Rethinking social policies

The Swiss National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) LIVES is about to celebrate its second anniversary. We have hardly been bored along the way. Several of us have discovered what is almost a new profession, since the establishment of such a structure is still unusual in the social sciences. The management team has played an essential role in building a genuine scientific undertaking with avowed ambitions: Our goal is no less than to understand the dynamic mechanisms through which vulnerabilities develop over the life course, how they change or collide with the paths of individuals who are all unique, but who also exist within social structures and representations.

To achieve this goal, LIVES has committed itself to collecting and analyzing original data over the past two years. It is not easy at all to reach vulnerable groups and to question people on the wounds in their lives. This is nonetheless essential for gaining results, for actually updating what we understand, and for being able to prevent these vulnerabilities, or at least to adequately support individuals in rebuilding themselves by tightening the social fabric. We can be proud of the studies that LIVES teams have performed over the past two years. They faced many difficulties, both anticipated and completely unexpected, have definitely suffered setbacks, but reaped far more successes!

All of the investigations conducted by LIVES study the complex, multiple character of human vulnerabilities, which is linked to objective realities and subjective feelings. Recognizing this complexity calls for an interdisciplinary approach that is never obvious and never spontaneous. Such interdisciplinary work demands a lot of time and effort, and in fact, the same is true of longitudinal studies that document the life course. Working over time and making time work for us, viewing our efforts in the long term, is clearly a specific characteristic of LIVES, one that results from the very nature of a NCCR that plans over 12 years. We believe that our results contribute crucial elements to rethink social policies. But this requires new approaches, new data, and new analyses — a process that takes time.

A large project like that of LIVES involves a good deal of stress and puts challenges along the way. It is up to us not to become vulnerable, and to handle things with creativity while staying true to our goal: To better understand a changing society in which individuals embark on paths, whether straight or tortuous, confident or hesitant, in the pursuit of happiness.

Michel Oris, Co-Director