Comparative Study of Societies

Our working group studies the current transformation of social inequality, the welfare state and the economy both from a national and cross-national comparative perspective. Our focus is on the justice orientations and the potentials for solidarity and conflict that accompany these developments in modern welfare societies.

In many Western societies, patterns of social inequality have changed profoundly during recent years. Rising income inequalities, persistent poverty and high levels of wealth concentration indicate the polarization of economic resources. At the same time, stagnating social mobility and the increase in atypical employment signal blocked opportunities for upward mobility.

These developments are accompanied by market-orientated institutional changes. In many societies trade unions have been weakened, top tax rates have been lowered, and status-maintaining social policies have been pushed back in favour of policies emphasizing activation and individual responsibility. At the same time, cultural values have shifted from collectivistic egalitarian orientations towards individualistic orientations highlighting autonomy and self-realization.

Against this backdrop, we are especially interested in the values and justice orientations as well as the potentials for solidarity and conflict that go along with the inequality dynamics in modern welfare societies. We study these issues both from a national and cross-national comparative perspective, using quantitative as well as qualitative methods in combination.

Our current research projects address the following questions:

  • Value Conflicts and socio-cultural polarizations within the middle classes: Once a warrant for social cohesion, the middle classes experience dynamics of economic polarization that challenge their integrative capacities. Will this also lead to the emergence of a socio-cultural cleavage between market-orientated cosmopolitan “winners” and more traditionally-minded “losers” within the middle-classes?


  • The culture and politics of wealth taxation: The concentration of economic resources within the upper layers of the social structure is also due to reductions in the taxation of wealth and top incomes since the mid-1990s and 2000s. How were these tax cuts for the wealthy justified vis-à-vis the non-wealthy majority of the population?


  • Perception and legitimacy of social inequality in international comparison: In many Western societies inequality has increased over the last decades. How do people perceive these developments, and what is the role of economic, political and institutional differences between countries for the legitimacy or critique of this development?