and Ups. The future holds exciting promise – placing LIVES and social science research at the heart of social issues.

Dario Spini, Director