Research areas

Research areas

The research carried out in the Research Centre for Political Action at the University of Lausanne focuses on four complementary areas, all guided by a political sociology perspective which pays close attention to the historical nature of the objects being analysed and the need to address them from a relational and comparative stance.

Political action

This research area examines the sociology of social movements and activism. It engages with the academic literature on political behaviours and pays particular attention to the sociology of activism and forms of political engagement and participation. Research projects in this area use longitudinal approaches to carry out processual analyses of activist careers, which are could be seen as the CRAPUL trademark. Based on this perspective, general theoretical and methodological proposals are developed both on the drivers of activist engagement and disengagement, and on the biographical consequences of activism. The CRAPUL research centre is committed to breaking down the barriers between research areas that are too often examined in isolation, to study collective action driven both by social movements and by trade unions, political parties, community organisations and interest groups, wherever they stand in the political space.

In the same vein, the centre’s research is part of the move towards more interdisciplinary working found in area studies, promoting a comparative approach anchored in disciplinary debates and based on a detailed understanding of the field and its historical roots. It also examines the forms of political participation that can be observed at the national and regional level in liberal democracies (in Switzerland, France and especially Italy) and on partisan and community activism in authoritarian contexts, in the Middle East and North Africa.

In general terms, the research carried out at CRAPUL pays particular attention to how social power relationships (in terms of class, gender, race and age) are interconnected and entwined in collective action. This cross-disciplinary dimension refers to the notion of intersectionality and the differentiated uses to which it is put in the social sciences, underpinning several research projects on the gendered structure of methods of political engagement in activist practices. In a similar vein and by extension, a number of studies consider the issue of political identities, i.e. the identity-related dimensions at work in the mobilisation process and the claims made by social movements.

Finally, insofar as it sits at the crossroads of the sociology of law and the sociology of social movements, this research area produces projects on the uses of the legal repertoire in collective action; in this instance, the analysis focuses on the use of the “arm of the law” in defending certain social groups (migrants, workers, tenants, women, minorities, etc.) and the way in which action in the legal field affects the promotion of their cause in the public arena.

This research area explores the political dimension of socialisation processes. Based on the study of various contexts, activities and social environments, research in this area takes an empirical approach to the ways in which political opinions, representations and attitudes are formed. An initial series of projects explores socialisation in the process of formation. Based on a conception of the political as not simply reducible to identifying “strictly political” positions, this research examines all schemas of perception and action in relation to the political world or participating in a political relationship with the social world. It questions the notions of political competence and politicisation, and examines the links that exist between, on the one hand, a relationship to the world based on different forms of domination and on the other, relationships to the political space as manifested in voting, investment in the political craft and various forms of activist engagement. Several instances of political socialisation are investigated, including those with a more or less direct link with the political space and those viewed as ordinary, such as leisure, supervisory institutions, sport or popular forms of sociability. Adopting a dynamic and continuous conception of socialisation, research projects in this area are interested in different life stages, while taking into account the social position of individuals and their involvement in various spheres of life, in both the past and present. They therefore question the development of prior learning and the acquisition of new forms of know-how under the effects of various sources and periods of socialisation.

This research area focuses on the sociology of political institutions involved in the organisation and exercise of power in political regimes, whether they are democratic or authoritarian. Based on an accepted understanding of the notion of institution, understood as a set of constraints that structure models for taking action, this theme explores two main avenues. One is about the processes of institutionalising the political order and, in particular, codifying the rules of the political game and the issues at stake. The other explores how these rules are used, to account for the effects of the increasing juridification of the political space on the practices found within it. Inspired by the sociology of law, this dual perspective is an invitation to identify the mechanisms by which the institution, which is initially produced by practices where it is the issue at stake, then becomes a driver of social behaviours; how, in becoming increasingly autonomous, it may ultimately be perceived as a constraint by the actors it governs.

This research area has resulted in several projects on Swiss “political life” at the federal and cantonal level, from the perspective of the institutions and rules of the game that give it its structure (direct democracy, parliament, government, federalism and changes to the party system). Other studies have examined the transformation of the political space in liberal democracies in Switzerland and Europe, particularly in Italy since the mid-1990s. Outside the general framework of liberal democracies, the focus on political institutions is widened to an analysis of the properties of political regimes in an authoritarian context, taking into account the local, national, regional and transnational dynamics that reshape them.


This research area sits at the crossroads of the first two and examines the sociology of political crises, a notion that is considered here in a broad sense, as referring to situations that represent a major challenge to the political order (revolutions, popular uprisings, large-scale political mobilisation, coups d’état, political scandals, etc.). Research projects in this field are attentive to the dynamics of these processes and focus on the underlying issues in such situations. Contingent and ultimately uncertain, they represent both a major challenge for the social sciences (because of their nomological ambition) and a pertinent means of analysing the mechanisms of (de)legitimising political systems in response to large-scale mobilisation. Based on this perspective, some projects examine political crises, revolutions and coups d’état, notably in North Africa and the Middle East. Others look at the crisis of May 1968 in France and Switzerland, where mobilisation is studied through the activist trajectories of the people involved in the events; this perspective is also interested in the biographical consequences of political engagement during this period, which has now been extended to the large-scale mobilisation driven by the “yellow vest” protesters in France since late 2018. Other projects use the principles of analysing political crises to record the recurring scandals that affect liberal democracies: examples include the allegations of corruption in relation to the Mani Pulite in Italy, challenges to domestic political intelligence in the secret files scandal in Switzerland, and fraud and corruption in the world of sport (FIFA Gate), all controversial cases that in some instances, such as Italy, led to large-scale political upheavals.

Finally, connecting the sociology of mobilisation and the sociology of political crises, a series of research projects have been carried out at CRAPUL on the police as an institution, crowd control, maintaining order and repressive policies aimed at protest movements. This area of research is interested in how the forces of law and order work to tackle the threats to the stability of political regimes and even their fundamental viability created by crisis situations, and the effects of repression on the organisations and activists involved in mobilisation. This is an important research topic for CRAPUL, which has developed real expertise in the field over the years.

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