Comparative Study of Societies

The comparative study of societies investigates the structures and dynamics of societies in comparative perspective. This includes both international comparisons between countries and longer-term processes of social change within countries. Our research group focuses on modern welfare societies, whose institutional order combines a capitalist economy embedded within welfare state institutions with a democratic political system.

The Western welfare societies of the OECD world have undergone multifaceted processes of social change in recent years. At the socio-structural level, patterns of social inequality have changed profoundly, resulting both in a polarization of material resources and in a hardening of social positions and stagnating upward social mobility. At the institutional level, a market-oriented transformation has taken place, involving a weakening of unions, the lowering of top tax rates and a roll-back of status-maintaining social policies in favor of policies emphasizing activation and individual responsibility. On a cultural level, we are experiencing a loss of importance of collectivist-egalitarian values in favor of an increase in importance of individualistic patterns of orientation, such as 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 these 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.

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? We investigate these questions in the project "Social Cohesion within and between Social Milieus" which is part of the newly established Research Institute Social Cohesion (RISC).

  • The Corona crisis and imaginaries of a new economic order: The Corona crisis represents a moment of genuine uncertainty that challenges established patterns of economic organization. Against this background, we use innovative computational social science methods to investigate how the economic consequences of the crisis are debated in public discourse and to what extent ideas of a fair and sustainable economic order gain importance in this context. We are investigating these questions in the project "Corona Crisis Narratives – Framing Economic Imaginaries post-2020 (CoroNarrate)", which is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation.

  • 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?