Socio Online

Abstracts of presentation – 1st edition (May-July 2020)



1)      Activation, Non-Take-Up and the Sense of Entitlement: a Swiss Case Study of Disability Policy Reforms

 Author : Emilie Rosenstein, Post-doctoral Researcher, Institute of Sociological Research, University of Geneva

Based on the case of the Swiss disability insurance (DI), this contribution questions the impact of activation on the (non-)take-up of social policies. More precisely, it investigates jointly the objective and normative components of activation policies (as we find them in legal texts and political discourses) and their subjective perception among recipients. It relies on two theoretical contributions: Kerr’s famous threshold model and the notion of “sense of entitlement” developed by Hobson. Analysis reveals many paradoxical outcomes of DI active reforms. It also underlines the importance of the subjective dimension of entitlements to the sociological understanding of non-take-up. 

2)      Remote Cardiac Monitoring as a Form of Personalized Health Management: Perspectives of Patients and Healthcare Professionals

Author: Martina von Arx, PhD candidate, Science Faculty, University of Geneva

The present study is a doctoral thesis realized as a part of the Sinergia project “Development of Personalized Health in Switzerland: Social Sciences Perspectives” (DoPHiS). An increasingly digitalized health is one of the major building blocks of personalized health. Although Switzerland is still struggling to implement a nationwide Electronic Patient Record, the datafication of health measures, especially in an out-of-clinic setting, is gaining importance. Besides economic and legal considerations that should not be neglected, it is important to address questions related to the emerging practices of digital personalized health from a social science perspective. Data-driven models of personalized health commonly promise to be predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory (P4 medicine). These elements claim to save time, reduce costs, and improve quality in healthcare, while the element of participation pledges to empower patients. Yet, being a digitally engaged patient not only entails sharing personal health data, but also regular patient work (e.g. ensure that the device is plugged in). Hence, the present study will examine how digital personalized health manifests as a reality for the different actors implicated in this biomedical transition. By choosing the case of remote cardiac monitoring, the present study aims at examining everyday experiences of patients and healthcare professionals with the datafication and digitalization of health within the promise of personalization in two different linguistic regions of Switzerland. Methods used for data collection include a) semi-structured, open-ended, qualitative interviews with developers and healthcare professionals; b) ethnographic observations of clinical consultations between healthcare professionals and patients, as well as other related procedures regarding remote cardiac monitoring; and c) at least two waves of semi-structured, open-ended, qualitative interviews with patients having received an cardiac event recorder.

3)      Managing Relationships between Local NGOs and other Actors of the Development Sector: Entangling of Everyday Reporting Templates

Author: Alexandrine Dupras, PhD candidate, Institute of Sociological Research, University of Geneva

In the development sector, the 'usual suspect', the 'go-to' actor at the country level is the non-governmental organization (NGO) which is – rightfully or not – favored over states for being perceived as more cost-efficient, less corrupted, and more connected with the targeted population. On the one hand, local NGOs are key actors without which development assistance could not take place, but on the other hand, they consistently evolve in an unstable fashion. Local NGOs rely heavily on foreign funds to operate and such funding imply a series of accountability mechanisms donors impose to control the funds are spent according to their policies and standards. Several studies have shown how these control mechanisms impact the daily work of the local NGOs. By looking at daily practices of local NGOs through an ethnographic approach in both Bangladesh and Jordan, this research sheds light on the dynamics among actors through reporting systems and questions the preconceived subordination of local NGOs to international organizations and donors.

In practice, accountability mechanisms take place through filling out reporting templates, channeled through Word processing software such as Microsoft Excel and Word. Current studies have not yet addressed the controversies around the control mechanisms in their material forms such as reporting templates in the international development sector. This research aims to address this gap having at its core the question: how are development assistance's control mechanisms use by local NGOs in light of its interactions with national government, international NGOs and donors? In an era where computer technologies are defining more and more our human interactions and ways of working, the use of these control mechanisms is at the center of relations among stakeholders of a network. This research will look at the mundane use of reporting templates through low-tech software such as Excel and Word. 

4)      Towards an alternative vision of agriculture? Studying the consultation on the new agricultural policy project (PA22+) in Switzerland

Author: Johanna Huber, PhD candidate, Institute of Citizenship Studies, University of Geneva

In recent years, alternative food organizations have become a growing phenomenon. Rather than delegating the responsibility to solve pressing issues to the government, citizens create or support more sustainable and just ways of producing and consuming food themselves. However, while these initiatives propose an alternative, they still depend on the economic, political and legal context. This is especially the case for alternative food producers who depend on earning a living through their initiative. They face particular challenges such as difficulties to accessing land, as they often do not come from farmers’ families as well as surviving without receiving federal subsidies if they choose to organize as a cooperative or association, as only private enterprises are eligible. Consequently, economic, legal and political constraints make it complicated to innovate. Changing current agricultural policy is therefore central to supporting innovative ways of farming which can propose solutions to pressing issues such as environmental degradation and poor working conditions. In Switzerland, since a major shift in agricultural policy in the 1990s, which lead to the liberalization and ecologization of agriculture, the Federal Council adapts agricultural policy every four year. To understand to what extent the new project (PA22+) offers spaces to innovate as well as to what extent different interest groups and cantons support these, this article analyzes the new project as well as the contributions to the consultation of the new agricultural policy through a qualitative document analysis. The goal is to understand what vision of agriculture the interest groups Uniterre and Union Suisse des Paysans, the canton of Bern and Geneva as well as the Federal government support.

5)      La valuation dans les marchés illégaux : une analyse comparative de deux études de cas à Genève

Author: Loïc Pignolo, PhD candidate, Institute of Sociological Research, University of Geneva

Les marchés illégaux ont fait l’objet de très peu d’investigation par les sociologues économistes (Aspers, 2011 ; Beckert et Dewey, 2017 ; Beckert et Wehinger, 2013). Pourtant, ce « blind spot » de la sociologie des marchés (Aspers, 2011, pp. 156-157) constitue une sérieuse lacune dans la mesure où les marchés illégaux posent de sérieuses questions sur le plan théorique. Comment, en effet, s’y prennent les acteurs-trices de l’offre et de la demande afin de réaliser des échanges de biens ou de services, dont la consommation, la production ou l’échange même transgressent des normes légales (Beckert et Dewey, 2017) ? Cette communication a pour but de présenter certains résultats préliminaires d’une recherche doctorale en cours visant à étudier de façon comparative deux marchés illégaux à Genève, à savoir le deal de rue de cannabis et le nettoyage domestique salarié irrégulier. Sur la base d’entretiens menés avec des acteurs-trices de l’offre et de la demande, je mettrai plus particulièrement en évidence dans cette présentation comment ces derniers et dernières tentent de résoudre un problème de coordination important dans les marchés illégaux, à savoir celui de la valuation (Beckert et Wehinger, 2013). L’explicitation des différences ainsi que des similitudes entre les deux cas étudiés permettra d’approfondir la compréhension du fonctionnement des marchés illégaux.

6)      Citizens against waste: environmental activism and the zero waste movement in Chinese cities

Author: Xinyu ZHAN (Mallory), PhD Candidate, Environmental Governance and Territorial Development, University of Geneva

Over the last few years, citizens have grown to be more aware of the negative impact of plastic waste, manifested in a global movement of zero waste. This paper studies how citizens and environmentalists understand and perform civic activism in the zero waste movement in Chinese cities. I argue that practices of sustainable consumption and lifestyle of individuals – central to the zero waste - could be understood as forms of civic activism, especially in a political setting under which ways to participate in institutionalized and contentious politics are extremely limited. Inspired by theories of practice, this paper brings everyday activism to the center of environmental (and social) movement studies. Using in-depth interviews with movement activists and participants, as well as on-site observation of movement organizations in selected Chinese cities, I analyze the discourses and performances of sustainable consumption and lifestyle within the zero waste movement network, shedding light on how they might represent a force of collective action towards sustainability in China.

7)      Cervical cancer screening programs and their context-dependent effect on inequalities in screening uptake: a dynamic interplay between public health policy and welfare state redistribution

Author: Vincent De Prez, PhD candidate, Sociology Department, Ghent University

Despite the implementation of cervical cancer screening (CCS) programmes in many European countries, socioeconomic inequalities in screening uptake persist. This study assesses under which healthcare system and welfare state conditions organised CCS can relate to lower levels of education- and income-related inequalities in CCS uptake. A two-level design with women (N=96883) nested in 28 European countries was used to analyse data from the second wave of the European Health Interview Survey. An index on accessibility of the healthcare system was constructed, and social protection by the welfare state was measured using a decommodification index. Multilevel logistic regression models demonstrated that the magnitude of educational and income inequalities in CCS uptake was lower in countries with organised CCS, higher accessibility of the healthcare system and higher decommodification. Moreover, in societal contexts with high levels of healthcare system accessibility and decommodification, organised CCS was associated with lower screening inequalities. We conclude that organised CCS does not always relate to lower socioeconomic disparities in CCS. In order to match lower levels of inequality, organised screening should be combined with a redistributing policy, both in terms of accessibility of the healthcare system and social protection by the welfare state.

8)      Diversity in Debate at the United Nations : An Analysis through the Concept of Intersectionality

Author: Leah R. Kimber, PhD candidate, Institute of Sociological Research, University of Geneva

Since the 1990s, “gender mainstreaming” has been well established at the UN in part due to women’s civil society movement. Yet addressing what actually lies behind the banner “women” seems to be a long time coming. More specifically, putting “women in their diversity” on UN agenda has not (yet) come to light. With semi-structured interviews with UN staff, Civil society members and Member state representatives, I aim to give an understand the various understandings of “women” actors give in and about the United Nations beyond the usual advocacy items civil society pushes for such as “gender equality”, “women’s leadership”, “women’s empowerment”. More specifically I unveil the underpinning debates around “women in their diversity” while using the concept of intersectionality. While I understand the constraints tied to law as a vector for intersectionality because laws themselves seek to compartmentalize and categorize (Davis 2015), how can we nevertheless understand that the UN texts , ratified throughout 2015, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or the Sendai Framework, have no mention of diversity in one form or another (i.e. “women in their diversity”)? The objective of this research is to grasp the hurdles that hinder the mention of diversity of women in texts the UN ratified in 2015 such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction for instance. Such an endeavor would enable to analyze the underlying power struggles revolving around such debates. Inscribed in the field of the sociology of organizations, and the sociology of international organizations, this study also speaks to feminist political theory which calls to recognize discrimination based on sexual orientation, ethnic and racial backgrounds and age among others because the promise for democracy lies in these details.

9)      The Impact of Family Configurations on Cognitive Functioning in Old Age: a Social Capital Approach

Author: Julia Sauter, PhD Candidate, Institute of Demography and Socioeconomics, CIGEV, University of Geneva

In this presentation I present the main results of my doctoral dissertation, an interdisciplinary research between cognitive psychology and family sociology. With growing numbers of older adults, the number of people suffering from different forms of cognitive impairments also increases and cognitive health has become part of the public health debate in the past years. However, the mechanisms that lead to better cognitive functioning in some individuals still have to be studied further. There is a general consent that social support helps a person to remain healthy. Indeed, social interactions provide connectedness to others and help people to stay active and engaged and ultimately stay healthier (cognitively as well as physically) for longer time. However, research on said topic is still not conclusive and the specific role of family as provider of emotional support has not been investigated yet. Therefore, this research sets out to investigate the beneficial role of social capital stemming from family configurations for cognitive functioning in older adults. For the three studies that constitute my thesis, I mobilized data from the two waves from the “Vivre-Leben-Vivere” survey, an ongoing interdisciplinary study on the health and living conditions of older adults (65 years and older) living in Switzerland. I combined information on family configurations and the emotional support (social capital) that is exchanged within them with information on the performance in different cognitive tests. The results in my thesis confirmed that family-based social capital, in combination with other life course factors, such as education and previously carried out leisure activities, enhances cognitive functioning and buffers cognitive decline in old age.

10)  Social inequalities and cancer screening: A comparative perspective on the role of context level and temporal factors

Author:  Vladimir Jolidon, PhD candidate, Institute of Sociological Research, University of Geneva

Persistent health inequalities are documented in European countries yet little attention has been devoted to inequalities in preventive care, particularly in cancer screening participation. My PhD thesis explores socioeconomic and demographic inequalities in cancer screening use and the role of contextual factors in shaping those inequalities. I study different screening tests (mammography, Pap smear and faecal occult blood test) with a temporal and cross-country comparative perspective, in Switzerland and Europe. I use survey data from the Swiss Health Interview Survey (six waves from 1997 to 2017) and the European Health Interview Survey (2 waves: EHIS 2006-2009 and EHIS 2013-2015). Through quantitative methods, I explore which macro-system, contextual level as well as individual factors are more important for cancer screening uptake. Through a qualitative phase of my project, I plan to study the meso-sociological level of actors and institutions to better understand how they contribute to shaping the ‘prevention context’ of cancer screening as well as their roles in public health policies. Hence, I plan to conduct interviews with screening experts, public health policy-makers and health practitioners who have a key role in cancer screening.

11)  Urban Japan and the challenges of differences. The case of Hamamatsu

Author: Nerea Viana Alzola, PhD candidate, Institute of Sociological Research, University of Geneva

In the time of liquid modernity, mobility becomes the rule (Bauman 2000). Mobility and migration challenge the way coexistence is conceived and implemented in cities (Cattacin, Gamba et al. 2020). Therefore, even Japan, well known for a long time as a uniquely homogeneous society, is forced to cope with new circumstances (Sugimoto 2010). In 1990, after a tightening period of immigration laws, the Japanese government decided to open a new path for some unskilled workers, the Nikkeijin (Roth 2002, Haines, Yamanaka et al. 2012). Evidence of this phenomenon is visible in the city of Hamamatsu, in Shizuoka prefecture, characterised by a multitude of origins and lifestyles (Council of Europe 2017). Sociologists of the Chicago school argued that the arrival of foreigners, especially in a country rooted in the myth of homogeneity (Lie 2001), could easily lead to situations of social discrimination and ghettos (Park, Burgess et al. 1984). However, according to other urban sociologists, the city is considered to be an “inclusion machine” (Cattacin, Gamba et al. 2020) where migration and mobility are an opportunity for innovation and problem-solving (Cattacin 2009). Within this framework, this project takes the second analysis mentioned above as the central focus of the research, and it hypothesises that peaceful and inclusive coexistence in cities strongly depends on bottom-up initiatives. The objective is consequently to study unexpected inclusion practices that occur outside of formal migration and integration policies in a specific Japanese urban context: Hamamatsu city. In particular, the research question of the doctoral thesis is as follow: To what extent do Hamamatsu’s migrant associations, established ritualised practices and spontaneous dynamics of inclusion that occur outside of formal migration and integration policies improve cooperation and peaceful coexistence between the established and newcomers? Field research will be conducted in Japan, and quantitative data will be used for context analysis, as well as qualitative data.

12)  Does expenditure on social protection moderate the impact of life-course adversities on health in old age?

Author: Stefan Sieber, PhD candidate, Institute of Demography and Socioeconomics, NCCR LIVES, University of Geneva

Background: This study aims at examining the moderating role of social protection expenditure on the association of life-course adversities on health in old age. The hypothesis is that the higher the spending on social protection, the lower the impact of life-course adversities on health in old age.

Methods: We used SHARE data of participants living in 20 European countries aged between 50 and 96. The seven available waves were included in the analyses, which allowed us to examine the longitudinal trajectories with aging. The indicators of adversities in childhood included were: socioeconomic conditions (SEC), adverse experiences, and adverse health experiences. The indicators in adult life were: education, main occupational position, and financial strain. We used confounder-adjusted logistic mixed-effects models to examine the association between life-course adversities and risk of poor self-rated health (SRH) in old age. Observations were nested within participants which were nested within countries. Cross-level interactions between net social protection expenditure as percentage of GDP and life-course adversities allowed to test for the moderating effect of the expenditures on the association of adversities and SRH in old age.

Preliminary findings: 55,419 individuals (215,469 observations) were included in the analyses. The odds of poor SRH increased with age. The odds of poor SRH were significantly lower for higher levels of expenditure on social protection. For childhood SEC, education, and financial strain the more disadvantaged categories showed higher odds of poor SRH. The interactions showed that social protection expenditure reduced health inequalities in childhood SEC. However, for main occupational position the contrary was the case.

Preliminary conclusions: The findings indicate that a higher share of expenditure on social protection reduces the odds of poor health in old age. The moderation effects of social protection expenditure on the negative impact of life-course adversities do not follow a clear pattern and deserve further examination.