Research Projects

Cultural Education and Cultural Participation in Germany

The aim of the project is the description and explanation of current patterns of cultural participation in Germany based on a standardized face-to-face survey of the German speaking population over the age of fifteen. Cultural participation encompasses the consumption, reception and non-professional self-production of works of a broad spectrum of high and popular culture in its classic and contemporary forms, i.e. fine arts, film, performing arts, music and literature as well as the crossroads to applied arts and entertainment. In contrast to many other countries, Germany lacks appropriate data that allow reliable inferences on these topics. The study wishes to answer the question why people differ with regard to their cultural preferences and cultural activities according to social class, age, gender, ethnicity and region. For this purpose, the development of a measurement instrument of cultural education is crucial. Cultural education is understood as the endowment with biographically acquired cognitive and practical competencies in single cultural domains. The assumption is that the acquisition of cultural education during one’s life-course determines the development of cultural preferences and practices in the present. The project has the ambition to provide the scientific community, public policy and the culturally interested public with basic knowledge of the population’s cultural education and cultural participation.

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Research Associates: Luisa Wingerter, M.A.; Holger Lübbe, M.A.
Research Assistants: Marie Schlosser; Dave Balzer
Project duration: 2016-2023
Funding: Federal Ministry of Education and Science

Important Publications:

Gunnar Otte & David Binder (2015): Data Bases and Statistical Systems: Culture. In: James D. Wright (Ed.): International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Second Edition. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 727-734.

Gunnar Otte (2012): Programmatik und Bestandsaufnahme einer empirisch-analytischen Kunstsoziologie. In: Sociologia Internationalis 50 (1-2): 115-143.

Jörg Rössel & Gunnar Otte (2010): Culture. In: German Data Forum (RatSWD) (Ed.): Building on Progress. Expanding the Research Infrastructure for the Social, Economic, and Behavioral Sciences. Volume 2. Opladen: Budrich Uni-Press, 1153-1172.


Social structural implications of the digital transformation. On the potentials and risks of digitalisation using the example of social inequalities in health behaviour.

The sociological analysis of digitisation-related social change dynamics has so far hardly focused on the topic of social inequality. In addition to the much-discussed effects of digitisation on horizontal social dynamics - such as fragmentation and hyper-individualisation - the question of the extent to which digitisation is associated with a possible loss or increase in the importance of social class membership in access to socially valuable resources has only been addressed sporadically. The research project aims to contribute to closing this research gap using the example of health inequalities.

Health inequality describes the empirically well-documented finding for all Western societies that the socio-economic status of individuals is positively associated with their health status and life expectancy. To explain this social gradient in health, the role of class-specific differences in health behaviour (e.g., physical activity, diet, smoking) is discussed aside material inequalities (e.g., being able to afford medicine).

Studies to explain class-specific health-related behavioural differences have identified various factors that generally favour health-conscious behaviour and are themselves socially unequally distributed: According to the concept of health literacy, motivation and competence are of great importance in addition to health-related knowledge. The project focuses on these factors and investigates the extent to which mobile digital health services (m-health; e.g. apps, fitness trackers) influence social inequalities in health behaviour. Although the current discussion on the health effects of digitalisation takes place primarily in the field of public health, there are numerous approaches in the sociological literature that allow the theoretical framework of the discussions to be further developed.

Assuming that m-health has a fundamentally positive influence on health action through the provision of information (knowledge), incentives (motivation) and partly user-specific optimised recommendations for action (action competence), m-health applications could be expected to have a compensatory effect on health inequality. On the other hand, under the keyword of the digital divide, the socially unequal use of digital offers is already an empirically well-documented phenomenon: Despite the basically free access to many offers, the use of digital technologies is socially selective, which could even increase the social inequality in health behaviour.

Against this background, the project pursues the following research questions:

(1) Is the use of digital health services socially unequally distributed?

(2) Does the use of digital health applications lead to a (positive) change in health behaviour?

(3) Can social inequality in health behaviour be compensated by digital health applications or, on the contrary, is it even reinforced by socially selective use?

To empirically research these questions, analyses based on existing databases (SOEP-IS) were carried out in a first step and weaknesses in these data were identified. In a second step, the project aims to improve the available database by introducing newly developed items into general population surveys (e.g., SOEP, GESIS Panel). The data generated in this way will make it possible to examine the connections between social position, health behaviour and the use of digital health services. In the context of the project, these data will be supplemented by results from quantitative and qualitative experiments, whose design on the one hand aims at estimating causal effects and on the other hand examines the influence of various technical elements of digital health technologies (e.g., gamification, social competition, knowledge quizzes).

The project claims not only to develop a sociological approach to health inequalities in the context of digitalisation, but also to contribute to data quality in this field and to debates on mixed method use.

Project leader: Dr. Tim Sawert (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz), Jun.-Prof. Dr. Julia Tuppat (Universität Hohenheim)
Project duration: 2020-
Funding: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Universität Hohenheim

Important Publications:

Sawert, Tim & Julia Tuppat (2020): Social inequality in the digital transformation: Risks and potentials of mobile health technologies for social inequalities in health. SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 1079.


Development and Application of a General Conduct of Life Typology

The structuring of the population according to lifestyles, or various forms of the conduct of life, can be understood as a supplement to classical approaches of social stratification analysis which typically build on vertical inequality dimensions and socio-demographic variables. The basic idea is to identify biographically stable and coherent patterns of people’s everyday life orientations. These are used to explain their attitude formation and their decision-making in concrete situations.

The typology of nine different forms of the conduct of life, which was developed against this background, claims to be a measurement instrument that is theoretically substantiated, methodologically valid, intersubjectively reproducible and efficiently applicable in standardized population surveys. The typology was developed between 1998 and 2002 on the basis of several local population surveys. The theoretical and methodological derivation as well as its application to several explanatory subject matters have been thoroughly documented in the book “Sozialstrukturanalysen mit Lebensstilen”. Since then, the instrument has been applied in various research contexts with variable populations. In terms of knowledge transfer, several projects conducted by corporations, statistical agencies and public institutions have been supported with methodological consultancy and data analysis.

To this day, the ongoing project revolves around the overriding question which explanatory potential lifestyle approaches have in comparison to classical stratification concepts. Currently, an update and further development of the typology is being considered.

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Project duration: 1998-2002; various follow-up projects since then
Funding: University of Mannheim

Important Publications:

Gunnar Otte (2019): Weiterentwicklung der Lebensführungstypologie, Version 2019. Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Institut für Soziologie.

Gunnar Otte (2011): Die Erklärungskraft von Lebensstil- und klassischen Sozialstrukturkonzepten. In: Jörg Rössel & Gunnar Otte (Eds.): Lebensstilforschung. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, Special issue 51: 361-398.

Gunnar Otte & Nina Baur (2008): Urbanism as a Way of Life? Räumliche Variationen der Lebensführung in Deutschland. In: Zeitschrift für Soziologie 37 (2): 93-116.

Gunnar Otte (2008): Sozialstrukturanalysen mit Lebensstilen. Eine Studie zur theoretischen und metho-dischen Neuorientierung der Lebensstilforschung. Second Edition. Wiesbaden: VS.

Gunnar Otte (2005): Entwicklung und Test einer integrativen Typologie der Lebensführung für die Bundes-republik Deutschland. In: Zeitschrift für Soziologie 34: 442-467.


Quality Criteria of Professional Critics of Popular Music

Taking the field of popular music, the project analyzes the process of valuation and the criteria used for assessing the quality of artistic products. Why are certain musicians and their albums being sainted while others are being slated severely? How do such judgments get justified? Such processes can be observed especially well with professional critics. In the art field they play the role of mediator between producers and consumers. They pre-select the creative output and deliver judgments on the quality of chosen products. Critics’ influence on market success has been studied interdisciplinary mostly in film and literature. Studies on the influence of music critics are rare however. In addition, the spectrum of quality criteria used to evaluate works of art has hardly been researched comprehensively.

Based on the pioneer work of Ralf von Appen, this research project develops a category system and a coding scheme for the quality criteria used by professional critics. They are applied to album reviews in three influential German music magazines (Rolling Stone, Spex and Intro) using quantitative content analysis. In addition, the random sample of roughly 950 reviews from 1995 to 2010 links critics’ judgments with objective characteristics of the musicians and the reviewed albums on the one hand and their success in the charts on the other hand.

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Project duration: 2012-
Funding: Philipps-University Marburg, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz

Gunnar Otte und Matthias Lehmann (2019): Zwischen Unterhaltung, Authentizität und Kunst. Diskurse und Qualitätskriterien der Rock- und Popmusikkritik in Deutschland im historischen Wandel. In: Dominik Schrage, Holger Schwetter und Anne-Kathrin Hoklas (Hg.): „Zeiten des Aufbruchs“ – Populäre Musik als Medium gesellschaftlichen Wandels. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 249-283.


Social Hierarchies and Symbolic Boundaries in Youth Scenes

This research project on the spectrum of adolescent music scenes in the city of Leipzig, Germany, addresses questions of several sociological sub-fields. Approximately a dozen dance clubs and discotheques are being examined as meeting places of these social scenes. They virtually cover the entire spectrum of currently relevant youth-cultural music genres. From a perspective of the sociology of youth and social stratification, the question is how much the affiliation with a scene is structured by or decoupled from traditional characteristics of social inequality – class of origin, education, gender and spatial categories. From a perspective of the sociology of culture and music, the attempt is made to explain preferences for popular music genres and forms of music reception and to trace the symbolic boundaries that separate audiences from each other. From a perspective of economic and organizational sociology, the project identifies the segmentation principles in a local market of cultural service providers, maps the network structure of audiences and reveals the mechanisms that connect supply and demand.

A mixed-methods approach is applied that incorporates standardized surveys of scene participants, group discussions with cliques, qualitative interviews with club and discotheque operators, participant observations as well as content analyses of scene media (event magazines, flyers). Adolescents’ accumulation of scene-specific capital is deemed the central organizing principle for the formation of social hierarchies within and between music scenes. Forms of musical and bodily capital thereby proof essential: They are connected with socio-structural attributes on the one hand and visitor behavior on the other hand. It is thus possible to meaningfully explain the social structuring of club and discotheque audiences.

Project leader: Prof. Dr. Gunnar Otte
Project duration: 2003-2009
Funding: University of Leipzig

Important Publications:

Gunnar Otte (in publication): Children of the Night. Soziale Hierarchien und symbolische Grenzziehungen in Clubs und Diskotheken. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Gunnar Otte (2015): Die Publikumsstrukturierung eines Open-Air-Festivals für elektronische Musik. Sozialstruktur, Musikkapital und Besuchsmotive. In: Jörg Rössel und Jochen Roose (Hg.): Empirische Kultursoziologie. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 27-64.

Gunnar Otte (2010): „Klassenkultur“ und „Individualisierung“ als soziologische Mythen? Ein Zeitvergleich des Musikgeschmacks Jugendlicher in Deutschland, 1955-2004. In: Peter A. Berger & Ronald Hitzler (Eds.): Individualisierungen. Ein Vierteljahrhundert „jenseits von Stand und Klasse“? Wiesbaden: VS, 73-95.

Gunnar Otte (2007): Körperkapital und Partnersuche in Clubs und Diskotheken. Eine ungleichheits-theoretische Perspektive. In: Diskurs Kindheits- und Jugendforschung 2 (2): 169-186.

Gunnar Otte (2007): Jugendkulturen zwischen Klassenästhetik und freier Geschmackswahl – das Beispiel der Leipziger Clubszene. In: Udo Göttlich, Renate Müller, Stefanie Rhein & Marc Calmbach (Eds.): Arbeit, Politik und Religion in Jugendkulturen. Weinheim: Juventa, 161-177.