The Swiss elite kinship generator (Skingen) and the Swiss elite affiliation network generator (NetGen): two interactive tools for research on local elites

Pierre Benz from the Sinergia project team — with help from IT officers Jean Ceppi and Steven Piguet — have developed two interactive web applications to study the family ties and institutional affiliation networks of local elites in Basel, Geneva, and Zurich.

The local elite kinship generator (Skingen) allows users to generate family networks and family trees. It allows users to explore the structure of family ties of elites and their positions of power in real time, over several generations and to the desired degree of kinship.

The local elite affiliation network generator (NetGen) allows users to generate affiliation networks based on a surname, a sphere, a cohort, or a region. It allows users to explore the links between elites through the positions they hold in institutions that concentrate economic, political, academic and cultural power.

Instructions for how to use the applications are available directly on the applications’ respective sites in a dedicated tab.

Family tree of the Hoffmann-La Roche dynasty, centered around Lukas Hoffmann, the grandson of company founder Fritz Hoffmann-La Roche

The Power of Swiss Patrician Families: Between Decline and Persistence (1890–1957).

Pierre Benz has presented an article co-authored with Pedro Araujo, Geoffroy Lengentilhomme, André Mach, Michael A. Strebel, and Emilie Widmer at the 6th European Conference for Social Networks on the evolution of urban power structures and the role of well-established families and their kinship ties within these power structures. Scholars have demonstrated the important role of inheritance and dynastic patterns for the perpetuation and deepening of inequality. Switzerland is a country without royal dynasties. Historians have shown that patrician families – those that occupied positions of power in important Swiss cities before the French revolution – continued to play an important role in Swiss cities until the beginning of the 20th century. However, little is known about the evolution of this ‘patrician power structure’ over the course of the 20th century. Social network analysis is of crucial help to analyze the changing place of the patrician family members in the different spheres of power and the reproduction of local patrician elites through up to six generations. To cope with the challenges of historical data sources, we combine historical with sociological approaches. Building on a systematic database of local elites who hold positions of power in the main economic, political, academic, and cultural institutions of the three major Swiss city-regions (Basel, Geneva, and Zurich), we analyze the evolution of kinship networks of the Swiss urban power elite between 1890 and 1957. We focus on both power positions and kinship ties by combining social network analysis, kinship analysis, and prosopography on historical/biographical data on about 5,200 local elites. Our analyses proceed in three steps. We first analyze the long-term presence of representatives of old patrician families at the head of different local organizations and institutions in different social spheres and in different city-regions. In a second step, we study the cohesion of these patrician families through an analysis of kinship ties to the 4th degree of consanguinity and affinity. For instance, we look at the percentage of old patrician family members of the same local elite cohort that are linked through a marriage or lineage link. In a final step, we present some illustrative examples of patrician families, and how their descendants have maintained or abandoned their elite positions during the 20th century.


Genealogical tree of the Geigy family (Basel), indicating which family members occupied positions of power and in which sphere

Continuity and discontinuity in the capitals legitimating business elites – a diachronic analysis of the Swiss banking elites during the long 20th century (1890-2020)

Pedro Araujo, Eric Davoine, and Pierre-Yves Donzé have presented a paper at the annual colloquium of the European Group for Organizational Studies on the careers of Swiss banking elites. Literature on business elites has scrutinized career paths through the concept of capital in order to understand which resources are inherited, accumulated and used by individuals to position themselves at the top of organizations. Relying on this previous body of work, the article aims to document mechanisms of selection of the Swiss banking elite through an historical perspective. The authors adopt a diachronic approach from 1890 to 2020, distributed among seven benchmark years (1890, 1910, 1937, 1957, 1980, 2000 and 2020). Mobilizing a database of 301 top managers from the banking sector, the authors describe how the endowment with specific forms of capital has regulated the entry within the Swiss banking elite for the considered period. The comparison among benchmark years offers a new understanding of how the selection of banking elites has been subject to a mix between change and stability.

% of banking elites combing from a founding family

Das Ursprungszeugnis zwischen Staat und Handelskammer. Von der kriegswirtschaftlichen Notmassnahme zum Finanzierungsmodell

Jonas Plüss, PhD student in the Sinergia project, has presented a paper on this year’s Historiales workshop. The paper tells the story of an unassuming document: The Swiss certificate of origin. In a first step the paper demonstrates how the Swiss chambers of commerce became the responsible institutions for the emission of certificates of origin. During World War 1, when Swiss exports were heavily controlled by both the Entente and the Central Powers, the necessity of a proof of Swiss origin arose and the chambers of commerce, by means of their secretaries and the newly founded “Konferenz der Handelskammersekretäre” stepped up and were awarded the responsibility to issue certificates of origin through the federal government. In the second part, the paper aims to show the drastic consequences that this state mandate had on the chambers of commerce: on the one hand, it secured their funding on the long term and allowed for a massive increase in staff; on the other hand it put the chambers of commerce in an ambivalent position where they were on the one side obligated by their members to influence government policy in their favour and on the other side a recipient of a government mandate, which meant they had to moderate their positions towards the state.

Paper (in German)

% of revenues generated by the Basler Handelskammer through different sources

De la contestation étudiante à la gestion majoritaire des villes: l’accès au pouvoir et les transformations des élites politiques de gauche dans les quatre plus grandes villes suisses (1980-2020)

Sinergia team member Baptiste Antoniazza has presented an article on the transformation of the political landscape in four major Swiss cities between 1980 and 2020. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the largest Swiss cities have been continuously ruled by left-wing coalitions. The Swiss peoples’ party, through the voice of its president, Marco Chiesa, has launched a series of attacks against the « caviar left and the green moralizers of the cities », but can we actually observe the access to power of a new left elite? This article aims to document the context of the rise to power in the four largest Swiss cities (Basel, Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich) of a « new urban left » which finds its roots in the new social movements of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, led by young students. It also scrutinizes the specificity of those who constitute it. To do this, we analyze the changing profile (education background and main professions) of left-wing local elected representatives at three key dates (1980, 2000 and 2020). Second, we analyze more specifically the main goals and policies promoted by the new urban left when it comes to power which differentiate them from previous conservative political majorities. We do this through the analysis of the themes put forward by the Social democratic party during two electoral campaigns in the city of Lausanne in 1981 and 1989. We thus hope to contribute to a better understanding of the left political elites who continuously run the big Swiss cities in a quasi-hegemonic way since the beginning of the 1990s. 

Paper (in French)

Left Politicians’ Professions 1980-2020