Research - 04.07.2012 - 00:00 

Social situation in the Mediterranean

What is the social situation in the countries of the Mediterranean like? This is the question which about 20 sociologists tried to answer on the Greek island of Tinos. A summary of the research workshop.<br/>


4 July 2012. The meetings of the Tinos Seminar and the Bourdieu Foundation were demanding; communication took place in English and French, sometimes also with hands and feet, and usually until late in the evening. In short papers, participants described the economic, social and cultural situation of their respective countries. They presented statistical indicators and the historical development towards the status quo, and they sketched a sociological diagnosis of their contemporary society.

The Greek colleagues opened proceedings; the three HSG sociologists Patricia Holder, Michael Gemperle and Franz Schultheis supplemented their perspective with a summary of interviews they had previously conducted in Athens. This was followed by contributions from Tunisia, Spain, Egypt, Algeria, France, Italy, Portugal, Libya and Turkey, accompanied by discussions about recurring patterns, cultural particularities and socio-economic peculiarities of the Mediterranean region – such as the great significance of the family as an economic and mutually supportive community, but also the extent of phenomena like political machines and nepotism.

Many-layered reproduction crisis
Parallels came to light in topics such as gender relations and the role ascriptions that often appear traditionalist, particularly in North African countries. All Mediterranean cultures attribute a high degree of significance to the “good name” of the family: reputation as symbolic capital.

The topic of “government” constituted a principal item in the examination of social crises in the Mediterranean region: on the one hand, the focus was on government structures that had often been shaped by colonialism and had poorly developed forms of “bureaucratic rationality”. Talk about a “welfare state” quickly ossifies into an anachronism in this respect. It is the “welfare family”, not the welfare state which again appears to attract attention to itself today. Specific examples also served as a basis for a discussion of the question as to whether and how cultures in the Mediterranean region can be subjected to sociological comparisons at all.

The upshot of this was that the research hypothesis of a profound “reproduction crisis” in the Mediterranean region proved apt but substantially more many-layered than initially assumed. “We are looking at a cross-border social issue, the collective disappointment of a whole generation,” says Franz Schultheis.

Collective disappointment
Young people in the Mediterranean region are well trained and educated, critically reflective, politically active, involved in civil society, and are now emphatically demanding their position in society – an explosive mixture, particularly as Mediterranean capitalism is currently moving closer to Anglo-Saxon capitalism, which is characterised by a lower degree of employment protection, which means that young people find themselves up against closed doors.

The crisis caused by an inflation of qualifications is here combined with a considerable material decline and vanishing perspectives. This does not only cause young people to suffer but also their parents, who have invested a great deal in the hope for a better future for the coming generation. They will have to choose between an escape into migration, which entails cultural deracination, and forms of self-assertion and resistance.

The Mediterranean region will continue to occupy sociologists in the years to come: a Tinos Seminar of the Bourdieu Foundation and the St.Gallen Institute of Sociology is already being planned for 2014.

Photo: Photocase / Andre 25

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