Congress of the Swiss Sociological Association (SSA)

Social Justice in times of uncertainty

June 28—30, 2021  |  GENEVA

University of Geneva  |  UNIGE
Geneva School of Social Work, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland — Geneva  |  HETS-Genève, HES-SO

With the participation of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID)

Keynotes speakers

Michèle Lamont

Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies, Harvard University

Monday 28 June, 2021, 17:00 – 18:30


In the context of COVID, growing inequality, and political polarization, I am writing a book that diagnoses some of the current challenges facing Americans and offers a way forward. This is achieved by drawing on survey data and interviews with boomers, Gen Zs, and leading “agents of change,” who are producing new narratives in entertainment, comedy, advocacy, religion, art, journalism, impact investing, and other fields of activity.
Neoliberal scripts of self, based on criteria emphatically centered on material success, competitiveness, individualism, and self-reliance, are increasingly associated with poor mental health across classes. Agents of change offer alternatives: they are promoting narratives of hope that emphasize inclusion,diversity, sustainability and authenticity – as part of an increasingly salient “politic of recognition” that broadens cultural citizenship and thus affects exclusion and inequality.
I aim to understand how their influence takes shape through “recognition chains” that mobilize philanthropy, new social movements, social media, and more. Drawing on collaborative papers, I also analyze how Gen Zs make sense of growing inequality and COVID, and find/produce hope during this period of high uncertainty by drawing on available cultural repertoires.

Moderators: Milena Chimienti & Graziella Moraes Silva


Michèle Lamont is Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies at Harvard University. She served as the 108th President of the American Sociological Association in 2016-2017 and she chaired the Council for European Studies from 2006-2009. She is also the recipient of a 1996 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2014 Gutenberg research award and the 2017 Erasmus prize (for her contributions to the social sciences in Europe and the rest of the world). She is also the recipient of honorary doctorates from five countries (Canada, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK).

A cultural and comparative sociologist, Lamont is the author or coauthor of a dozen books and edited volumes and over one hundred articles and chapters on a range of topics including culture and inequality, racism and stigma, academia and knowledge, social change and successful societies, and qualitative methods. Her most recent publications include the coauthored book Getting Respect: Responding to Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil, and Israel (Princeton University Press 2016); the 2017 ASA Presidential Address “Addressing Recognition Gaps: Destigmatization and the Reduction of Inequality” (American Sociological Review 2018); the 2018 British Journal of Sociology Annual Lecture: “From ‘Having’ to ‘Being’: Self-Worth and the Current Crisis of American Society”; and a special issue of Daedalus on “Inequality as a Multidimensional Process” (coedited with Paul Pierson; summer 2019). Lamont is Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University and she served as Co-director of the Successful Societies Program, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research from 2002 to 2017. An Andrew Carnegie Fellow for 2019-2021, she is spending 2019-2020 on sabbatical at the Russell Sage Foundation, where she is writing a book on self-worth and inequality in the United States and Europe.

Amita Baviskar

Ashoka University and Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi (India)

Tuesday 29 June 2021, 09:00 – 10:30


Insecurity, the defining condition of subaltern classes, has intensified in the last three decades. Economic liberalisation, resource degradation and climate change have made lives and livelihoods more precarious, pushing people into desperate straits such that older forms of collective action seem irrelevant and impossible. In these dark times, where does hope lie? I shall address this question by drawing on research in urban and rural India. I shall argue that ecological justice has always been a precarious cause, and recognizing this requires us to rethink our theories of collective action and social change.

Moderators: Aditya Bharadwaj & Marlyne Sahakian


Amita Baviskar is a Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology & Anthropology at Ashoka University and Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Her research addresses the cultural politics of environment and development in rural and urban India. Currently, she is working on food and changing agrarian environments in central India and studying the social experience of air pollution and heat in Delhi.

Baviskar received a PhD in Development Sociology from Cornell University. Her first book, In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley, and other writings explore the themes of resource rights, popular resistance and discourses of environmentalism. Her recent publications include the edited books Elite and Everyman: The Cultural Politics of the Indian Middle Classes (with Raka Ray) and First Garden of the Republic: Nature on the President’s Estate, and the 2020 monograph Uncivil City: Ecology, Equity and the Commons in Delhi. Baviskar’s contributions to developing the field of environmental sociology in India and to the study of social movements have received peer recognition. She was awarded the 2005 Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for Distinguished Contributions to Development Studies, the 2008 VKRV Rao Prize for Social Science Research, and the 2010 Infosys Prize for Social Sciences.

Peter Wagner

Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) and at the University of Barcelona (Spain)

Tuesday 29 June 2021, 17:00 – 18:30


REVIEWING THE TRAJECTORIES OF MODERNITY: Biophysical resources, socio-ecological transformations, and the question of global justice

This presentation will be a (self-)critical reflection on our ways of conceiving the history of human societies over the past two centuries in global perspective. It will proceed in three steps: First, I want to show how the debate over “modernity” since the late twentieth century has gradually achieved a wider understanding of this history than the one offered by the opposition between the two traditions of historical materialism and modernization theory. Second, I will add that this debate, useful as it has been, has neglected the significance of the use of biophysical resources in shaping world-regional trajectories of modernity. Fully introducing this dimension, third, will permit the elaboration of a more nuanced perspective on global justice.

Moderators: Graziella Moraes Sivla & Julien Debonneville


Peter Wagner is Research Professor of Social Sciences at the Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) and at the University of Barcelona as well as temporarily project director at Ural Federal University in Yekaterinburg.

His main research areas are in historical-comparative sociology and in social and political theory. His recent publications include the books Collective action and political transformations: the entangled experiences of Brazil, South Africa, and Europe (with Aurea Mota, 2019), European modernity: a global approach (with Bo Stråth, 2017), and Progress: a reconstruction (2016).

Ota de Leonardis

Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy)

Wednesday 30 June 2021, 17:00 – 18:30


A paradigmatic change is taking place in configuring the future from (calculable) risk to uncertainty (to be prepared for), and is being accelerated by the present pandemic.
I will discuss preparedness, as intended as the societal capacity to respond to, and be prepared for critical events that are at the same time inevitable and unpredictable. I will argue that preparedness gives uncertainty a double face, in both cognitive and moral terms, and it provides two opposite images for future that entwine in the current discourse.
On the one hand uncertainty is associated with fear, and preparedness is intended as personal responsibility that justifies an exacerbated control of social behaviour. The spectre of a digital totalitarianism is now taking shape.
On the other hand uncertainty is associated with possibility, and preparedness is intended as a mindful posture towards the interdependence between human and nature that calls for an ethics –and politics- of care.
In both perspectives science is called upon, however in two different ways. I will develop some conjectural arguments with regard to sociology specifically.

Moderators: Jean-Michel Bonvin & Valerie Hugentobler


Ota de Leonardis is retired Professor of Sociology of Culture at the Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Milano-Bicocca.

She is president of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Advanced Studies of Nantes (France), and member of scientific board of the Research Centre CSM in Rome (Centro Studi per la Riforma dello Stato), of COPERSAMM (Conferenza Permanente per la Salute Mentale nel Mondo) in Trieste, and of the Research Centre for Urban Policies URBAN@IT in Bologna.

Her main research focuses on institutions, on the management and instrumentation of the public sector, particularly in the social policies field, and on the transformations of the public sphere, citizenship and democracy. O. de Leonardis, S. Negrelli, R. Salais, eds., Democracy and Capabilities for Voice. Welfare, Work and Public Deliberation in Europe, Bruxelles: PIEeter Lang, 2012; O. de Leonardis, F. Neresini, eds., “Il potere dei grandi numeri”, Special Issue, Rassegna Italiana di Sociologia, 3-4, 2015; O. de Leonardis et al., eds., Tour du monde de la Covid-19, Manucius, Paris, forthcoming.