Dissertation Projects

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.

Projektbearbeitung: Katharina Kunißen
Projektbetreuung: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Projektdauer: 2015 - 2021

Wichtigste Publikationen:

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)


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-


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.