The National Research Center "LIVES"
How easily do individuals adapt to a changing world? The development of post-industrial societies reflected in such phenomena as increased longevity, and rising standards of comfort and material well-being. These factors may in fact be considered impediments to the desire for personal fulfillment. Indeed, for many people their family, religious and personal reference points have been changing. Over time, the shift in economic forces characteristic of a globalized world has undermined the security of various segments of the population. According to the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, stress currently affects 82% of the Swiss population, of which 12% is severely struck. The estimated cost amounts to 8 billion francs which represents 2.3% of the GDP. As a result, the National Research Pole "Overcoming Vulnerability: studies of biographies" (LIVES) was designed to understand why and how some manage to adapt better than others. The project is led by Dario Spini and Eric D. Widmer. It aimed to contribute to social policy reforms in Switzerland. Their project stands out thanks to an innovative approach; not only do they take into account the entire life course of an individual, but they also analyze it by placing the individual in its social, historical and institutional context.
Vulnerability of an individual can be analyzed using different methods. One can focus on short term observations, or on partial sequences of life such as work, family or health, or even on particular stages of a person’s life. However the results that would arise from the latter methods would only give a partial picture of the full process that shows why and how some individuals are more vulnerable than others. As a result, there is little understanding of why wealthy persons or persons with a good health capital may find themselves vulnerable, while persons from a lower income group who put strain on their health, manage to hold on.
"The difficulty of the task lies in understanding how and where the gaps widen. We must go beyond the traditional interpretation of data and instead place the individual’s trajectory in a global context. For example, having a tyrannical boss at work may lead to a divorce, even though nothing seems to link the two variables a priori. In order to grasp these interactions, it is essential that every team monitors a particular population and asks questions that could be useful for other members of the National Research Pole. This implies a lot of coordination. However this topic has attracted many international experts who were responsible for evaluating the project of the Confederation."
Researches at the National Research Center who undertake this job should not face too much difficulty. Indeed they have been collaborating with the Centre Parvie in the last ten years. The Centre Parvie is dedicated to an interdisciplinary study of life course. It was created in 2001 when the National Research Center received funding for the project. The first task that the experts are expected to complete in the National Research Center is to precisely define the notion of vulnerability. Indeed, vulnerability may be objective for people who lack resources, who have health issues or who experience multiple disadvantages. But it can also be latent. "A woman who does not work and raises children takes little risks if she is in the relationship, says Michel Oris. Even if the choice is debatable, it does not necessarily make her vulnerable. However, in a case of a divorce, if she wants to find a job, she will find herself handicapped on the job market. In other words, her knowledge is no longer updated and her "employability" will have diminished. Before going any further, we will have to identify this situation as completely as possible. "
The National Research Center teams also focus on understanding how social representations and vulnerabilities build up. A growing number of individuals are convinced to live in a society that is both increasingly uncertain and oppressive. But to what extent is this true? “Some tests from the Swiss Household Panel do not show a clear difference between an individual’s family life course in the past and an individual’s family life course today which is supposedly more troubled.”
The National Research Center remains an area for fundamental research. Nevertheless, two groups will reflect on social policy reform. We must keep in mind that research is not about offering miracle solutions that would be applicable overnight, but rather about discovering new paths.
Participants from Geneva:
- Claudio Bolzman, lecturer at the Department of Sociology, Geneva School of Social Sciences, and professor at Haute Ecole de Travail Social, From youth to adulthood: second generation immigrants' insertion in the Swiss society
- Claudine Burton-Jeangros, professor at the Department of Sociology, Geneva School of Social Sciences, Health trajectories and life transitions. A life-course approach to health vulnerability
- Jean-Marc Falter, Geneva School of Economics and Management, The making of educational inequalities: towards pathways out of vulnerability
- Nicolas Favez, associate professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, Women facing cancer: the impact of the couple relationship as the primary source of social support
- Michel Oris, professor,Geneva School of Social Sciences and director of the Gerontology Interfaculty Center, Behind the democratization of old age: inequalities within progress
- Gilbert Ritschard, Geneva School of Social Sciences, Measuring life sequences and the disorder of lives
- Eric D. Widmer, professor at the Department of Sociology, Geneva School of Social Sciences, Critical events and family configurations
Other participants from Geneva: Claudine Sauvain, Cornelia Hummel, Catherine Ludwig, Stefano Cavalli, Giovanni Ferro-Luzzi, Yves Fluckiger, Doris Hanappi, Paolo Ghisletta, Reto Schumacher, Alexis Gabadinho, Sandro Cattacin, Christophe Luthy, FranÃ§ois Herrmann, Christine Cedraschi, Alessandra Canuto, Kerstin Weber, Delphine Courvoisier, Stéphane Cullati, etc.