Dissertation Projects

Holger Lübbe
How can cultural education be measured?

Cultural education has been booming for some years now. The wave of reforms triggered by the German "PISA shock" has infused the idea of cultural education into the formal education system. Programs and schemes for cultural education are supported with extensive funding. Accordingly, academic interest in the topic has also increased. How cultural education can be empirically measured is largely unresolved, though. This dissertation thesis makes a contribution in this regard. For the population survey "Cultural education and cultural participation in Germany", conducted in 2018, a measurement instrument was theoretically developed and empirically tested. It measures cultural education in the fields of the visual arts and music. It follows the requirements of competence measurement, as practiced in the PISA studies, without claiming to represent the concept of cultural education in all its facets. Rather, the objective is directed to a practical application. The instrument is meant to be used for the explanation of individual differences in cultural reception in the two domains under investigation. The focus on competencies has two reasons. First, competencies are of particular theoretical and political interest as central outcomes of educational processes. In previous studies, the focus has usually been on input and contextual variables, such as opportunities for acquiring cultural education, but not on the output of these processes. On the other hand, the competence concept is linked to the collection of direct evidence of anticipated effects. Thus, in the discourse on arts education, a multitude of promises of salvation are voiced, but there are hardly any substantial empirical answers so far. Drawing on Bourdieu's concepts of habitus and incorporated cultural capital, the dissertation attempts to investigate the processes of acquisition of cultural education and to identify the effects of cultural education. The thesis is divided into two parts: Theoretically, a competence model is developed. For this purpose, the interdisciplinary discourse on cultural education is examined with regard to central concepts, ideas and contents as well as previous operationalizations. Empirically, a competence indicator is developed, internally validated according to methodological quality criteria and externally tested with regard to its explanatory power.

Project development: Holger Lübbe, M.A.
Project supervision: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Project duration: 2016 - 2022
Funding: Federal Ministry of Education and Science (BMBF)


Joschka Baum
Video games as a cultural good

The social structuration of taste in music, art, and film is a well-established area of research in sociology. However, there is only scant knowledge on the question of how taste in the recently emerged social field of video gaming is socially determined. The dissertation intends to fill this gap. It is based on the idea that video games are hybrid goods, which comprise ludic, stylistic, and narrative elements. Research on video game tastes should consider all these aspects. To achieve this, two data sources are combined. On the one hand, user-generated tags of an online gaming platform are used to explore symbolic distinctions within the field of video gaming and to describe profile building of game developers and publishers. These data are linked with individual-level data on gaming preferences and practices from the population survey "Cultural Education and Cultural Participation in Germany II". Combining these data, the dissertation aims at explaining video game consumption and reception.

Project development: Joschka Baum, M.A.
Project supervision: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Project duration: 2020 - 2022
Funding: Federal Ministry of Education and Science (BMBF)


Katharina Kunißen
The Independent Variable Problem. Welfare Stateness as an Explanatory Concept.

When examining the extent to which welfare state policies are responsible for different outcomes for individuals in different countries, an empirical operationalisation of the welfare state or of specific elements of social policy-making is required. Substantial problems arise concerning prevalent operationalisation practices. Essentially, these problems all relate to one key issue: While there is a great number of contributions addressing the measurement of differences between welfare states per se and as a dependent variable, there is a distinct lack of feasible recommendations when it comes to the operationalisation of welfare stateness as an independent variable. In light of the great number of studies assuming an effect of welfare policies on social phenomena, the lack of standardised proceedings surprises. Instead of following a comparable and somewhat formalised approach, scholars implement very different operationalisations.

To this date, there is no systematic test of how such varying proceedings may affect results and their comparability. Similarly, a detailed conceptual discussion on which features of the welfare state are relevant for the explanation of specific outcomes is missing. This contribution fills both gaps. First, it unravels the pitfalls of existing approaches and demonstrates how strongly empirical results vary depending on the chosen operationalisation. Second, it proposes a way to standardise proceedings by deducing four distinct conceptualisations of welfare stateness as independent variables: The Responsive Welfare State, the Enabling Welfare State, the Normative Welfare State and the Assessed Welfare State. As a result, the operational choices are limited in a theoretically meaningful way to indicators that correspond to these conceptualisations. In an empirical test, the systematised concepts proved to be useful in overcoming the “independent variable problem”: they narrow down relevant facets of welfare stateness and their functions and thus serve as guidelines for the theoretical derivation of relevant analytical perspectives, their empirical operationalisation and the interpretation of results.

Project development: Katharina Kunißen, M.A.
Project supervision: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Project duration: 2015 - 2021

Important Publications:

Kunißen, Katharina (2019): The Independent Variable Problem. Welfare Stateness as an Explanatory Concept. Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz (Dissertation).

Kunißen, Katharina (2019): From Dependent to Independent Variable: A Critical Assessment of Operationalisations of ‘Welfare Stateness’ as Macro-Level Indicators in Multilevel Analyses. Social Indicators Research 142 (2): 597-616. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-018-1930-3  → Full text (read only)


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 (2019): Armut von Familien im sozialen Wandel: Verbreitung, Struktur, Erklärungen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS

Boehle, Mara (2015): Armutsmessung mit dem Mikrozensus: Methodische Aspekte und Umsetzung für Querschnitts- und Trendanalysen. GESIS Papers 2015/16. Köln: GESIS – Leibniz-Institut für Sozialwissenschaften.
→ Link

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.