International Conference on Sequence Analysis and Related Methods: call for contributions

International Conference on Sequence Analysis and Related Methods: call for contributions

The International Conference on Sequence Analysis and Related Methods (LaCOSA II) will be held at the University of Lausanne four years after the Lausanne Conference on Sequence Analysis (LaCOSA). The conference aims to bring together scholars using innovative methods for analyzing longitudinal data in social, managerial, political, health or environmental sciences with developers of methods for longitudinal analysis.

Sequence Analysis (SA) has become a popular exploratory tool in social sciences since the pioneering contributions of Andrew Abbott and the recent release of powerful pieces of software. Nevertheless, SA remains essentially exploratory and needs to be complemented with other modeling tools, especially when it comes to testing hypotheses or studying the dynamics that drives the trajectories. Therefore, this second conference intends to not limit itself to SA by also covering alternative longitudinal methods, such as survival and event history analysis, Markov-based and other longitudinal stochastic models. The aim is to debate how these different approaches can complement each other.

The conference will feature invited speakers and individual presentations. Confirmed keynote speakers are Francesco Billari, Anette Fasang, Jeroen Vermunt.

We welcome all submissions connected with SA or related methods in the social sciences, especially applications of innovative methodology, new methodological developments, method comparisons, or theoretical discussions linking substantive theory with methodological choices. Propositions across scientific domains are welcome.

  • Examples of application domains: Life course research, familial, residential, educational and health trajectories, life span, professional careers, career management, time use, geographical development paths...
  • Examples of methods: Sequence analysis, latent class, survival and event history analysis, multistate models, Markov-based transition models, structural-equation-model-based models such as latent growth curve models, multilevel longitudinal models...


Extended abstracts of at least two pages plus references should be submitted before the 20th of January 2015. Full papers can also be submitted as an extended abstract. Authors of accepted extended abstracts should then submit a full paper of their contribution for online proceedings before the 8th of May. At least one author for each accepted contribution will have to register to the conference for the paper to be included in the online proceedings. After the conference, authors of the best contributions will be invited to submit a possibly extended version of their papers for the post-conference volume to be published open-access in the Life Course Research and Social Policies Series by Springer-Verlag.

To submit a contribution, please follow the instructions on the conference website.

Data analysis contest

In addition to usual contributions, the conference will also promote a data analysis contest: Participants will be asked to run their own analysis of a provided longitudinal data set using methods of their choice and to submit results as a poster. For detailed instructions, please refer to the conference website.


Image iStock © SondraP

Osmosis between social and life sciences proceeds in a book on health trajectories

First contribution to the Springer series Life Course Research and Social Policies to be published under Open access thanks to the support of the NCCR LIVES, the volume edited by Claudine Burton-Jeangros, Stéphane Cullati, Amanda Sacker, and David Blane provides a welcome theoretical framework as well as choice empirical examples and methodological inputs in a booming field of study, at the crossroads between social epidemiology and the sociology of health.

The same applies to social conditions and anti-inflammatory creams: they get under the skin and act on the body cells. The former last longer though, without always being as beneficial. This is what life course epidemiology teaches us in a collective book resulting from a collaboration between the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES and the International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health (ICLS) at the University College London.

Published by LIVES members Prof. Claudine Burton-Jeangros and Dr. Stéphane Cullati from the University of Geneva, along with professors Amanda Sacker and David Blane, who are two authorities in the field at ICLS, this volume brings a fresh look at a still recent area of research by extending the scope of analysis to health in general. For up to now, publications on the subject had mostly addressed chronic diseases.

How does social and economic status produce class differences in terms of health and life expectancy? How, conversely, can health status during childhood later on influence schooling and occupational paths, as well as relationships? The editors’ introduction describes a promising and evolving field of study. They insist on the need for developing preventive policies that take into account all life domains.

The following chapters describe the state of research at the theoretical and empirical levels.

Obesity, scourge of modern times

Laura D. Howe, from the University of Bristol, in collaboration with Riz Firestone, Kate Tilling, and Debbie A. Lawlor, offers a review of the evidence regarding trajectories and transitions in childhood and adolescent obesity. Considered as “one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization, obesity concerns 42 million children under the age of five, close to 31 million of these are living in developing countries. This scourge of modern times increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and social isolation in adult life.

“The study of child adiposity trajectories represents an area where we hope to be able, one day, to determine not only the age period during which children are more at risk of becoming and staying overweight, but also in which social and family conditions, and according to what biological predisposition,” Stéphane Cullati and Claudine Burton-Jeangros explained.

The smile as social marker

Another area where social and family environments are critical is oral health. That is the subject of another chapter by Anja Heilmann, from the University College London, with Georgios Tsakos and Richard G. Watt as co-authors. Teeth problems are a source of multiple difficulties and suffering in the short, middle, and long term. Education may prevent part of those, but treatment remains hardly accessible to the underprivileged. Moreover, it is far from being a priority for policy makers.

Other diseases occur independently of social conditions. That is the case of cystic fibrosis. Yet important differences will appear in the life course of the most favoured patients versus those who live in a deprived context, show David Taylor-Robinson, from the University of Liverpool, with Peter Diggle, Rosalind Smyth and Margaret Whitehead.

Calculate and predict inequalities

Among the nine contributions that compose the content of the book, three address important methodological issues, which arise for researchers willing to carry out longitudinal studies on health in a life course perspective. One chapter, written by a Geneva team linked to the NCCR LIVES, presents statistical models that include both stability and change. Paolo Ghisletta, Olivier Renaud, Nadège Jacot, and Delphine Courvoisier demonstrate how these methods allow analysis of the interaction between individuals and their context over time.

Asked about the challenges posed by life course epidemiology, Claudine Burton-Jeangros and Stéphane Cullati mentioned several limitations, which remain to be overcome: getting access to representative samples of the general population, and not only to sub-populations of patients; having longitudinal databases that are sufficiently rich in data on family, work, leisure, life conditions during childhood, health behaviours and status (including biomarkers); repeating these studies on new cohorts; encouraging the development of statistical models able to process large quantities of repeated data; and finally, collect also qualitative data through interviews with participants, in addition to quantitative data, in order to better capture the meaning that individuals give to their health trajectories, in relation to changes in their life conditions.

Protect family life

On the basis of current knowledge, both authors consider that social policy should better protect childhood and family life: “Ensure the best conditions for our kids, be it during intrauterine life, at birth, during early childhood and the early phases of mental and physical development, promote a good social integration during adolescence, all these factors represent key elements for a future healthy life. However, health promotion, which goes far beyond the sole sector of public health programmes, is not a priority, as the voting against a law on prevention recently showed in Switzerland”, they regret.

>> Burton-Jeangros, C., Cullati, S., Sacker, A., & Blane, D..  (2015). A life course perspective on health trajectories and transitions. Life course research and social policies (Vol. 4, p. 213). New York: Springer.

Available under Open access

Image iStock © zimmytws

Threats and opportunities facing single-parent families from a grass-roots perspective

In a report on the forum "Changing families and single parenthood: vulnerabilities and resources from the practioners' point of view", LIVES researchers document observations from the field made by professionals.

The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES - Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) and the Swiss Federation of single parent families organised on November 21, 2014 an exchange forum between social scientists and practitioners at the University of Lausanne on the question of single-parent families. The meeting’s report aimed at addressing weaknesses and threats, but also strengths and opportunities in relation to this type of household, is now available.

A focal point were also the recent changes and on-going debates in family law, particularly concerning parental authority and alimonies. Social workers, early childhood educators, legal experts, child psychiatrists, civil servants, and NGO representatives shared their knowledge and experience, drawn from their daily work on issues such as legal matters and tax problems, social policy and support facilities as well as the relationships between parents, children, and the extended families.

>> See the report in French

>> See the report in German

Educational Expansion, Partnership, and the Family: Special issue of the Swiss Journal of Sociology

Educational Expansion, Partnership, and the Family: Special issue of the Swiss Journal of Sociology

Publication is planned for November 2017. Guest editors: Rolf Becker (University of Bern), Ben Jann (University of Bern), Eric Widmer (University of Geneva & NCCR LIVES). Deadline for submitting abstracts: November 15, 2015.

Call for papers

Compared to other countries, the educational expansion in Switzerland was rather moderate in impact and less dynamical. However, longitudinal studies making use of a cohort design demonstrate that Switzerland did indeed catch up in terms of participation in education and the acquisition of higher education during the last decades. On the one hand, the educational expansion led to an unprecedented educational upgrading of the Swiss Population over generations. On the other hand, this process led to changes in the inequality of educational opportunities according to people’s social origin, ethnic background and gender. While the educational expansion was accompanied by changes in the occupational and class structure, familial and demographic processes also changed.

Based on official statistics for the historic period of the educational expansion since the 1960s, the pattern of declining marriage rates, an increase in the mean age of marriage, decreasing birth rates, a shift in age of the first child’s birth, and increasing divorce rates can be revealed. In other countries studies using a life course perspective could show empirically that the increase in the age of marriage as well as the age at first child’s birth is a consequence of cohorts remaining longer in the educational system. Hence, these cohorts postponed these decisions to later stages in life. Especially the increase in female employment as a consequence of the higher qualification of girls and women seems to be a driving force of this process. Furthermore, the educational expansion also contributed to the decrease in number of children per family. This is not only due to the increase in women’s participation in the labor market, but also to a shift in family conception and the aspirations toward designing one’s own life. Finally, the higher demands on partnership and marriage as a consequence of the educational expansion also led to a higher dynamic in terms of divorce, remarriage and other forms of cohabitation.

For the case of Switzerland, in contrast to other countries, it remains unclear to what extent these structural changes can be causally attributed to the educational expansion – both theoretically as well as empirically. Also, there are striking research gaps regarding the educational expansion’s consequences for familial and demographic processes and trends in time. Questions remain, such as: Did the educational expansion lead to more educational homogamy, strengthening therewith the social closure of partnership and marriage markets? Did dating agencies gain more importance in the course of the educational expansion? What are the consequences of the increasing educational homogamy for socialization processes and the educational opportunities of the younger generation? Did the stability of partnerships and marriages in- or decrease as a result of higher qualifications? Are childbirth simply postponed or did the educational expansion also lead to changes in the fertility and therewith the family structure? What is the potential impact of educational changes on the development of alternative family options (single-parent family, living apart-together couples, same sex couples, and so on). Do the rates of remarriage increase and does the likelihood to start a new partnership after a divorce or separation increasingly depend upon the partner’s education? How does increasing education change the ways spouses or partners interact together, but also with their children, in relation with gender and individualization issues? What are the differences between Switzerland and other modern nations in terms of these relational and demographical processes?

All these questions require answers from a dynamic longitudinal perspective of the life courses of successive birth cohorts. As these cohorts are the cultural promoters of the educational expansion, they can be perceived as the main actors of change within these familial and demographical processes. To answer the issues raised, the empirical reconstruction of these changes ideally requires time-continuous data which allow the application of panel, event-history or optimal matching models. In doing so, potential causal relations between the educational expansion on the one hand and the socio-structural changes of partnership, marriage, family formation, divorce, and remarriage on the other hand can be revealed – as well as their consequences for the further progress of the educational expansion. The special issue is intended to combine contributions that address the consequences of the educational expansion upon familial and demographic processes with adequate, modern methodological approaches and current longitudinal data for the case of Switzerland as well as other modern countries. In particular, historical and international comparisons considering Switzerland at least as a reference country are highly welcome.

Interested scholars are invited to submit a proposal to Rolf Becker ( no later than November 15, 2015. Your submission for the special issue should include the following:

  • name, email address, and affiliations of all the authors
  • title of the paper
  • abstract of around 450 words plus a short bibliography (topic, aim, theoretical perspective, empirical design, main/first results)

The guest editors will decide on the acceptance or rejection of the abstract until December 20, 2015.

Selected authors will be invited to submit a full paper (max. 8,000 words, 50,000 characters including tables, figures and references), which will be due on June 1st, 2016. The papers will go through the usual peer-review process of the Swiss Journal of Sociology. The proposal as well as the paper can be written in English, French or German. More information about the Swiss Journal of Sociology and the submission process are available in

For any queries, email

“The Future of Psychology”: congress of the Swiss Psychological Society in Geneva

“The Future of Psychology”: congress of the Swiss Psychological Society in Geneva

The 14th biannual congress of the SPS will take place at the University of Geneva (Uni Mail) on September 8-9, 2015. It is organised by a local team headed by Prof. Matthias Kliegel, a specialist of the psychology of aging and new head of NCCR LIVES IP213.

The conference intends to target current discussions, pioneering theories and extraordinary projects that could indicate the new pathways on which psychology might move forward in the near future. In that regard, the programme will focus on innovative topics in psychology. About 40 symposiums plus some workshops and paper or poster sessions will be carried out.

The keynote speakers will be Markus Heinrichs, from the University of Freiburg in Germany, and Mark A. McDaniel, from Washington University, in St. Louis, USA. Markus Heinrichs’ talk will address the mechanisms by which a certain hormone, i.e. neurohormone oxytocin (OT), contributes to human social behaviour, and how recent knowledge could enhance advances in the personalised treatment of psychopathological states. Mark McDaniel’s talk will combine recent advancements of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and educational psychology and focus on evidence-based techniques to improve instruction and student learning.

Several members of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES will participate. They notably organised a symposium entitled “Studying vulnerability across the life course: An interdisciplinary project”. Chaired by Andreas Ihle and Delphine Fagot, this symposium aims to discuss LIVES’ most recent evidence on vulnerability and the process of vulnerabilisation, emphasising the interdisciplinary and multi-methodological inputs of this NCCR in a life course perspective.

Research on aging

In the first talk, Nora Dasoki will present a study investigating the interrelations and the influences that different temporalities, i.e. individual, social, and historical times, have on memories of happiness and vulnerability. This research, led with Davide Morselli and Dario Spini, shows that happy memories are linked to social expectations, no matter what age difference. Regarding vulnerability, individual time and historical context have both an impact and an interaction. The oldest elderly are less likely to remember their lives as vulnerable, except during the Second World War. For that period of time it is the younger elderly who report less vulnerability.

Two other communications will also draw on data from the Vivre-Leben-Vivere (VLV) study on Swiss elderly, which IP213 conducts at the Geneva Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Gerontology and Vulnerability. Andreas Ihle will discuss the role of different life course determinants in middle adulthood for cognitive performance in old age. This research, in collaboration with Michel Oris, Delphine Fagot and Matthias Kliegel, shows significant links between educational background, health status, and engaging in professional and leisure activities with cognitive functioning in old age. Later on Fanny Vallet will present empirical evidence that frail elderly have more difficulties to recover after a stressful event. Her co-authors here are Olivier Desrichard, Delphine Fagot, and Dario Spini.

Within the framework of IP212 led by Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, Charikleia Lampraki will focus on continuity and social participation in the process of recovering from the loss of an intimate partner in the second half of life. Together with Davide Morselli and Dario Spini, this study assesses how active participation in social groups outside family or friends may support the coping process.

Psychology of work

Another team of psychologists work at NCCR LIVES within IP207 under the direction of Jérôme Rossier. During the symposium this project will be represented by Christian Maggiori, who will focus on the impact of personal resources and professional conditions on the relationship between personality dimensions and professional and general well-being.

Colleagues of his will intervene in other sessions. Claire Johnston will present a review of the literature on the relevance of career adaptability in early careers, and also talk about “Immigrants’ career resources”. Grégoire Bollmann will present “Does Smiling Really Make us Happier? A Cross-Lagged Examination of the Causal Relationships between Affective and Cognitive Components of Subjective Well-Being”. Michaela Knecht will talk about “Selection, Optimization, and Compensation as response to goal conflict and facilitation”. And there will be a poster session where Martin Tomasik will present “Multiple Goals From the Perspective of Optimal Foraging Theory”.

Life span and other topics

A further symposium will address “Social relations over the life span: challenges and rewards” and include LIVES researchers. Jeannette Brodbeck and colleagues investigated the longitudinal relationship between life events and casual sexual relationships (CSR) in emerging adulthood in Switzerland. Daniela Jopp and colleagues compared the role of social resources for life-satisfaction in German and Japanese people aged 65 to 84. Germans were more likely to live alone, but had more social contacts, more psychological strengths and life-satisfaction than Japanese. In the very old age, optimism was a strong predictor of life-satisfaction in both cultures.

During the symposium “Legitimizing ideologies in the context of gender and political issues”, chaired by Grégoire Bollmann and Oriane Sarrasin, Rachel Fasel will present “Does victimization threaten the belief in a just world?”. Based on the TRACES project, her talk will demonstrates how socioeconomic conditions and war victimization shattered the general just world beliefs of residents of former Yugoslav countries.

We should also mention some other interesting presentations by LIVES members during different sessions: Lavinia Gianettoni with “Professional aspirations of boys and girls: the impact of sexist ideologies”, and Oriane Sarrasin with “When support for gender equality and tolerance of the Muslim headscarf go hand in hand”.

The organiser's point of view

According Prof. Matthias Kliegel, “this congress will be an excellent platform to present the exciting interdisciplinary potential of LIVES to the national and international psychological community. With its important psychological component, LIVES is one of the light house research programmes in psychology in Switzerland and therefore perfectly suited in the spectrum suggested by the motto ‘The future of psychology’ chosen for this conference. Importantly for LIVES, the motto is targeted not only at current discussions, pioneering theories and extraordinary projects that could indicate the new pathways on which psychology might move forward in the near future. A second very important point concerns young researchers who will be the future of psychology in Switzerland and who are therefore particularly invited to participate actively at the conference. In that regard, this year's congress offers several special events that explicitly support young scientists’ development. Special measures taken are the two Young Academics Program symposia (Career Option Forum and PhD Skills) where also several LIVES members will actively participate.”


Photo Hugues Siegenthaler © LIVES

Eric Widmer, new co-director of NCCR LIVES: "I grew up with interdisciplinarity"

Following Professor Michel Oris' appointment as Vice-Rector of the University of Geneva, Professor Eric Widmer will take over the co-leadership of the NCCR LIVES for Geneva from July 2015. Along with Professor Jean-Michel Bonvin, he will be responsible for the doctoral programme and will continue leading the "Family configurations and the life course" (IP208) project, with the support of Professor Clémentine Rossier. Interview.

First of all, a few words to mark the departure of Michel Oris…

Of course! Michel Oris has done an absolutely wonderful job in building and structuring the centre, along with Dario Spini and Laura Bernardi. He organised the work in Geneva very efficiently. He was always up to speed with all the records and knew all the LIVES PhD students by their first names. All the work Michel has done in these last few years has made my new role easier.

What will you do differently?

I think my new role is essentially about continuing the work that was done in the first phase. But now it will be a case of deepening the work on cross-cutting issues (CCI). I have the impression that in the first four years, the teams have made their mark on quite specific questioning relating to their discipline. But I think we are still at the beginning of the interdisciplinary work. In the coming years, there needs to be more collaboration between developmental and social psychologists, sociologists, demographers, statisticians and economists to develop a coherent and original interdisciplinary perspective, which will produce new results on life trajectories and vulnerability. I intend to focus on this aim, from a leadership perspective.

What is your experience of interdisciplinarity?

I grew up with interdisciplinarity, as the "family" aspect, on which I've been working for twenty years, is at the intersection of demographics, psychology and sociology. It is not pure sociology like the sociology which deals with social stratification, and in which you can really remain within the confines of your discipline. From the time I did my PhD, I was exposed to lectures and contacts with the psychology of interpersonal relations, developmental psychology, etc. Then, during my post-doctoral research in the United States, I was involved in interdisciplinary programmes with psychologists, demographers and anthropologists. When I came back to Switzerland, I quite quickly became involved in the PAVIE Centre, which in a way was the predecessor to LIVES. Its objective was to develop interdisciplinary research into life trajectories which materialised as several publications and the "Devenir parent" ("becoming a parent") research project, something we are still working on today. I also completed a certain number of research projects with legal experts and economists; these interdisciplinary experiences were positive ones. But the major experiment is what we are doing now with LIVES!

One of the purposes of the NCCR LIVES is to act as a window on society. What is your aim in this regard?

One of the aims of such a National Centre of Competence in Research is indeed to have an impact on civil society, and enable political leaders, association leaders and the general public to benefit from the knowledge accumulated by the research. As such, the LIVES leadership values relations with social actors. Furthermore, these links are very useful to fundamental research, as they give us easier access to areas which otherwise would be difficult to access and study. It is impossible to launch a research project on a vulnerable population if there are no existing links (ideally, institutional ones) with partners. It is the role of universities and national programmes to help promote more applied knowledge, particularly in social sciences, which must have a good hold on social problems.

Do you have any examples of this kind of project?

Yes! The sociology department of the University of Geneva, with the support of the NCCR LIVES, joined forces with Pro Juventute Genève and the OPCCF (Protestant Office for Couple and Family Counselling) to create the "Avenir Famille" ("Family Future") association. Our project has three pillars. First of all, the operation of a network of family professionals in Geneva – associations, services, foundations, etc. Such a network provides a wide range of services, but they are not very coordinated. The aim here is to try to encourage partnerships, dialogue and communication between professionals to help them produce something more integrated. The second aim: provide individuals with a "one-stop shop" for all the information they may need regarding family issues in the canton. The third point, and it is here that LIVES and the University of Geneva are particularly involved, is the establishment this autumn of a family monitoring centre (observatoire de la famille) which will be responsible for applied family research, in response to explicit requests from professionals via the family conferences which will be held each year, and the concerns of families and individuals. Contacts are also being made on the Vaud side. Ultimately we would like to develop something across French-speaking Switzerland. There is a social need which is being very clearly expressed and which requires the knowledge acquired in LIVES to be applied to civil society.

Is it linked to the current shift in family structures?

It is mainly linked to the absence of an explicit family policy in our country, at both the canton and federal level, which is even more damaging as, in the last five decades, family structures have become much more complex, not only in terms of divorce and blended families, but also in terms of increased life expectancy and migration. We recently obtained a mandate from a commune in the canton of Geneva where there are a large number of working-class families. There is great job instability, childcare problems when both parents work and major housing problems, in situations where family networks are relatively weak as a result of relocation through migration and when the generations live far away from each other. The commune authorities are asking themselves: what can be done to help these families, which have become vulnerable through a combination of factors, both economic and demographic? What are their needs, and what kind of services should be in place to respond to vulnerable families in precarious situations? I think that LIVES has all the skills to respond to this type of questioning.

Another priority of the NCCR LIVES is to develop internationally, this time from an academic point of view. How can this be done?

The first way to develop scientifically and gain better international recognition is to have original research results with a solid empirical grounding. A way to make LIVES more visible, in my opinion, would be to increase collaborative work on cross-cutting issues and on the interdisciplinary dimension, as that is what sets our work apart. The paradox is that this makes publication more complicated, because unfortunately, we are evaluated by colleagues who belong to specific disciplines. Typically, sociology experts will have very strict requirements in terms of sampling and will soon become critical of the small, non-representative samples which may be acceptable in psychology; at the same time, psychology experts will pay much more attention to the validity of the measurements and replication of results than sociologists. When these two sets of expectations are come up against one another, it is harder to publish interdisciplinary articles. But when they are balanced, something very valuable is achieved!

You will be mainly in charge of directing the third cross-cutting issue (CCI 3) concerning the multidirectional approach, i.e. over time. What are the features of this?

As this has been described in our proposal to the Swiss National Science Foundation, we are interested, for example, in the effects of the first years of life over the long term: is everything decided before the age of five or not? Although we have no studies on children, a retrospective assessment can be made. There is also this fundamental hypothesis of the cumulative effects throughout the life course, which in my opinion, should be explored even more than they have been up to now. Finally, the third important point is the "biographisation" of life trajectories, this idea that individuals participate quite actively, via the recomposition of their projects, in conducting their life course over the long term. I would like to add something that has been very widely discussed in the international literature: the idea of opening the black box of "agency", i.e. the actor's ability to act, to have an influence on their trajectories, via their preferences, orientations and their aims in life. It is a classic theme in life course analysis, but we need to know more about how this action-oriented dimension is expressed over the medium- and long-term of life trajectories, in different structural situations which are at first glance negative: single-parent families, health problems, work problems, unemployment, disability, etc. I believe that the interplay between structure and agency over the long term is an important point.
I am also involved, more marginally, with Dario Spini and Oriane Sarrasin, in the CCI 2 on social interactions, and here, I think we have succeeded in promoting this strong idea of "misleading norms", social norms which push individuals to take paths which prove counter-productive for them over the medium or long term. For example, in a country such as Switzerland, where 50% of marriages end in divorce, this norm, which pushes women to stay at home or greatly reduce their involvement in the labour market. We can build the hypothesis that each generation sets out in life with the norms set in place by the previous generation.

Within the IP208, you also want to investigate the issue of family ambivalence. What does this mean?

Ambivalence, as it is defined in sociology, mainly by Kurt Lüscher, is the oscillation between contradictory social norms. Typically, the social imperative to be professionally active and to breastfeed your child until the age of two, or the obligation to actively help ageing parents and the obligation to lead a very independent life, to pursue a career which requires social and geographical remoteness. From Kurt Lüscher's point of view, this ambivalence can generate innovation and personal development, as it requires individuals to come up with new solutions. My hypothesis is that this form of agency is possible only if people have significant reserves of financial, cultural and social resources. When more disadvantaged individuals are affected by these contradictory normative forces, they can become stress factors and thus lead to the weakening of personal identity and the ability to act. But this remains to be seen! Essentially, sociology views the family as a place of rejuvenation, support and solidarity, while the IP208 postulates that the family itself is a source of stress, due to the many conflicts it generates in the allocation of different resources – money, affection, time… What is given to a child in time, to a partner or an ageing parent, cannot be given to another person, in families where links are much more individualised than before. Hence the benefit of seeing these family links as generators of resources, but also as links which generate vulnerability. And up to now, this has not really been done.


Learning through play how inequalities build over the life course

Learning through play how inequalities build over the life course

The Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming vulnerability: life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) began a series of workshops in French-speaking Swiss schools in spring 2015. The Kalendaro workshop is the result of a project between social science researchers and the education system. It involves group play and data collection, to make connections between contexts and personal stories, observe the interdependence between different life domains and move from an individual to a general outlook in a resolutely systemic approach.

"When my grandfather left the Congo, he was very young and had to learn everything again in Switzerland. He did a lot of different jobs, as he had to look after his family. He had to be responsible. But I didn't know that he had also left a lot of children back there, with other women…" When this pupil from the Collège des Terreaux in Neuchâtel recounted his discoveries to his classmates, he took the whole class on a journey through time and space, and revealed the extent to which family, residential and career histories are interlinked. The story of this African grandpa also illustrated how our values are the product of relative norms, and how individuals retain a certain ability to act, even in the most difficult situations.

All this took place on 19 May this year, during the second part of the Kalendaro workshop, which has been available to secondary classes in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland since spring. On the first day, pupils were made aware of certain notions through a board game based on the trajectory of a fictional life, with its associated tragic and joyful events. There are accidents, which make you lose time as well as health, training phases that contribute resources, the economic crisis, affecting players to differing degrees, but also encounters and separations, celebrations and bereavements, as well as difficult choices, coinciding with career transitions or the birth of the first child.

Then the organisers ask the pupils to make links between the events that occurred in the game and think about how they might impact different areas of life. Stress at work that leads to a divorce and moving house, sometimes with depression to boot; a disability that makes it impossible to do certain activities; a lack of money that limits education opportunities: the pupils understand all this very quickly and can imagine a whole range of interactions.

The life calendar

Then comes the time to see specifically how these interactions play out in a real-life situation. To do this, pupils are given a "life calendar" to complete based on an adult of their choice, if possible aged over 50. This tool, which is also used by the NCCR LIVES researchers in actual studies on life course, documents the important events and phases of someone's biography. In the Kalendaro project (the word means "calendar" in Esperanto) this task contributes an interesting intergenerational dimension, in addition to introducing pupils to real empirical data.

Pooling observations leads to a deeper understanding of social inequalities in the second session. Through the analysis, the pupils are able to perceive the glaring differences between the life trajectories of men and women from different social backgrounds, and the extent to which certain non-normative events strike individuals and have long-term consequences on their life course.

Cross-disciplinary skills

According to one of the teachers in Neuchâtel, where the first sessions took place, "this workshop fully meets the objectives of the French-speaking secondary school curriculum to give pupils cross-disciplinary skills. Furthermore, it is ideal at the end of compulsory education, at a time when young people are making a major transition and have to think about entering the labour market and the implications this brings."

"It's a very good resource, clear and pleasant to use, and the topics it deals with enable teachers to subsequently revisit certain themes, such as gender issues or migration, for example", noted another teacher on 23 June after another session at the same institution.

This is precisely the objective of the citizenship education pedagogical team at the Applied University of Education of the canton of Vaud at the start of the next academic year; it has included Kalendaro in the induction course programme for future citizenship teachers. It is up to the trainee teachers to come up with possible developments and implement them in their respective classes, in connection with the other subject they teach, often history, geography or economics, and sometimes French or foreign languages.

Nothing would make the members of the National Center of Competence in Research LIVES and its partners happier. The same also applies to the Science-Society Interface of the University of Lausanne and the éducation21 foundation, which were involved in building this project and producing the associated training guide.

Their hope is that the interdisciplinary approach to the life course perspectives will attract other educational institutions across French-speaking Switzerland. See you at the start of the next academic year!

To find out more (in French)


Project team

  • LIVES Researchers: Ana Barbeiro, Nora Dasoki, Jacques-Antoine Gauthier, Nadia Girardin, Andres Guarin, Jean-Marie Le Goff, Davide Morselli
  • UNIL (Science-Society Interface): Nicolas Schaffter
  • éducation21 foundation: Florence Nuoffer
  • Graphic design: Vincent Freccia (Secteur B)
  • Illustration: Luc  Frieden (MEYK)
  • Coordination: Emmanuelle Marendaz Colle
 “Transformation of the Swiss elites”: First article of a new series on social change

“Transformation of the Swiss elites”: First article of a new series on social change

During the past thirty years, the coordination model of the Swiss elites has been significantly eroded as a result of globalisation and the rise to power of the financial market, as described by Felix Bühlmann, Marion Beetschen, Thomas David, Stéphanie Ginalski, and André Mach. Their contribution was published in the series "Social Change in Switzerland", which FORS, the LINES Centre and NCCR LIVES co-edit.

Based on a large dataset including the profiles of 20,000 leaders in the economic, political, and administrative spheres between 1910 and 2010, five researchers in the social and political sciences from the University of Lausanne show that traditional networks of co-optation and coordination have lost quite a large part of their influence.

Their article, “Transformation of the Swiss elites”, is the first of a new series entitled Social Change in Switzerland, which is co-edited in French and German by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequality Research Centre LINES (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Lausanne), and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES.

The authors observe different characteristics of Switzerland’s elites at five moments in time: 1910, 1937, 1957, 1980, 2000, 2010. They notably look at issues like gender, the education level, the nationality, the military rank, and the involvement in executive boards, extra-parliamentary commissions, committees of economic organisations, etc.

On the basis of these comparisons, they demonstrate how the Swiss elites were co-opted and have coordinated throughout the 20th century, thanks to their educational paths (law studies mainly, ETHZ to a lesser degree) and the involvement in typically masculine socialisation hubs (student associations, army, clubs-service, but also executive boards, extra-parliamentary commissions, economic organisations).

For the past thirty years, this multipositionality of the Swiss elites’ central figures has constantly diminished: the proportion of leaders linked to several spheres of power clearly decreased, which reduced occasions for consultation. Even within the sole economic sphere, relations between industry and the banking sector have weakened, as shown by the changes in the composition of executive boards. This situation reflects the fact that large companies have partly abandoned credit in favour of the stock market.

The current dominant fractions of the Swiss elite – UDC party in politics and hyper globalised managers in economics – seem to have no common ground. It is an open question whether and how these winners of the Swiss elites’ transformation process start rebuilding a new system of coordination.

This 10-page paper is perfectly in line with the new series’ ambition to propose empirical findings drawn from academic research to a non-scientific, yet well-informed public, so as to stimulate reflection on social change in Switzerland. Other topics are in the pipeline. The editors aim at a frequency of about six articles per year.


>> F. Bühlmann, M. Beetschen, T. David, S. Ginalski & A. Mach, Transformation des élites en Suisse / Der Wandel der Eliten in der Schweiz. Social Change in Switzerland N° 1. Retrieved from



Image iStock © Aleksandar Petrovic

Unemployment hurts senior jobseekers more. Can a good social network offset this disadvantage?

Two recently-completed theses at the University of Lausanne as part of a LIVES project have produced interesting results relating to the Swiss labour market. Isabel Baumann shows that people over 55 have fewer prospects than young people when seeking employment. Nicolas Turtschi observes the impact of networks on the chances of rejoining the world of work: although personal relationships are useful in decreasing the handicap of age, they do not reduce the impact of other types of inequality.

Using samples of unemployed people produced for the IP204 project of the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES, Isabel Baumann and Nicolas Turtschi successfully defended their doctoral theses in June 2015, each documenting in their own way the channels via which people find, or fail to find, a way out of unemployment.

In Switzerland, unlike elsewhere in Europe, young people and the low-skilled are unlikely to become stuck in long-term unemployment following the closure of a company. This is one of Isabel Baumann’s conclusions from her studies on the trajectories of around 1,200 people who were collectively laid off between 2009 and 2010 from five industrial companies which closed their doors in different regions of Switzerland.

Two years after losing their jobs, two-thirds of the displaced workers had found new employment, half in less than six months, a third with a salary increase and most in the same area of work. Most people with a low level of education had not been forced to take service jobs such as cleaning or in fast food outlets. The manufacturing sector remains a provider of employment in Switzerland.

The most vulnerable are those over 55 years of age; this group is the most likely not to have found employment, or to have accepted a lower quality, lower paid job following a longer period of unemployment than young people and low-skilled people.

For those left behind, the negative repercussions on well-being and sociability are significant. Only older people who were able to take early retirement eventually experienced this transition in a positive way. 32% of those over 55 were able to access this solution, while 37% were still unemployed at the end of 2011 and only 31% had found work again, often under less favourable conditions.

Potentially growing phenomenon

"This result is striking in the context of the current demographic development," says Isabel Baumann. As baby boomers enter this age group, unemployment among older people could affect a growing number of people over the next fifteen years.

The young researcher is therefore calling for continuous training measures to be improved. The apprenticeship system, which at first improves the employability of young people in Switzerland, risks putting those who did not keep up with technological progress at a disadvantage thirty years later.

In the shorter term, she recommends better support in searching for employment for older people who have been let go. She also believes that making it easier to take early retirement is an option to be considered.

Her thesis, which was directed by Prof. Daniel Oesch, has been accepted for publication in the Springer Life Course Research and Social Policies. This will be the first monograph published and will be in open access in autumn 2016.

Compensating effect of networks

Still as part of IP204 but under the supervision of Prof. Giuliano Bonoli, Nicolas Turtschi worked on another sample of unemployed people, which was more diverse in terms of profile, but limited to the Swiss canton of Vaud.

From February to April 2012, all persons attending the group information session on unemployment benefits, organised by regional employment centres, were asked to complete a questionnaire on social networks and access to employment. People who found work within twelve months received a second questionnaire. Those who were still unemployed after one year were also interviewed with a third type of questionnaire. Around 3,500 people took part in the study.

Nicolas Turtschi shows that certain disadvantaged sub-populations, such as people aged fifty and over, benefit from a "compensatory effect" thanks to their networks. But he notes in particular that "the most advantaged profiles statistically have the most interesting social resources". Clearly, people of foreign origin and those with the lowest educational level have fewer useful contacts for finding work. Among the most valuable relationships, former colleagues are much more useful than family and loved ones. Being a member of an association appears to have no effect on the period of unemployment, a finding that mirrors the other research mentioned above.

Feelings of guilt

"Social networks amplify the inequalities involved in rejoining the workforce," concludes the researcher, calling for targeted actions on the least advantaged profiles to help them identify and mobilise their contacts. He also recommends "exonerating" the unemployed, so that their shame does not cut out relationships.

Finally there is the question of the quality of the employment found through networking, which, according to Nicolas Turtschi, deserves more research, which has already been partially provided by Isabel Baumann: in her sample of industry workers, people who found a new job through a personal contact lost an average of 6% of income compared to their previous salary, in comparison with just 2% for others.

This puts the importance of networks into perspective somewhat, whose "negative aspect", in some cases, should not be overlooked. This nuanced reflection by Nicolas Turtschi invites further research to better understand the complexity of social networks and their influence on the values, perceptions and ideas of individuals.

In a very metaphorical conclusion, he ends by suggesting that, as sources of information, networks could be likened to a sense, in the same way as sight or hearing. A kind of "social sense", "developed to differing degrees, with different levels of effectiveness", the only one that is likely to improve with age, in fact!

As for the future of our two young PhDs, no one will be surprised to hear that they themselves will not encounter the problems of unemployment: Isabel Baumann will continue her career at the Centre de recherche des sciences de la santé at the Haute École Spécialisé de Zurich, and Nicolas Turtschi has a position at the Haute École de la Santé du Canton de Vaud.


>> Baumann, Isabel (2015). Labor market experience and well-being after firm closure: Survey evidence on displaced manufacturing workers in Switzerland. Under the supervision of Daniel Oesch. University of Lausanne.

>> Turtschi, Nicolas (2015). Les réseaux sociaux : un outil de réinsertion pour les chômeurs désavantagés. Under the supervision of Giuliano Bonoli. University of Lausanne

Image iStock © 4774344sean

High skilled foreign employees in Switzerland often feel rejected by their colleagues

In a thesis by publication Claire Johnston provides significant advances in the field of psychology about what helps or prevents people to get satisfaction in their job. Her work has been approved by several outstanding journals. One piece presents evidence of subtle forms of discrimination in Switzerland targeting more German and French employees, perceived as highly competitive, than immigrants from Southern Europe who seem warmer and less challenging.

Claire Johnston’s proficiency struck the audience when she defended her PhD dissertation on May 26, 2015 at the University of Lausanne. Jury members praised the quality of the publications linked to her thesis, which was developed in the framework of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES. One paper is still under revision in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, whereas three articles appeared in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, one in the Journal of Career Development, and one in Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology.

In the latter she shows, along with her co-authors, that French and German immigrants experience more incivility from their colleagues than immigrants of other nationalities. This subtle interpersonal form of discrimination encompasses hostile behaviours such as interrupting, ignoring or using a condescending tone. Other recent research had already observed that Swiss people perceive immigrants from immediate neighbour countries as highly competent but less likeable. Claire Johnston’s findings prove with figures that the concerned individuals resent this animosity.

From a sample consisting of 1661 employees, of which 18% were immigrants (among whom 43.4% came from France or Germany), people from Western Europe reported significantly higher scores of experienced incivilities than people from Southern and Eastern Europe. As a matter of fact, immigrants from Portugal or the Balkans with lower education level and lower status position did not complain about incivility more than the Swiss nationals did.

Highly skilled foreigners from neighbouring countries “are believed to integrate easily into the host country and labour market, and hence tend to be forgotten when designing measures to combat discrimination against immigrants”, notes the psychologist in her article.

Growing job insecurity

This finding is not the only one of Claire Johnston’s thesis. In the context of an increasingly complex labour market with growing job insecurity, demand for flexibility and decreasing long-term positions, she scrutinised different individual and professional characteristics and their relations to general and work-related well-being.

To do so she used many inputs from psychology like measures of personality and life satisfaction, as well as concepts like belief in a just world and organisational justice. Her data came from a representative sample of about 2000 residents in Switzerland, 94% employed and 6% unemployed, which were collected within a 7-wave longitudinal study on career paths conducted by the NCCR LIVES IP207. Only the two first waves (2012 and 2013) are included in Claire Johnston’s analysis.

Career adapt-ability

Claire Johnston notably elaborates on the concept of career adapt-ability, which is characterised by concern, control, curiosity, and confidence. It has already been shown that good levels of adapt-ability improve work engagement, job satisfaction, job search strategies, job tenure, and self-rated career performance.

The young psychologist contributed to methodological advances in measuring career adapt-ability and its relations to happiness and work stress. With IP207 team she validated a French and a German version of a career adapt-ability scale in order to use it in the Swiss context.

Claire Johnston’s thesis confirmed previous counter-intuitive research, that job search episodes may enhance adapt-ability resources: unemployed participants actually reported higher scores on career adapt-ability. This effect does not appear however for people with high job insecurity, who face “a more stressful and demanding professional context in which it is more difficult to activate and trigger the resources,” she notes.

It remains to be tested whether the adapt-ability of job seekers stays elevated in the long term or if there is only a limited “critical window” of time in which individuals have a higher chance to find employment. The researcher also suggests that interventions aimed at developing career adaptability should be designed and tested.

Having got her doctoral degree seven months ahead of the end of her contract, Claire Johnston will certainly use the remaining time to dig further. Work Psychology has much to gain from such a professional and adaptable researcher. Her competence should in fact frighten many, but as she is from South Africa and highly likeable, all is forgiven.

>> Johnston, Claire (2015). The contribution of individual and professional characteristics to general and work-related well-being. Supervised by Jérôme Rossier and Franciska Krings. University of Lausanne.

13th European Conference on Psychological Assessment in Zurich with sessions on life course

13th European Conference on Psychological Assessment in Zurich with sessions on life course

The biennal conference will take place this year at the University of Zurich on July 22-25, 2015. Chaired by Prof. Willibald Ruch, leader of the Personality and Assessment Unit in the Department of Psychology and a member of the NCCR LIVES, it will include a session on "Opportunities and challenges of longitudinal perspectives" and a session on "Vulnerabilities and resources at work and in career development".

Session 1
Opportunities and challenges of longitudinal perspectives

Thursday, July 23, 2015: 9:45am - 11:15am

Time poses several challenges to longitudinal perspectives, an example of this would be when it comes to ensure measurement invariance of constructs or to assess people evaluations of past events. This symposium brings together researchers from the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES and those interested in longitudinal perspectives to explore these challenges and discuss the opportunities they also entail.

First, introducing the issue of measurement invariance, Jeannette Brodbeck and colleagues examine standardized inventories of marital satisfaction and psychopathological symptoms. In two 2-waves studies on married individuals and on patients before and after psychotherapy, respectively, this team presents the evolution of these constructs over time.

Oriane Sarrasin then showcases the invariance of a 5-item self-esteem scale with multigroup confirmatory factor analyses in the tumultuous context of late adolescence and young adulthood. Her results highlight that changes in self-esteem of this vulnerable population are mainly related to changes in their satisfaction with their body image.

Finally, Davide Morselli and colleagues present life-history calendars as a means to approach past events. Their work compares respondents’ subjective evaluations of their personal trajectory obtained with graphical representations or a differential scale and pinpoints advantages of life-history calendars.

Chairs: Grégoire Bollmann, University of Lausanne, Christian Maggiori, University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Western Switzerland (NCCR LIVES IP207)
Discussant(s): Jérôme Rossier, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP207)

  • Longitudinal measurement invariance issues illustrated by examples of marital satisfaction in later life and the structure of psychopathology before and after psychotherapy
    Jeannette Brodbeck, Hansjörg Znoj, Pasqualina Perrig-Chiello, 
University of Bern (NCCR LIVES IP212)
  • Measuring self-esteem among young adults in different educational tracks: A longitudinal perspective
    Oriane Sarrasin
, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP201)
  • The use of Life-History Calendar Methods (LHC) to assess subjective evaluation of the personal life trajectory
    Davide Morselli, Dario Spini, Nora Dasoki, Elenya Page
, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP201)

Session 3
Vulnerabilities and resources at work and in career development

Friday, July 24, 2015: 9:45am - 11:15am

Within the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research LIVES, vulnerabilities and resources can be conceived at multiple levels. Here we bring together researchers interested to track down various forms and sources of these two concepts in the domains of career development and work. This symposium will showcase a collection of newly developed instruments investigating the multiple levels at which vulnerabilities and resources can be experienced and respectively garnered, namely within individuals, in their interpersonal relationships or the broader normative context.

Starting within individuals in career development, Shékina Rochat and Jérôme Rossier explore the validity of the career decision-making difficulties scale and its relationship with various forms of self-esteem.

Sgaramella and colleagues then identify future orientation and resilience as relevant resources for individuals’ career and life paths. The next two talks then proceed with vulnerabilities and resources in individuals’ interpersonal and normative context.

Introducing humor at work, Jennifer Hofmann and Willibald Ruch validate a short instrument of dispositions toward ridicule and laughter and present their relations with work related outcomes.

Finally, Grégoire Bollmann and Sébastien Mena examine people endorsement of the free market system as an institution permeating society and its implications for the self and decision-making at work.

Chairs: Grégoire Bollmann, Claire Johnston, Jérôme Rossier, University of Lausanne (NCCR LIVES IP207)

  • Validation of the Career Decision-Making Difficulties Scale (CDDQ) in a Francophone context
    Shékina Rochat, Jérôme Rossier, 
University of Lausanne
  • More complex times require more attention to future orientation, resilience and methodological choices in Life Design approach
    Teresa M. Sgaramella, Laura Nota, Lea Ferrari, Maria Cristina Ginevra, I. DiMaggio, 
Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy
  • Validation of the PhoPhiKat-9 (Short Form) in a workplace context
    Jennifer Hofmann, Willibald Ruch
, University of Zurich
  • Believing in a free market system: Implications for the self and the society
    Grégoire Bollmann, University of Lausanne, Sébastien Mena, City University London

>> Conference website

Image iStock © Felix Renaud

Young adults’ excess death rate is not inevitable but the result of social inequality

Early adulthood comes with an increase in the risk of death. There are three possible explanations for this phenomenon: “internal turmoil” linked to the psychological development of the adolescent, the impact of the socio-economic environment surrounding the assumption of new adulthood roles, or a selection effect due to the presence of a small group of particularly exposed individuals. In a doctoral thesis successfully defended on 21 May 2015 at the University of Geneva, Adrien Remund resolves this enigma by largely ruling out the first hypothesis.

The temporary increase in the risk of death at the end of adolescence is a phenomenon that was first identified over a century ago. Although this abnormally high mortality rate has been extensively documented and recognised in demography, it has never been clearly defined, measured or explained.

Adrien Remund’s doctoral study fills those gaps. Undertaken within the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES at the University of Geneva, his dissertation shows that the presence of a very small vulnerable sub-population is enough to generate a mortality bump without any individual actually experiencing an increase in their personal risk of death.

Contrary to the vision shared until now by certain demographers and a number of (neuro)psychologists, the high death rate among young adults is not, therefore, primarily linked to a spread of dangerous behaviours during this phase of life, but rather to the presence of particularly pronounced social, economic and biological inequalities within this age group. Once the most exposed individuals have been taken out of the equation, the mortality curve resumes a more even trajectory.

To obtain these results, the researcher tested different theoretical hypotheses applying several methodological tools, some of which already existed and some of which were newly developed. He analysed the mortality statistics of more than 10,000 different population groups using the Human Mortality Database, which covers four centuries and four continents.

Remund's findings reveal that the high mortality rate among young adults is neither universal, nor limited to adolescents, nor caused solely by accidents and suicides. Prior to World War II, the phenomenon could be mainly attributed to tuberculosis and maternal mortality.

The young demographer also used the Swiss death records compiled by the Swiss National Cohort to study inequalities among young people in relation to death at a more local level, by observing survival rates between the ages of 10 and 34 in a cohort of approximately 375,000 residents born between 1975 and 1979.

Sub-populations at risk

The Swiss data revealed the presence of inequalities "exceeding all expectations", particularly with regard to gender, level of education, type of household and socio-professional status. As the vulnerability factors combine, risk ratios ranging from 1 to 100 are found between the most privileged and most vulnerable profiles. For the researcher, this proves that it is not an inevitable phenomenon.

"No, the abnormally high mortality rate among young adults is not an inevitability, as numerous historical populations and a large proportion of the young people growing up in Switzerland avoid it. While road accidents and suicides do currently represent the main challenge in terms of public health policy, history teaches us that, in the past, non-violent causes of death greatly contributed to the high death rate among young adults. Indeed, the socio-economic context of the transition to adulthood brings about huge inequalities in the risk of death, which can explain the high mortality rate among young adults much better than theories based purely on the neuropsychological development of the adolescent," Remund concludes in his thesis.

The demographer hopes that his conclusions will have an impact on future public health policies aimed at young adults. He thinks that research should however go further: "I could definitely dedicate my whole career to this subject", he said during his viva on 21 May.

"A fundamental point of reference"

Carlo Giovani Camarda, a member of the jury and researcher at the Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) in Paris, stated that this thesis will be a “fundamental point of reference".

The other members of the jury also noted the "boldness", "innovation" and "interdisciplinarity" of the thesis. "You have the ability to make complicated things simpler," said France Meslé, Director of Research at INED.

Adrien Remund will have many more opportunities to exchange with these two specialists over the coming months, as he has already obtained an early postdoc grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation, which will enable him to spend some time at their prestigious institution.

>> Remund, Adrien (2015). Jeunesses vulnérables ? Mesures, composantes et causes de la surmortalité des jeunes adultes. Supervised by Michel Oris. University of Geneva.

Factorial Survey Designs in Labor Market Research: joint workshop NCCR On the Move & NCCR LIVES

Factorial Survey Designs in Labor Market Research: joint workshop NCCR On the Move & NCCR LIVES

The Workshop “Factorial survey designs in labor market research” took place on 21 May 2015 at the University of Lausanne. The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research "On the Move" was the main organiser. Their post-doc researcher Flavia Fossati, based at the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) in Lausanne, prepared a short report of the event.

Factorial Survey Designs in Labor Market Research. An Epilogue.


The Workshop “Factorial survey designs in labor market research” took place on 21 May 2015 at the University of Lausanne.

Our four guests, Prof. Katrin Auspurg (Goethe University Frankfurt), Prof. Marc Gurgand (Paris School of Economics), Prof. Dominik Hangartner (London School of Economics) and Andreas Scheck (Goethe University Frankfurt), presented their recent work on survey experiments. Moreover, our three local research teams (Integration through Active Labor Market Policies and Discrimination as an Obstacle to Social Cohesion of the NCCR – On the Move as well as Education and Employment of the NCCR LIVES) had the possibility to present their planned experimental designs. Besides lively discussions on the different presentations, all research teams obtained valuable feedbacks on their specific projects from both speakers and the audience.

In particular, we discussed pivotal issues such as how to best address low response rates and social desirability biases, how to validate experimental data with behavioral benchmarks and – last but not least – whether conjoint analyses, choice experiments or vignette studies perform best.

The attendance of 25 national and international guests from three different disciplines (sociology, political science and economics) allowed us to network and establish new professional contacts. The discussion benefitted a lot from the researchers’ interdisciplinarity, which opened new perspectives on the various questions.

Flavia Fossati, NCCR – On the Move, PostDoc on the project Integration through Active Labor Market Policies

Virtual special issue of the British Journal of Social Psychology with a LIVES paper in it

The British Journal of Social Psychology has selected 9 works to feature in a special virtual issue to coincide with the International Society of Political Psychology annual conference in San Diego (July 2015). NCCR LIVES PhD Candidate Mouna Bakouri is among the authors.

The link allows free access to the selected papers for a period of four months:

Mouna Bakouri's article was reported in a news on our website last February: People with a “bonding identity” cope better with structural disadvantage

Content of the special virtual issue of the BJSP to coincide with ISPP Conference in San Diego, 3rd-6th July 2015

Introduction to the Virtual Issue
Karen Douglas & Nick Hopkins

Making good theory practical: Five lessons for an Applied Social Identity Approach to challenges of organizational, health, and clinical psychology
S. Alexander Haslam

When threats foreign turn domestic: Two ways for distant realistic intergroup threats to carry over into local intolerance
Thijs Bouman, Martijn van Zomeren & Sabine Otten

Longing for the country's good old days: National nostalgia, autochthony beliefs, and opposition to Muslim expressive rights
Anouk Smeekes, Maykel Verkuyten & Borja Martinovic

Denunciation and the construction of norms in group conflict: Examples from an Al-Qaeda-supporting group
W. M. L. Finlay

Coping with structural disadvantage: Overcoming negative effects of perceived barriers through bonding identities
Mouna Bakouri & Christian Staerklé

Tweeting about sexism: The well-being benefits of a social media collective action
Mindi D. Foster

Acting in solidarity: Testing an extended dual pathway model of collective action by bystander group members
Rim Saab, Nicole Tausch, Russell Spears & Wing-Yee Cheung

The repertoire of resistance: Non-compliance with directives in Milgram's ‘obedience’ experiments
Matthew M. Hollander

Labelling and discrimination: Do homophobic epithets undermine fair distribution of resources?
Fabio Fasoli, Anne Maass & Andrea Carnaghi

The Alpine Population Conference (Alp-Pop 2016) in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland

The Alpine Population Conference (Alp-Pop 2016) in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland

Alp-Pop brings together scholars interested in population issues across several disciplines, including demography, economics, epidemiology, political science, sociology and psychology. The conference emphasizes empirical rigor and innovation over a given topic or geographical area, and meets the challenges of interdisciplinary and international audiences.


(on-line on January 2016)

Call for papers

(on-line on May 2015)

We welcome submissions on all population issues (e.g. population and health, migration, families and the welfare state; population and economic development/institutions, well-being, etc.). We particularly encourage submissions that take a life course perspective and/or address social inequalities. Submissions of original papers or extended abstracts are invited by August 15, 2015, and submitters will be notified of acceptance within a couple of weeks. Submissions and inquiries should be addressed via email to:

The confirmed Ski-note speakers for the 2016 Conference are Daniel Hamermesh (Royal Holloway – University of London and University of Texas – Austin) and Elizabeth Thomson (SUDA, Stockholm University and University of Wisconsin – Madison).

Alp-Pop scholars confer both formally and informally. A traditional conference program (paper and poster presentations) mixes with group activities in a world-class winter resort. The conference location, the Hotel du Golf, is very close to the ski slopes of Villars and was chosen for its proximity to both Geneva and Torino/Milano.

Participants are expected to seek their own funding. However, the organizers can provide some support for Ph.D. students. Applications for juniors’ funding support should be clearly indicated in the submissions. Special-rate rooms have been reserved at the conference hotel with arrival on January 26 and departure on January 29 (the conference will end late morning). Participants will receive information on how to reach Villars and regular updates on the conference.

If there is demand, we will also aim to organize child care. Please indicate in your application if you intend to bring children along to the conference, as well as their ages.

Organizing committee: Arnstein Aassve (Bocconi University), Laura Bernardi (University of Lausanne), Michele Pellizzari (University of Geneva) and Domenico Tabasso (University of Geneva)

Institutions: The Carlo F. Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics at Bocconi University and the Swiss National Center for Competence in Research LIVES (University of Lausanne and University of Geneva)

Photo Michel Barraz © ISS/UNIL

Kate Stovel: “Curiosity rests on acknowledging ignorance and declines with hierarchical positions”

Invited by the NCCR LIVES as a keynote speaker at the upcoming Congress of the Swiss Sociological Association, June 3-5, 2015 at the University of Lausanne, the American sociology professor will give a lecture on “The Social Structures of Curiosity”. She is a renowned expert of the network analysis and sequence analysis methods, which she used to observe how structures of relations shape individual behavior and what the temporal ordering of life course events says about the social reality.

Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, Director of the Center for Statistics in the Social Sciences, and North American Editor of the British Journal of Sociology, Katherine Stovel had a pioneering role in the development of methodologies that have become essential in the life course perspective. The Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES will be very pleased to welcome her on Friday 5 June during the 2015 Congress of the Swiss Sociological Association in Lausanne, and asked her a few questions in advance.

How do you link the general topic of the congress, which is “Collective Dynamics, Social (De) Regulation and Public Spheres” with your lecture on “The Social Structures of Curiosity”?
The 2015 congress has an important and broad theme that touches on many areas of active sociological research. My lecture will focus on how social structures impact curiosity, a topic that at first glance appears to be rather far removed from the general theme of the Congress. However, two clear and related consequences of the deregulation of institutions, and social life more generally, provide the backdrop for my interest in how social conditions shape curiosity. First, many social forces have contributed to a profound individualization of the life-course, and this individualization means that social psychological characteristics and processes – including openness to others and exploratory learning – are more important than ever in shaping individuals' experiences, and ultimately, the human capital embodied in a society. Second, the deterioration of collective values means that educational settings are increasingly oriented toward individual achievement, a trend that may have deleterious impacts on curiosity (as well as other forms of creative and expressive behavior). Finally, coupled with the social transformations that will be addressed at this congress, we have experienced massive changes in technology and access to information in the last decades. To date, much of the academic interest on the rise of virtual social networks and informationally-rich technologies has focused on their prospects for coordinating collective action, and for reducing the impact of geographical proximity on communication and interaction. Regrettably, in my opinion, far less attention has been paid to understanding the social and behavioral consequences of new information technologies on institutionally organized and self-directed exploration and discovery, and innovation.

In your abstract you say that “many observers have noted an apparent lack of curiosity in the contemporary world.” Could you mention a few examples?  Where and how did you empirically observe curiosity?
In my roles as professor and social observer, I have long been struck by instances of both astonishing curiosity, and surprising lack of curiosity. My academic interest in curiosity was first piqued by repeated experiences with undergraduate students who all too often appear profoundly un-curious about the world around them. Rather than expressing wonder or excitement about digging deeper, many students restrict their queries to a singularity: 'Is this going to be on the test?' As have many of my colleagues, I began to suspect that contemporary students were experiencing an educational environment filled with discrete and floating bits of information, and that they had a weakly constructed  ‘knowledge scaffold’ upon which to hang new information. Coupled with an intense emphasis on objective academic performance, this seemed to stunt their curiosity. My impression that curiosity was on the wane is echoed in the popular press, which frequently laments the diminished curiosity in successive generations.

According to your observations, what are the network and information structures that stimulate what you call “curiosity cascades”?
Formal investigations into the social structures that stimulate and sustain curiosity are still in the early phases. My own preliminary forays into this field are shaped by my intuition that curiosity cascades are related to both the level of clustering in a network, and the nature of hierarchy. Curiosity cascades should peak when networks (and knowledge structures) reflect a blend of density and sparseness. That is, when people interact primarily in dense networks, there is little cognitive space for exploration, and likely minimal social support for doing so. As networks become somewhat more expansive, individuals encounter unfamiliar situations and become more likely to initiate curiosity cascades in order to integrate new information into existing knowledge or experience. As a corollary, the connectivity of such blended networks should stimulate curiosity cascades in network partners. However, if networks are too expansive, the world may appear so unstructured that it is hard to make sense of at all. If they occur at all, curiosity cascades in sparse networks are likely to be deep rather than broad. In addition, because curiosity rests on acknowledging that one does not know something, ceteris paribus, curiosity declines with position in a hierarchy, as the relational imperatives of authority and prestige are frequently at odds with admitting ignorance.

You’ve studied social networks, labor market, adolescent sexuality, residential mobility, lynching in the Deep South, bank careers... What research line do you follow through all these issues?
While my research has addressed a number of seemingly disparate topics, my work is unified by a fundamental interest in how structures of relations shape individual behavior. Following in the well-developed tradition of relational network analysis, my work aims to take seriously both network structures and the relational imperatives associated with them (hence my interest in how hierarchy impacts curiosity, for instance). More broadly, I seek to understand how particular historical moments produce individuals who are embedded in sets of relations, how these relations structure actors’ understandings of the world, and, ultimately, the salience of the characteristics they may posses.

Network and sequence analysis seem to be your favorite methods. What do they respectively bring to the social sciences and how do you combine them?
I view network analysis as distinctly sociological, as it puts relations among actors at the forefront of inquiry. Rather than presuming that individuals are simply endowed with socially salient characteristics, a relational approach to sociology allows us to consider how structures of interactions – and the cultural meanings and cognitive processes associated with these relations – shape which characteristics matter, as well as how individuals navigate their social environments. Until recently, both data and methods limited network scholars' analyses to snapshots, even though most of us realized that networks are not static and that the dynamics of networks are as important as their structure. During this period of methodological stasis, I embraced sequence analysis, a method that promised to help identify both patterns in life course trajectories as well as the presence of institutionally sustained scripts. Such scripts are of particular interest to me, since in addition to directly guiding individuals' behavior they also play a role in generating observed network structures. 

You give a lot of importance to the notion of temporality, which is also an important principle in the life course approach that inspires us at LIVES. Could you give an example, drawn from your findings, of the way temporality impacts the social reality?
One of the key questions that has motivated my research over the past decades –and my original motivation for becoming a sociologist – is the thorny problem of how organizational and institutional dynamics affect different types of workers over the course of their careers. Whereas it has long been recognized that organizational constraints limit career outcomes for workers, modeling the precise nature of these relationships has proven difficult in part because of the intersection of multiple temporal processes across a variety of relevant structures. And yet understanding the relationship between organizational change and the prospective prospects of workers is of great importance, especially as economic restructuring disrupts career ladders. My work on this topic emphasizes the multi-level nature of these dynamic interactions, and has yielded considerable insight into how competing incentives at the micro-level may produce unexpected, and sometimes durable, macro-level structures. I have addressed these issues explicitly within three research projects: a study of historical employment patterns at Lloyds Bank that exposed the dual emergence of modern institutions and modern career structures, an NSF-funded study of information asymmetries and the dynamics of labor market segregation and in a current project on economic restructuring and geographic mobility among young adults. In this most recent project, we revisit themes I addressed in earlier work on geographic migration and on how macro-changes affect career structures by asking the question:  How do young people navigate the transition to adulthood in the wake of the 2008 “Great Recession”? While pundits and parents alike have noted the renewed tendency for young people to reside with their parents, large numbers of young adults continue to strike out on their own. In this project, we use a life course perspective and data derived from the NLYS-97 cohort to investigate the relationship between searching for a job and geographic mobility in the periods before, during, and after the Great Recession. The project is particularly innovative in that we combine a sequence analysis that allows us to precisely measure the temporal ordering of job searching, employment, and migration with event history models of migration. Our most surprising finding to date is that among this sample of young adults, there is no discernable temporal coupling of job search and migration. That is, geographic moves neither directly precede, nor directly follow, job searches. While we are continuing to refine both our analysis and our thinking about this result, we suspect that this cohort of young adults may engage in migration – especially to urban areas – as a lifestyle choice more than an employment strategy.

>> Abstracts of keynote presentations

JOB OFFER - POST-DOCTORATE RESEARCHER / ACADEMIC ASSOCIATE UAS in social sciences specialised in mixed methods

The associated researcher will work on a 36 month project on the life course of children of migrants and their transition to adulthood. This project is part of the NCCR LIVES. The team is composed of Professors Claudio Bolzman, Milena Chimienti and Jean-Marie Le Goff.


  • Quantitative analysis on existing data basis (LIVES-FORS-COHORT and TREE) in the field of the transition to adulthood of children of migrants;
  • Conducting and analysing qualitative interviews in different cities in Switzerland;
  • Managing a team of interviewers.

Deadline for applications: 15.06.2019

Starting date: 01.09.2019

Workplaces:University of Applied Sciences and Arts, School of Social Work and University of Lausanne

LIVES members on their way to the Population Association of America 2015 annual meeting in San Diego

LIVES members on their way to the Population Association of America 2015 annual meeting in San Diego

Researchers from the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES will present a paper at the congress of the biggest society of demographers in the world from May 30 to May 2, 2015. Their topics cover mainly fertility, family, and immigration.

Among the thousands of researchers gathering for the 3-day event in the Californian city, a dozen collaborate with the NCCR LIVES. Here are the concerned presentations.

Session 17:

Sex, Fertility, and Well-Being

2. Parenthood and Psychological Well-Being: The Moderating Role of Lifestyle • Anne Roeters, Utrecht University; Jornt Mandemakers, Wageningen University; Marieke Voorpostel, Swiss Foundation for Research in the Social Sciences (FORS)

Session 55:

Data and Measurement Challenges in the Developing World - Field Validation Innovations

1. Fertility in Sub Saharan Africa: What Can We Learn from INDEPTH Sites? Clémentine Rossier, University of Geneva; Valérie Delaunay, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD); Pauline Adamopoulos, University of Geneva; Martin Bangha, INDEPTH Network

Session 60:

Immigration and Education

3. Educational Trajectories of the Children of Migrants in SwitzerlandAndrés Gomensoro, University of Applied Sciences and Arts - Western Switzerland; Laura Bernardi, University of Lausanne

Session 171:

Families, Health, and Well-Being

4. Lone Motherhood and Self-Reported Health in Switzerland: Does Paid Work Matter?Laura Bernardi, University of Lausanne; Emanuela Struffolino, University of Lausanne; Marieke Voorpostel, Swiss Foundation for Research in the Social Sciences (FORS)

Session 181:

Reproductive Health and Fertility over Time

4. The Fertility Decline in Sub-Saharan Africa: Who’s Next after the Elite?Clémentine Rossier, University of Geneva; Jamaica Corker, University of Geneva; Bruno D. Schoumaker, Université Catholique de Louvain.

Session 196:

Marriage Markets and Assortative Mating

4. Does the Internet Affect Assortative Mating? The Case of Educational, Racial and Religious EndogamyGina Potarca, University of Lausanne

Poster Session 1:

Marriage, Unions, Families, and Households

30. Diverse Family Formation Trajectories and Their Consequences for CoparentingAnette E. Fasang, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin; Eric D. Widmer, University of Geneva

Poster Session 3:

Fertility Intentions and Behaviors

8. Vulnerable Life Courses? How Do Women without Children Face Social Norms on Motherhood?Vanessa Brandalesi, University of Lausanne

35. The Predictability of Fertility Intentions for Subsequent Fertility Behavior in a Stable-Low Fertility ContextDoris Hanappi, University of California, Berkeley and University of Lausanne; Carl Mason, University of California, Berkeley

Poster Session 9:

Family Planning, Sexual Behavior, and Reproductive Health

20. How Do Policies and Religiosity and Impact Abortion Practices and Attitudes: A Case Study: Romania • Cristina Bradatan, Texas Tech University; Ruxandra Oana Ciobanu, University of Geneva

>> Conference website:

Image iStock © skynesher

Delaying the age of tracking does not facilitate educational pathways

When placed for a longer period in a common core syllabus system, the weakest students eventually experiment less smooth upper secondary trajectories. This is one of the unexpected conclusions of the doctoral thesis in socio-economics by Joëlle Latina, which she successfully defended on 13 April 2015 at the University of Geneva. This research drew upon administrative data from Geneva recording the transitions between compulsory education and post-compulsory training of all pupils in the canton for twelve years.

It is not always possible to use exhaustive data and benefit from a natural experiment, i.e. one not provoked artificially for research purposes. But this is the context in which Joëlle Latina, UAS research fellow at the Geneva Haute école de gestion, was able to work, in a project conducted by the Leading House in Education Economics of the University of Geneva, associated with the IP204 project within the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES.

With the help of Professor José Ramirez, and with Yves Flückiger, future rector of the University of Geneva, as an additional thesis co-director, Joëlle Latina was able to access the administrative data of the canton of Geneva for almost 44,000 students, i.e. all young people who entered middle school from 1993 to 2004. The data paint a sociodemographic portrait of pupils from these twelve cohorts, and make it possible to analyse their educational routes for up to three years after they leave compulsory schooling.

This study confirms the effects of social reproduction on academic success. Non-francophone children with most recent immigration backgrounds, little social capital and less parental support, have more disrupted trajectories leading to fewer upper secondary level qualifications than more privileged students.

Tracking at age 12 or 13

The research provides original insight into a less well-charted area. The data make it possible to compare two types of schooling: streaming pupils into several levels from age 12, as was already commonplace in most establishments in the canton at the time, and tracking pupils one year later, as was practised by three establishments in Geneva until the inter-canton harmonisation of compulsory education put an end to the experiment in 2011.

This comparison lead to a finding which surprised Joëlle Latina and her thesis supervisors: delayed tracking was not beneficial to the low achievers; their likelihood of changing routes – sometimes even several times – in the three years following the end of compulsory education is 12 percentage points higher than that of those placed in a lower track one year earlier.

"While the literature points out that early tracking tends to increase school performance inequality, our results suggest that delaying tracking can reduce the smoothness of subsequent school transitions and particularly so for low ability students," states Joëlle Latina in her thesis.

Why these different pathways? According to Joëlle Latina, two theories could explain why the educational trajectories of weaker pupils have more ruptures and changes when they study alongside better-performing children for longer.

Social contrast and status characteristics

The theory of social contrast says that individuals tend to compare themselves to those around them and therefore to share the same aspirations. This could come to the detriment of students on the lower end of the ability distribution, who would find themselves unable to achieve their ambitions and be forced to change courses once they meet with failure.

According to the status characteristics theory, the confidence that individuals may or may not have in their own skills is influenced by common beliefs about the group to which they belong. Thus the prejudice that girls are less performing at maths leads them to underestimate themselves and to be less likely to study this subject than boys. Applied to the situation examined here, this phenomenon is said to encourage pupils who transfer early to pre-vocational schooling to belittle themselves, and those tracked at a later stage to overestimate themselves. For those who opt for academic studies without having all of the required potential, this false perception is said to lead to more referral errors.

Trajectories of varying smoothness

Joëlle Latina's thesis also examines other aspects of transitions between compulsory education and further educational pathways. She is particularly interested in the trajectories of apprentices and in route changes during the three years after leaving middle school. Again, social factors have a profound influence. Generally, the good students prefer the academic option to apprenticeships. However, when they opt for vocational training, high track students have smoother educational trajectories, with fewer changes.

Finally, she examines the transitions within vocational training between pure classroom education and apprenticeships, a type of transition which has not been studied in depth but which concerns around a fifth of young people in commercial training in Geneva. All other factors being equal, changing from business school to dual vocational education and training (VET) increases the likelihood of obtaining an upper secondary diploma; by contrast, the concerned people lose an average of one semester in the course of the changeover.

Implications for public policies

The researcher maintains that the horizontal permeability of the education system needs to be improved, so that changes can take place without loss of time, notably by validating crosscutting skills, as Germany is currently testing in its DECVET project.

As regards compulsory education, she recommends more specifically targeting disadvantaged groups, and improving counselling in order to avoid dead ends. She believes that better information on learning through internships is needed, and that more emphasis should be placed on contextualised (rather than abstract) skills when dealing with pupils not destined for academic studies.

A bright future

After the thesis defence, the five jury members praised Joëlle Latina's work as "far above average". She has shown a "solid methodology", according to Rainer Winkelmann, professor at the University of Zurich, and "has a bright future ahead of her", according to Yves Flückiger. In the immediate future, the young researcher intends to continue in the same research line by integrating longitudinal and comparative data.

>> Latina, Joëlle (2015). Upper secondary school transitions : an empirical analysis. Supervised by José V. Ramirez and Yves Flückiger. University of Geneva

Image iStock © byryo

How the AIDS virus taught them to live: "ordinary" women with extraordinary trajectories

For her thesis project at the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES, Vanessa Fargnoli is investigating the life course of women who – on the surface – were unlikely HIV candidates. Around thirty interviews have been conducted over the last year. They point to new areas for analysis and show the incredible resilience of the women who took part in this research.

One day they learned that they were carriers of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Most of them did not expect it at all. It was over fifteen years ago, thirty years ago for some. Since then they have been living with their condition; not healthy, not ill. Because since the advent of triple combination therapy, people no longer die of AIDS. Yet people are marked for life – in their daily lives, in their relationships and in terms of their identity – by the consequences of infection. This brutal realisation by women who were not drug users, sex workers or from countries where the pandemic is rife, is the focus of the in-depth interviews conducted by Vanessa Fargnoli, a sociologist from the University of Geneva, since 2014.

"A lot of work has already been done on high-risk groups. This has often taken the form of research into prevention. Yet women I have called "ordinary", although I dislike the word, are under-represented in the studies. They are not a public health priority, as they are not perceived as being potentially 'infectious'," explains the doctoral candidate.

Since the ethics committee of the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) approved her project in December 2013, followed by the ethics committee of the University Hospital of the Canton of Vaud (CHUV) in May 2014, Vanessa Fargnoli has met with twenty-seven participants aged 34 to 69 from the most diverse backgrounds in terms of education, employment situation and family status. Around half of them have already been seen twice, with each interview lasting almost two hours.

"Each of these women has a different story. One took her husband to court, some wanted to have a child despite everything and some did not; the situations are incredibly varied," states the researcher. One of these women lost her job because of HIV, another decided to leave the disability insurance system and do all she can to get back to work. There are even two cases of "intentional" infection: one participant said that she was attempting a kind of suicide, another that her partner had refused to use protection out of love, in order to "share everything" with her.

"A relationship illness"

However, beyond these differences, a common thread emerges, which Vanessa Fargnoli had not expected to be so clearly present: almost all of these stories contain episodes of violence – physical, sexual or psychological – prior to infection. "It is known that certain traumas cause victims to lose respect for themselves. Are these predispositions the reason why these women did not protect themselves? That is a hypothesis to be tested. At this stage in any case, I already perceive AIDS as a 'relationship illness'," says the sociologist.

All the ingredients from the life course perspective are brought together in this research and will be drawn upon to move forward in the analysis: socio-historic context (new infection, new treatments), critical events (moment of infection, diagnosis, physical symptoms), accumulation of disadvantages and bifurcations (as regards love relationships, family, working life and, of course, health). Applied to AIDS, Vanessa Fargnoli's empirical, inductive approach smoothly combines theoretical paradigms: "lifelong development" (how identity is negotiated and constructed, what resources are mobilised), "linked lives" (particularly perceptible in the case of a disease contracted from others and having an impact on other people close to the sufferer), "agency" (i.e. the strategies used by the individuals concerned, consisting equally of avoidance and compensation).

"Paradoxical illness"

Vanessa Fargnoli believes that AIDS is not only a "relationship illness", but also a "paradoxical illness": "Being HIV-positive is both the worst and best thing that has happened to these women. It has forced them to start respecting themselves, and to take care of themselves; some of them have developed their spirituality enormously to cope with their situation," explains the researcher.

She believes that the paradox also arises from the fact that AIDS has lost its capacity for disruption at biological level, but not at the social level: it is no longer fatal, but is still perceived as dirty. Its victims are simultaneously invisible and stigmatised, normal and vulnerable. In addition, even if the virus is properly controlled, they still suffer enormously from the side effects of treatment – neurological problems, liver problems, metabolism problems. Finally, they are torn between guilt and secrecy on the one hand, and a desire to escape and share their experience on the other.

In addition, although they are themselves victims, many of the women questioned want to protect the man who infected them, or protect their loved ones by hiding or downplaying their condition. They refuse pity, and do not feel entitled to complain. Last but not least, the final paradox: their own children, teenagers or young adults who are all HIV-negative thanks to scientific progress, often do not systematically take the necessary precautions in their intimate relationships.

How to live

Vanessa Fargnoli says that several women were hesitant to share their experiences because they did not feel that they were a good example, seeing as they were getting along reasonably well, and that this did not fit in with the image circulated to encourage prevention. However, their story shows better than certain clichés how the risk affects everyone, and how living with HIV is no easy experience, even today.

"Perhaps there is a selection bias," she says, "but the women I met are all fighters. They discovered that the virus had made them more tolerant, more concerned for others, but also more demanding in their relationships." She cites as an example the experience of a former waitress, whose husband used to beat her with complete impunity and who, after being diagnosed, rebuilt her life via community associations and forged even stronger links with her family.

Vanessa Fargnoli concludes: "Even the woman who contracted AIDS deliberately in an attempt to destroy herself has ultimately succeeded in bringing meaning to her life. They all say that before HIV, their lives were worse. Surprisingly, some did not want the virus to be removed. It taught them how to live, not how to die."