At a Glance

Founded2002
Renewal dates2008, 2012
Members20
SupportersBMO Financial Group Anonymous Donor
Disciplines
Sociology, including demography, social stratification, social theory and cultural sociology; political science, including comparative politics, political economy and comparative public policy; organizational, cultural and social psychology; political philosophy; history; economics

Why are some societies more successful than others?

Successful societies are those that create conditions that lead to better health, well-being and resilience for individuals and communities. The program aims to identify the cultural and social frameworks that put societies on a path toward greater and more equitable prosperity. It looks beyond simple economic analysis, and examines how an individual’s sense of identity and belonging within a culture can affect overall economic, physical and psychological well-being.

Our unique approach

The Successful Societies program brings together academics from sociology, political science, political philosophy, history, economics, and organizational, cultural and social psychology to share insights and create new understandings about how societal structures facilitate or inhibit the flourishing of a society. The program bridges the gap between researchers interested in studying institutions and those who study culture. It shows how understanding the interaction of institutional and cultural frameworks gives meaningful insights into how societies create opportunities for individual fulfilment and happiness.

A detail from the cover of the book Successful Societies, edited by program Co-Directors Peter A. Hall and Michèle Lamont.

Why this matters

The program provides a broad framework for research and analysis, while also providing insights that directly inform debate about hard questions with public policy implications around the globe. Work by fellows in the program has informed policy around early childhood education, immigration, health policy and more.

 

In depth

In contrast to research groups that focus largely on income inequality as an economic or political phenomenon, the Successful Societies Program considers how a wide range of social inequalities—including inequalities of gender, race, religion, class and income—are related to one another. Drawing on its interdisciplinary strengths, the program analyses the cultural and social processes that generate, reinforce or mitigate such inequalities.

Since its launch in 2002, the program has produced two influential volumes: Social Resilience in the Neoliberal Era (2013) and Successful Societies: How Institutions and Culture Affect Health (2009). In the latter, a chapter by Ann Swidler investigates how and why Uganda, with greater economic challenges than Botswana, nonetheless produced more successful AIDS initiatives. Similarly, Michele Lamont probes how various ethnic and racial minorities respond to the stigma that has attached to them because of their minority status. Peter Evans considers how collective action within civil society, in states such as India and Brazil, improved overall population health.

Social Resilience in the Neoliberal Era considers how 30 years of market-oriented policies around the world have affected societies’ changing values, culture and people’s sense of self.  The contributors also consider the sources of social resilience in the face of the associated dislocation. Gérard Bouchard found that the province of Quebec resisted neo-liberal initiatives and sustained social well-being more successfully than some other parts of Canada. He attributes this resilience to the distinctive social economy of Quebec and the national myths central to its collective imaginary. Leanne Son Hing’s empirical research shows that despite their attachment to ideals of meritocracy, people who hold neoliberal values also tend to believe that people of different backgrounds are less deserving. Several contributors suggest that governmental provision of equal access to basic goods such as education, healthcare and social security may be crucial to narrowing health and income gaps.

A vegetable market in Malawi. Senior Fellow Anne Swidler has studied cultural and institutional responses to the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: Anne Swidler

Their work on social inequalities continues in recent collaborations and publications. In the forthcoming book American Amnesia: The Forgotten Roots of Our Shared Prosperity, co-author Paul Pierson argues that the failure to sustain or update public policies that contribute to prosperity are inflicting growing social costs. David Grusky is exploring “the commodification of everything,” showing how inequalities are intensified when access to goods that were once provided by the family or public institutions are turned into commodities to be purchased.

Other members are analysing ways to make societies more inclusive: they study the integration of first generation college students on campus (Hazel Markus), how institutions can facilitate social integration into full citizenship (Irene Bloemraad), the role of multicultural policy in such processes (Will Kymlicka), how various groups come to experience reduced stigmatization (Michele Lamont), and how workplaces can be made more inclusive (Son Hing). Ann Swidler is writing a book titled The Romance of AIDS Activism in Africa which investigates the uncomfortable meeting between donor organizations, professional brokers and individual altruists, and the poor villagers or urban dwellers who are the targets of their support. Peter Hall is studying how the transformation of work as the world enters an era of knowledge-based growth conditions inequality and aggregate well-being.

Selected papers

L. Li, C. Power, S. Kelly, and C. Hertzman, C. Kirschbaum, “Life-time socio-economic position and cortisol secretion patterns in mid-life,” Psychoneuroendocrinology 32, 7 (2007):824 -833.

G. Bouchard, L’Interculturalisme. Un point de vue québécois. Montréal, Boréal, 2012.

A. Swidler and S. Cotts Watkins, “‘Teach a Man to Fish’: The Sustainability Doctrine and Its Social Consequences,” World Development 37, 7 (July 2009):1182-1196. doi: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2008.11.002.

W. Sewell, “Economic Crises and the Shape of Modern History,” Public Culture 24, 2 (2012): 302-27.

P. Hall and M. Lamont, Social Resilience In The Neoliberal Era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Fellows & Advisors

Photo of Peter A. Hall

Peter A. Hall

Program Co-Director

Peter A. Hall’s current research centers on understanding how the growth regimes of the developed democracies change over time and the role of politics in that process, including the political…

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Photo of Michèle Lamont

Michèle Lamont

Program Co-Director

Michèle Lamont studies inequality, race and ethnicity, the evaluation of social science knowledge, and the impact of neoliberalism on advanced industrial societies. Her scholarly interests center on shared concepts of…

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Fellows

Irene Bloemraad

Senior Fellow

University of California, Berkeley

United States

David B. Grusky

Senior Fellow

Stanford University

United States

Jane Jenson

Senior Fellow

Université de Montréal

Canada

Will Kymlicka

Senior Fellow

Queen's University

Canada

Paul Pierson

Senior Fellow

University of California, Berkeley

United States

Francesca Polletta

Senior Fellow

University of California, Irvine

United States

Paige Raibmon

Senior Fellow

University of British Columbia

Canada

William H. Sewell

Senior Fellow

University of Chicago

United States

Prerna Singh

Fellow

Brown University

United States

Leanne S. Son Hing

Senior Fellow

University of Guelph

Canada

Ann Swidler

Associate Fellow

University of California, Berkeley

United States

Anne E. Wilson

Fellow

Wilfrid Laurier University

Canada

Advisors

Gérard Bouchard

Advisor

Université du Québec à Chicoutimi

Canada

Wendy Espeland

Advisor

Northwestern University

United States

Peter Gourevitch

Advisory Committee Chair

University of California, San Diego

United States

Patrick Le Galès

Advisor

Sciences Po d'études européennes

France

Hazel Markus

Advisor

Stanford University

United States

Vijayendra Rao

Advisor

The World Bank

United States

Program Timeline

CIFAR launches Successful Societies program

Successful Societies, a successor to the Human Development program and

Transnational movements as a key development force

As attention in the world of development turns toward the

Database connects knowledge on health

CIFAR Senior Fellow Clyde Hertzman (University of British Columbia) changes

Institutional complementarities drive economic performance

Building on the program’s focus on institutions, CIFAR Senior Fellow

How socioeconomic position ‘gets under the skin’

In collaboration with Chris Power, CIFAR Senior Fellow Clyde Hertzman

A major commission on inter-ethnic relations in Quebec

With Charles Taylor, CIFAR Advisor Gérard Bouchard (Université du Québec

Interrogating the basis for prejudice

With several collaborators, CIFAR Senior Fellow Leanne Son Hing (University

How professors think

CIFAR Senior Fellow Michèle Lamont (Harvard University) completes a study

A new development strategy

Following up his path-breaking work on the state in the

Social investment for social inclusion

CIFAR Senior Fellow Jane Jenson (Université de Montréal) completes a

How people cope with discrimination

How do people experience discrimination and how do they cope

Credit: Jon Chase/Harvard University News Office

Michele Lamont and Peter Hall at the library in William James Hall, Harvard University

2002

CIFAR launches Successful Societies program

Successful Societies, a successor to the Human Development program and the Population Health program, holds its first meeting in January 2003 at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, California. CIFAR Senior Fellow Michèle Lamont and CIFAR Senior Fellow Peter A. Hall (both Harvard University) are the co-directors.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The divide between the U.S. and Latin America has played a significant role in trade union negotiations over time as workers in both countries manage national ties as well as solidarity with their colleagues

2003

Transnational movements as a key development force

As attention in the world of development turns toward the contribution that institutions can make to a nation’s well-being and prosperity, CIFAR Associate Peter Evans (University of California, Berkeley) authors a series of influential publications showing that transnational social movements are having an important impact on development trajectories. His research points to a crucial set of the social relations that increase the capacity of communities to respond to challenges extended across borders and countries.

Credit: Population Data BC

The Population Health and Learning Observatory, now called Population Data B.C., collects data from health records, registries and other sources to inform regulation, policy research, epidemiology and other fields that give us a richer knowledge of what keeps us healthy

2004

Database connects knowledge on health

CIFAR Senior Fellow Clyde Hertzman (University of British Columbia) changes the direction of analysis on one of his main research projects, the Population Health and Learning Observatory, based on the wealth of new concepts he has developed through the Successful Societies program, particularly around the social processes that influence health. The project, which is funded by a Canadian Foundation for Innovation award, brings together health services, early developmental, educational, occupational, environmental and social data on a person-specific, longitudinal basis for the entire B.C. population for the past 20 years. Now called Population Data BC, the collection is one of the world’s largest, most comprehensive for population health, human development and health services research.

Credit: Wiley & Sons, New York

Cover image of the Handbook of Adolescent Psychology, which includes a chapter on cognitive and brain development by CIFAR Fellow Daniel Keating

2004

Social relations have physiological effects

Building on prior work and discussions in the program, CIFAR Fellow Daniel Keating (University of Michigan) develops a model that links the body’s adrenaline reaction to stress to social dominance and status. He also connects activity in the biological system that controls the neurotransmitter serotonin to social connectedness and ties the prefrontal basis of identity to social meaningfulness. Drawing these connections from biology through human development to the features of society has important implications for future research.

Credit: Socio-Economic Review

This chart shows correlations between certain institutional practices and other related practices, such as social protection and product market regulation, and labour relations and corporate governance

2005

Institutional complementarities drive economic performance

Building on the program’s focus on institutions, CIFAR Senior Fellow Peter A. Hall (Harvard University) examines how labor markets and financial markets interact. He shows how the organization of the political economy conditions the well-being of nations. He and his collaborators develop and test a model that suggests the outcomes of reforms to labour relations depend on how each country structures its corporate governance.

CIFAR Senior Fellow Jane Jenson's studies of public health from the perspective of citizenship earned her an invitation to contribute to the European Council's meeting preparations

2005

Jane Jenson advises on citizenship issues

CIFAR Senior Fellow Jane Jenson (Université de Montréal) is the only non-European invited to contribute to the academic preparation of the British Presidency of the European Council in fall 2005. She draws on her research studying public health from the perspective of citizenship, explaining how the division of responsibility for various forms of care shifts from the state, family, market and civil society, changing citizenship regimes over time.

Credit: University of Chicago Press

Cover image of Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation by CIFAR Senior Fellow William H. Sewell

2005

What history and the social sciences can learn from each other

In a collection of essays that synthesize a lifetime’s work, CIFAR Senior Fellow William Sewell (University of Chicago) explores what historians and other social scientists have to learn from one another. While historians do not think of themselves as theorists, they know something social scientists do not, namely, how to think about the temporalities of social life. Social scientists’ treatments of social life as situated within the passing of time are often clumsy, the book argues; on the other hand, their theoretical sophistication and penchant for patterned accounts of social life offer much to historians.

Credit: Shutterstock

The molecular symbol for the stress hormone cortisol

2006

How socioeconomic position ‘gets under the skin’

In collaboration with Chris Power, CIFAR Senior Fellow Clyde Hertzman (University of British Columbia) makes a significant contribution to understanding how human experience gets under the skin. They complete the world's largest exercise in studying the influence of socioeconomic position over the life course on the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol.

Credit: Francis Vachon

Quebec City, October 30, 2007 – Gerard Bouchard (left) and Charles Taylor, co-chairs of the Bouchard-Taylor commission

2007

A major commission on inter-ethnic relations in Quebec

With Charles Taylor, CIFAR Advisor Gérard Bouchard (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi) co-chairs the 2007-08 Bouchard-Taylor Commission on accommodation of minorities for the Government of Quebec. Their recommendations call for Quebec to establish new processes that institutionalize interculturalism. In further work, Bouchard has outlined how interculturalism in Quebec can provide a model for managing ethno-cultural diversity in many settings. The distinctive characteristic of this model is an attempt to find an equilibrium between competing requirements including individual rights, protection of diversity, integration, maintenance of a societal symbolic foundation, and development of a common culture.

Credit: Oxford University Press

Cover image of Multicultural Odysseys: Navigating the New International Politics of Diversity by CIFAR Senior Fellow Will Kymlicka

2007

How multiculturalism reaches the rest of the world

A book by CIFAR Senior Fellow Will Kymlicka (Queen’s University) assesses efforts to diffuse ideas and policies associated with ‘multiculturalism’ across national boundaries. He finds that, when they are inattentive to local realities, those programs often have effects that are the reverse of those intended. But he concludes that the liberal multicultural project is worth pursuing, however challenging the conundrums it poses in different societal contexts.

Credit: iStock

Best practices such as teaching school children the principles of fair trade creates an understanding of how commercial activities can reproduce — or combat — inequality

2007

Revisiting the ‘culture of poverty’

Together with Mario Small, a Senior Fellow in the Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being program, CIFAR Senior Fellow Michèle Lamont (both Harvard University) publishes a paper bringing the latest findings of cultural sociology to the problem of how culture shapes poverty and how cultural differences express poverty. In a report on the impact of culture on poverty for UNESCO, they assess how cultural interventions can help alleviate poverty and reduce stigma for low income populations.

Credit: Project Implicit

People who are implicitly prejudiced quickly connect negative concepts, whether those concepts are words, as in CIFAR Senior Fellow Leanne Son Hing's project, or images and words, such as these examples from Project Implicit's Implicit Association Test materials

2008

Interrogating the basis for prejudice

With several collaborators, CIFAR Senior Fellow Leanne Son Hing (University of Guelph) develops and tests a theory of prejudice that compares implicit and explicit attitudes. In computerized tests that use instant responses, those who are more implicitly prejudiced are quicker to connect concepts that reinforce a negative stereotype. The researchers find implicit attitudes predict discrimination better than explicitly prejudiced attitudes. This work helps to resolve long-standing debates in the field regarding aversive racism, modern racism and principled conservatism.

Credit: CIFAR Associate Ann Swidler

Children wait outside the Liwonde Health Information Center in Machinga, Malawi

2008

Preventing AIDS in Africa

CIFAR Associate Ann Swidler (University of California, Berkeley) explores the social conditions that facilitate the prevention of HIV infection in Africa, where the epidemic is ravaging many populations. Finding that the most popular approaches to AIDS intervention — such as counseling, condoms, and sexual abstinence — are having negligible effects on the spread of infection she argues for giving priority to new strategies based on male circumcision and reducing the number of sexual partners, which offer greater promise for prevention.

Credit: Shutterstock

First-generation Canadian youth are less likely to commit crimes than those born in the country, the researchers found

2008

Reconsidering the relationship between immigration and crime

CIFAR Fellow Ron Levi’s (University of Toronto) research challenges the conventional wisdom that immigrant youth are responsible for high levels of crime in some societies. Based on a large-scale study in the Toronto area, he finds that first-generation immigrant youth are less likely than adolescents born in the country to engage in criminal activities and second-generation youth are no more likely than their native counterparts to do so. His research suggests that bonds to family and schools, as well as a commitment to education, render immigrant youth averse to the risks associated with petty crime.

Credit: Harvard University Press

Cover image of How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment by CIFAR Senior Fellow Michèle Lamont

2009

How professors think

CIFAR Senior Fellow Michèle Lamont (Harvard University) completes a study of the ways in which various disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities develop and deploy alternative criteria for evaluation, reflected in the judgments their members make about research proposals and the processes through which they reach those judgments. The book makes an argument in favor of intellectual pluralism as a marker of successful societies. This research informs the work of a blue-ribbon panel evaluating peer review practices at the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and is incorporated into a major report on the evaluation of qualitative research in the social sciences prepared for the National Science Foundation.

Credit: Cambridge University Press

Cover image of Successful Societies: How Institutions and Culture Affect Health, edited by Program Co-Directors Peter Hall and Michèle Lamont

2009

New book on culture, institutions and population health

In a book based on several years of collaboration, the fellows of the Successful Societies program explore the social roots of health inequalities, arguing that inequalities in health are based not only on economic inequalities but on the structure of social relations. The book integrates recent research in social epidemiology with broader perspectives in social science to explore why some societies are more successful than others at improving population health. Complementing previous insights on the importance of networks and other resources for health, this book emphasizes the ways in which cultural frameworks interact with institutions to condition well-being.

Credit: CIFAR Associate Ann Swidler

Women and children in Malawi during one of CIFAR Associate Ann Swidler's visits to the country

2009

Questioning a focus on ‘sustainability’

In new work with Susan Cott Watkins, CIFAR Associate Ann Swidler (University of California, Berkeley) argues that international donors who insist the programs they sponsor should be “sustainable,” ironically, undermine their own causes. The authors show, using data on AIDS programs in Malawi that are funded by donors, that the emphasis on sustainability ends up being self-defeating, expending most resources on "training" that the local people don't really need, and failing to pay for the jobs and the actual assistance they really do need.

Credit: Reuters

Children write notes from a makeshift black board at a school in Mwezeni village in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province in this picture taken June 5, 2012

2010

A new development strategy

Following up his path-breaking work on the state in the 20th century, CIFAR Associate Fellow Peter Evans (University of California, Berkeley) examines the “21st century developmental state.” He argues that successful development in South Africa will depend on a shift from industrialization, exemplified by Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, known as the East Asia Tigers, toward investment in the expansion of human capabilities. Influenced by the Successful Societies program and Amartya Sen, Evans explores the requisites for a state that uses infrastructure as well as services such as health and education to build a society with skilled, healthy workers who can compete in a global marketplace.

Credit: CIFAR Associate Fellow Ann Swidler

CIFAR Associate Fellow Ann Swidler with a village chief and residents in Malawi

2010

Preserving institutional capacity in Africa

New research by CIFAR Associate Ann Swidler (University of California, Berkeley) describes how African societies with intact African chiefdoms and religious institutions tend to have better governance than those where foreign interventions have neglected or eroded traditional forms of government. Swidler explores how NGOs, such as those that flooded into Africa to combat the AIDS epidemic, can sometimes decrease the accountability of local governments and other actors and affect social trust and social capital. She finds approaches that incorporate and adapt to the culture, rather than disrupting it, can earn the local community’s trust and respect and become much more successful.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The Daniels Spectrum building in Toronto's Regent Park neighbourhood, a new arts and cultural centre that is central to Regent Park's redevelopment project

2010

How to build housing for human beings

CIFAR Fellow James Dunn (McMaster University) completes a large body of research on subsidized housing attentive to how the organization of space affects social relations. It forms part of his large-scale, ongoing study of the redevelopment of Regent Park, one of Toronto’s best-known efforts to provide low-cost housing. Dunn’s research results in a large report for Human Resources and Social Development Canada on place-based policies — those built in collaboration with and tailored to individual areas and communities — co-authored with CIFAR Global Scholar Alumni Joshua Evans (Athabasca University).

J.R. Dunn, N. Bradford and J. Evans, “Place-Based Policy Approaches – Practical Lessons and Applications for Community Development and Partnership Directorate,” Ottawa: Human Resources and Social Development Canada (2010).

2011

Social investment for social inclusion

CIFAR Senior Fellow Jane Jenson (Université de Montréal) completes a long-term research program on the dimensions of a social investment perspective, which is defined by policy ideas that put children’s needs first, investing in a future with less disadvantage and marginalization for the next generation. She publishes several agenda-setting papers that explore how social policy is used in a range of countries to buttress the social inclusion of more vulnerable segments of the population. These studies offer a concrete illustration of the value of an approach by which institutions work to strengthen the social position of groups and mould the social and symbolic boundaries that define social citizenship and belonging.

Credit: Du Bois Review

Cover image of the special Dubois Review issue on race co-edited by CIFAR Senior Fellow Michèle Lamont

2012

How people cope with discrimination

How do people experience discrimination and how do they cope with it? CIFAR Senior Fellow Michèle Lamont (Harvard University) co-edits a special issue of The Du Bois Review featuring the work of Successful Societies Advisor Gérard Bouchard (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi) Fellows James Dunn (McMaster University) and Ron Levi (University of Toronto) and Senior Fellow Leanne Son Hing (University of Guelph). The volume sheds new light on the mechanisms ordinary people use to cope with experiences of discrimination. It also explores mechanisms to build collective identity, such as young Canadians’ birth right trips to Israel. Lamont and her coauthors write an introduction that ties these contributions to the broader agenda of the Successful Societies program: improving our understanding of social inclusion as a central dimension of societal success. Lamont also publishes results from an ambitious collaborative study of how members of ethnic minorities respond to discrimination and negative stereotypes, looking at Brazil, the U.S. and Israel.

Credit: Courtesy of the United Nations

17 November 1993 – Inauguration of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Peace Palace, The Hague, the Netherlands

2012

Understanding how international law can be successful

CIFAR Fellow Ron Levi (University of Toronto) brings the insights of a sociologist and a scientist to the problem of understanding how international law is developed and applied. He explores why international criminal tribunals prosecuting war crimes have been successful in a context where international law often remains underdeveloped or unenforced. He finds that those tribunals can assemble a toolkit built from both international law and criminal law, which renders their work more effective than one would normally expect, and in recent work he extends this approach to research on human rights and humanitarian interventions.

Credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Protestors hold signs behind Richard Fuld, Chairman and Chief Executive of Lehman Brothers Holdings, as he takes his seat to testify at a Congressional hearing on the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, in Washington, D.C., October 6, 2008

2012

The role of crisis in the development of capitalism

Inspired by the current world economic crisis, CIFAR Senior Fellow William Sewell (University of Chicago) assesses the place of economic crises in the longer history of capitalism. Combining perspectives from Karl Marx, Joseph A. Schumpeter, Hyman Minsky and Giovanni Arrighi, his research moves from crises to the business cycles that produce them, to the long-term rhythms of capitalist development. It provides a look at the current crisis from the point of view of these longer rhythms.

Credit: Michaela Rehle / Reuters

Members of a German industrial trade union take part in a warning strike at the Audi luxury car factory in Ingolstadt November 6, 2008

2012

How varieties of capitalism impinge on population health

In collaborative work, CIFAR Senior Fellows Peter A. Hall (Harvard University, Arjumand Siddiqi (University of Toronto), Clyde Hertzman (University of British Columbia) and Global Scholar Alumni Chris McLeod (University of British Columbia) explore how comparing varieties of capitalism and welfare states can help us understand health inequalities within and between societies. The results show how differences between the institutions that govern labour markets in given countries condition the impact that unemployment takes on people’s health. Focusing on a German/American comparison, they show how and why unemployed Americans, especially of low education, have worse health outcomes than the Germans.

Ideas Related to Successful Societies

Successful Societies | Research Brief

Culture Influences the Health Effects of Expressing Anger

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Patrick Le Galès publishes a new book on transnational mobility and urban rootedness

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Negative emotions are worse for the health of Americans than Japanese

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Tiger Mom and me

  Yale law professor Amy Chua created a controversy with her 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, advocating...