Dissertation Projects

Mara Boehle
Causes and Changing Dynamics of Family Poverty in Germany, 1962-2009.
A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis.

Families - in spite of the German constitution’s guarantee that they remain „under special protection of the government” - constituted a central risk group for poverty as far back as the 1970s. Since then the portion of low-income families has been rising almost continuously and has stabilized in the last few years on an above-average level. Even though the explanation of such processes falls among the central tasks of Sociology, systematic explanation attempts and empirical analyses of this phenomenon have been lacking. This dissertation project aims to systematically investigate the reasons for the increase of family poverty. This will be accomplished by using a theoretical and empirical multi-level model which recognizes the income poverty risk of families, i.e. households with children, as a function of household specific (micro) and time-dependent structural factors (macro).

Central factors on the macro level are the economic, household demographic and political-institutional changes since the 1970s such as increasing risks in the employment market, the quantitative increase of single parents, the growth of high-earning childless couple households and the political changes in benefits for families. The hypotheses of the project will be tested on the basis of German microcensus data which has been linked to macro level data.

Previous results of the study show that the growth in relative poverty of family households since the 1970s is due less to the existence of children per se, but rather attributed to the growth of the polarizing composition of familial and childless households since then. In addition, the growth in childless dual-income households has led to high income intensity becoming more important to avoid poverty. This, however, is especially rare in family households and has not increased over time either. Benefits deriving from family politics such as recently expanding child care in West Germany for under three-year-olds as well as child allowances proof to be efficient in social politics as they demonstrate a poverty-reducing effect for single parents who have constituted an ever-increasing area within the family sector as well as an increasingly central group at risk of poverty since the 1970s.

Project development: Mara Boehle, M.A.
Project supervision: Prof. Dr. Christof Wolf (GESIS and Mannheim University) and Prof. Dr. Peter A. Berger (Rostock University)
Project duration: 2011 - 2015
Funding: German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG)

Important Publications:
Boehle, Mara (in preparation): Ursachen und Wandel familialer Armut in Deutschland, 1962 bis 2009. Eine theoretische und empirische Analyse. The dissertation will be published as a monograph.

Boehle, Mara (2015) (will be published shortly): Umsetzung der Armutsmessung mit dem Mikrozensus für zeitvergleichende Analysen. GESIS Papers. Mannheim: GESIS.

Boehle, Mara und Wolfgang Voges (2013): Die Entwicklung familialer Armut im Kontext sozialstrukturellen Wandels, 1962 bis 2009. ZeS-Report Vol. 18, No. 2. Bremen: Zentrum für Sozialpolitik, Universität Bremen.

Boehle, Mara and Christof Wolf (2012): Understanding time as socio-historical context: Analyzing social change within the framework of multilevel analysis. GK SOCLIFE Working Paper Series 14/2012. Köln: Research Training Group, University of Cologne.

Debora Eicher
The behavioral relevance of class-specific symbolic boundaries.

The concept of symbolic boundaries, which became popular in cultural sociology through the work of Michèle Lamont, focuses on the subjective perspective of social actors. Symbolic boundaries are distinctions drawn by the actors themselves in order to categorize persons. The concept thus constitutes a meaningful addition to classic approaches of social inequality research which organize social actors from the outsider perspective, e.g. within the framework of class and stratification approaches, that classify social actors by means of “objective” socio-structural (hierarchical) attributes. A connection between subjective and objective perspectives emerges when external characteristics such as class affiliation, gender or ethnic origins become criteria serving as a basis for the construction of symbolic boundaries.

Of particular interest within the framework of this doctoral thesis are symbolic boundaries that are drawn between members of social classes. Such class specific boundaries are relevant for the research of social inequality since they can make a contribution to explain the reproduction of vertical structures. Therefore, two questions ought to be clarified on the basis of a quantitative design: Do class specific patterns of symbolic boundaries exist in Germany? And: Do symbolic boundaries influence behaviors which as a whole can cause phenomena of social inequality (discrimination, social closure, monopoly)? To clarify these questions, a collection of primary poll- and experimental data is aspired. Furthermore, the development of an instrument for the standardized operationalisation of class specific symbolic boundaries is planned.

Project development: Debora Eicher, M.A.
Project supervision: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Project duration: 2014-

Katharina Kunißen
Welfare state provision as an explanatory concept in comparative research

This doctoral thesis explores the operationalization of welfare policies in the member states of the European Union. The literature has been characterized in particular by two strategies so far: Either welfare arrangements are captured by a few single indicators or on the basis of typologies. Neither strategy is ideal when analyzing welfare policies as an independent variable. While a reduction to single indicators (e.g. national social expenditure) leads to limitations in content, the problem is more complex in the case of typologies. Even though approaches like Esping-Andersen’s “Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism” allow for a grouping of countries based on a variety of different indicators, the reduction to a polytomous classification still leads to a loss of information. Furthermore, the last decades have spawned a great variety of different typologies whose results deviate considerably. This is not least of all due to the fact that not only does the choice of indicators vary strongly, but so does the choice of countries. Especially the formerly socialist Central and Eastern European states are being treated superficially or left out altogether.

In order to allow for a better inclusion of welfare policies as explanatory variables in comparative research, this dissertation proposes an instrument which combines the strong points of both strategies. It will be constructed specifically in order to be used as an independent variable. Instead of a global typology, scales will be developed by means of selected indicators solely covering one area of the welfare state. The thesis will be limited to the risk factors illness, unemployment and age. Using this approach will allow to show even subtle differences between countries without reducing the complexity of national welfare states to isolated indicators.

Possible applications for this instrument lie in the explanation of phenomena on the individual level (e.g. as a predictor of attitudes towards socio-political problems) as well as on the level of nation states (e.g. when explaining political decisions).

Project development: Katharina Kunißen, M.A.
Project supervision: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Project duration: 2014-

Matthias Lehmann
Canonisation processes in popular music.

This doctoral thesis deals with the reconstruction and analysis of canonization processes in rock- and pop magazines over the past fifty years. Various canons have been firmly established in the highly cultured area of classical music reaching from Bach and Händel to Mozart and Beethoven and on to Bruckner and Brahms. These canons often manifest themselves in the curricula of conservatories or in the repertoires of philharmonic orchestras. In the realm of popular music, however, canonizations manifest themselves in the multitude of rankings of the “best” musicians and albums of all times in music magazines. This raises three main questions from a socio-cultural perspective: has a core canon established itself within popular music over the past fifty years thus declaring chosen musicians and albums to be exemplary and worthy of transmission? Which actors partake in these processes of selection and legitimization? Which music aesthetics and social criteria are applied to select musicians respectively albums?

Against this backdrop international music magazines are analyzed which have regularly published reviews and rankings of the best albums of the past year, decade and “of all times” thus contributing to the legitimization and validation of popular music canons. To this end, a mixed-methods-design is being developed. On the one hand, the rankings of music magazines are analyzed quantitatively as well as the characteristics of canonized and non-canonized musicians are being analyzed comparatively. On the other hand, the discursive selection and evaluation criteria of journalists are being reconstructed and interpreted qualitatively.

Project development: Dipl.-Soc. Matthias Lehmann
Project supervision: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Project duration: 2015-