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
Operationalising 'welfare stateness' as an explanatiory variable in comparative research.

The welfare state plays an important role in explaining a variety of social phenomena. It is able to decrease, reproduce or increase social inequality, thus influencing individual risks, attitudes, and behaviour. As a result, features of the welfare state constitute popular independent variables in cross-national research. A substantial number of such studies implements a multilevel design in which welfare state provision serves as an explanatory factor at the country level. Still, there is no agreed-upon strategy to capture ‘welfare stateness’ for this purpose. Based on this observation, the doctoral thesis explores different operationalisations of welfare policies as an independent variable in multilevel frameworks.

Four dominant strategies exist in the literature: single indicators, typologies, composite indices, and case studies capture differences between welfare state arrangements. These approaches are usually borrowed from literature, which explores the welfare state itself and not its outcomes. Even though they can be translated into independent variables, it has not yet been established whether these operationalisations are suitable tools for explaining other phenomena and what consequences different variants have on the scope and comparability of results.

In order to test perks and pitfalls of the existing operationalisations, their applicability as an explanatory variable will be systematically examined within the framework of this dissertation. On this basis, a proposal for a more suitable operationalisation will be developed. The following research questions are addressed: (1) What are the consequences of different approaches for empirical results and their comparability? (2) Which components should be part of a measurement targeting popular research questions and causal assumptions and (3) does an operationalisation which has been explicitly designed to be used as an explanatory concept allow a better test of the common hypotheses?

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