SSA Congress: In­equal­ity and In­teg­ra­tion in Times of Crisis­equal­ity and In­teg­ra­tion in Times of Crisis

Con­gress of the Swiss So­ci­olo­gical As­so­ci­ation, June 26–28, 2013, at the Uni­versity of Bern

Since Karl Marx first de­scribed the enorm­ous so­cial in­equal­it­ies and their po­ten­tial for so­cial change at the be­gin­ning of in­dus­tri­al­iz­a­tion in the 19th cen­tury, the ori­gins, ex­tent, and con­sequences of so­cial in­equal­ity, as well the level of in­equal­ity which a so­ci­ety is will­ing to tol­er­ate, have been major themes in so­ci­ology. Our dis­cip­line has taken on the theme of in­equal­ity in mul­tiple areas ran­ging from re­search on un­equal edu­ca­tional and labor mar­ket op­por­tun­it­ies, un­equal in­come dis­tri­bu­tions, gender and health in­equal­ity, and in­equal­ity in life ex­pect­ancy, to men­tion only a few. There are in­nu­mer­able na­tional and in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences de­voted to these themes. Do we need yet an­other one? Is in­equal­ity still a prob­lem in our so­ci­ety?
The an­swer to this ques­tion is un­doubtedly yes. In par­tic­u­lar, the eco­nomic crisis at the start of the 21st cen­tury un­der­lines the fact that the theme of in­equal­ity has not lost its rel­ev­ance. Above all, the European debt crisis in­clines us to sus­pect that so­cial in­equal­ity is grow­ing. In com­par­ison with eco­nomic boom times, al­most all the European coun­tries feel the pres­sure of sta­bil­iz­ing their eco­nom­ies and cut­ting back on pub­lic ex­pendit­ures. This will also im­pact re­dis­tri­bu­tional policies to re­duce in­equal­ity and bring about new chal­lenges for in­teg­ra­tion policies ad­dress­ing the emer­ging dis­par­it­ies. At the same time as in­equal­it­ies within European so­ci­et­ies are ex­acer­bated, dis­par­it­ies between states are also rising, which will likely have ad­verse ef­fects on European uni­fic­a­tion, not to men­tion cre­at­ing new chal­lenges for Switzer­land as well.
The European debt crisis came at a point in time when global en­vir­on­mental and demo­graphic prob­lems worsened sim­ul­tan­eously – the aging of in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­tries and pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sion in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. The in­equal­ity ef­fects of cli­mate change and the un­equal dis­tri­bu­tion of pop­u­la­tion growth will lead to an in­crease in mi­gra­tion and el­ev­ate the im­mig­ra­tion pres­sure on the European Union and Switzer­land. For this reason, Switzer­land, as well as the other European coun­tries, grapple with ques­tions of man­aging mi­gra­tion and in­teg­ra­tion.
In­equal­it­ies – as prob­lem­atic they may be – are also in some sense an op­por­tun­ity. They in­crease the di­versity of so­ci­ety and can bring about new ideas, in­nov­a­tion, and growth. Our de­sire and abil­ity for so­cial in­teg­ra­tion de­pends, above all, on the ul­ti­mate bal­ance between these ad­vant­ages and dis­ad­vant­ages. Within the frame­work of the vari­ous foci of the re­search com­mit­tees, the con­fer­ence will con­cen­trate on the op­por­tun­it­ies as well as the risks as­so­ci­ated with these so­cial changes.

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