Research Areas

Information on the Main Research Areas of the Institute of Sociology
  • Work, Knowledge and Organisational Sociological Research

    The work and teaching area "Work and Knowledge" is dedicated to research into the genesis, structural peculiarities and polyvalences of work and knowledge as a relatively stable and at the same time versatile power and social structure of society. This implies in particular the theoretical and empirical investigation of the societal transformations that call into question the traditional self-understanding of modern societies and their social cohesion. On the one hand, the changing work and knowledge society in particular holds ambivalent challenges that need to be explored more closely in micro- and meso-sociological terms. On the other hand, on the macrosociological level, contributions are made to the further development of work and knowledge sociology on the basis of process theory. The question of the location of the individual in the work, knowledge and educational process is fundamentally reopened against the background of an extended sociological research framework (from classical industrial and business sociology to work and organisational sociology to the investigation of knowledge and service work alone).  A knowledge sociological view of the location-bound nature of discourses on the work and knowledge society and the factual mobilization of implicit knowledge in work organizations is also extended here by a view of the long-term socio- and psychogenetic dimensions of social transformations.

    In accordance with the Master's programme, which is oriented towards antinomies, self-dynamics and ambivalences, several research projects are located in the process sociological focus "Work and Knowledge", which deal in particular with the transformations and subjectivation processes of work and knowledge as well as their effects on social inequalities (gender, origin, age, etc.).


    Professorship for Work and Knowledge (Stefanie Ernst)

  • Educational Research

    Socialisation and Education

    Education is an expression of socialisation, also in two respects. On the one hand, it is the result of culturally controlled socialisation. Education expresses both ideas about what distinguishes a "civilized" person and a socially capable person as well as concrete ideas about which abilities to act (must) be acquired in order to be able to participate appropriately in society. The resulting normative bottlenecks of socialisation (as an initially open-ended process) can be seen, for example, in institutional arrangements of educational mediation and appropriation. However, their socialization significance is also reflected in the fact that education has advanced to become an increasingly important resource for a successful lifestyle in postmodern societies.

    From the perspective of socialisation theory, educational processes thus inform about the appropriation of social and cultural capital as well as about the procedural realities of knowledge transfer, knowledge acquisition and the training of socially valued capabilities.

    The empirical analyses of education therefore examine not only the institutional framework conditions of educational acquisition processes, but also the world of life and experience (e.g. milieu-specific) educational causes and aspects of educational mediation. The database is based on data from the Isländischen Längsschnittstudie (Grundmann et al 2006; Grundmann/Edelstein/Steinhoff 2011), ethnographic analyses of milieu-specific educational cultures (dissertation by Hornei) and biographical analyses of educational pathways in the transition system from general education to vocational education and training.


    Professorship for Socialisation (Matthias Grundmann)

  • Empirical Social Research and Statistics

    Professorship for Methods and Social Structure Analysis (Christoph Weischer)

  • Didactics of the Social Sciences

    Further information on the research focus Didactics of the Social Sciences.


    Professorship for Didactics of the Social Sciences (Andrea Szukala) [de]

  • Community and Sustainability Research

    Since 2001, lectures, seminars, teaching research projects and theses on the topic of social and intentional communities have been held at the chair of Professor Dr. Matthias Grundmann. Following on from sociological, socio-psychological and socio-geographical theories, we ask about current processes of community building in modern, individualized societies. With participatory observation and visits to communities and in dialogue with the communities (e.g. within the framework of the "community workshop"), the aim is on the one hand to shed light on development processes in communities and to support the communities in their growth (e.g. through scientific reflections). Secondly, we want to work out the social innovation potentials for a sustainable social-ecological development or the transformation of individualistic societies into social-ecological living spaces. Finally, it is also important to demonstrate the socio-political significance of the social community movement for global and regional developments.

    A second line focuses on regional social structures. Studies, teaching research projects and seminars on community experience in communal life contexts (poverty and elites in Münster, war childhoods, regional socio-political initiatives and movements), accompanied by Prof. Dieter Hoffmeister and Matthias Grundmann, have shown that regional living conditions also depend to a large extent on the "activation potentials" in the population. In particular for answering the question about the establishment of sustainable regional ways of life, connections between socio-political common sense and joint socio-ecological action as well as the cooperative networking of local actors play a decisive role for the implementation of sustainable living practices.


    Working Group on Community and Sustainability Research, Professorship for Socialisation (Matthias Grundmann)

  • Gender Studies


    Professorship for Work and Knowledge (Stefanie Ernst)

  • Multiple Differentiation


    Professorship for Theory Formation with a Focus on Social Cohesion (Joachim Renn)

  • Sociology of Religion

    Traditional master narratives such as those about secularization or modernization were largely deconstructed by insights from the more recent sociology and history of religion. Instead of widespread assumptions of convergence and linearity about processes of secularization and functional differentiation, notions of the historical contingency of modernity, the path dependency of historical developments, the "simultaneity of the non-simultaneous" as well as the de-differentiation and transgression of borders have taken their place. Recent sociological and historical studies on religion no longer proceed from the incompatibility of religion and modernity, from the pressure that modern societies exert on religious forms of meaning and practices to adapt, and from the determination of religious forms of community and meaning by modernity presented as a unity. Rather, they increasingly emphasize the compatibility between religion and modernity and the religious-productive moments of modernity and conceptualize religion itself as an important motor of social transformation processes. Instead of asserting a sharp contrast between modernity and tradition and locating religion solely on the tradition side, they work out the internal diversity of modern cultures (multiple modernities) as well as the fluid boundaries between tradition and modernity as well as between modernity and religion. In many respects, the aim of this new kind of religious research is not only to bring to bear the external social effects of religious ideas, symbols and practices, but also to consider the transformation processes taking place in the religious field, the processes of individualization and pluralization of religion, the change of forms and the self-modernization of religion.

    The work of the Chair of Sociology of Religion ties in with this development tendency, but gives it another turn, because so justified is the criticism of the theory of secularization, as long as it refers to the construction of teleological historical models, the design of a deterministic derivation logic, and thinking in generalizable container concepts, so much it threatens at the same time to lead into an uncritical relativism, which upgrades the individual case to the only unit of investigation, which makes contingents absolute, obstructs the comparison of constellations and places the elaboration of overarching structures under the general suspicion of Eurocentrism. Whether religion and modernity are compatible, whether tradition and modernity do not form a contradiction, whether the internal diversity of modernity prevails over its unity, must not be decided ideologically in advance, but must be examined historically and empirically. The critique of the classical theory of secularization is important, because religious ideas and modes of action cannot be treated only as dependent variables and explained only by structural conditions. In fact, it is necessary to appreciate the inherent dynamics of religious cultures, to look at their structural effects and to work out the processes of change taking place within religious communities. The social science structural analysis and cultural history of religion should not, however, be brought into conflict; rather, the chances of their mediation should be explored and both the productive effects of religious communities and ideas and their dependence on external circumstances, both the compatibility between religion and modernity and the tensions between them, both the historical contingency of modern processes of change and their regularity taken into consideration. The Chair of Sociology of Religion and its staff are striving for such a mediation. The investigation of religious processes of change in modernity cannot be content with merely grasping religion as a dependent variable, but must also examine the effects of religion within and outside religion. It cannot be satisfied with macrosociological explanations, but must also consider microsociological processes of change. It must include structural variables in its analyses, as well as semantic, discursive and cultural-historical holdings and explanatory approaches, and pursue hermeneutic, historical peculiarities. However, it will not be able to do without going beyond micro-sociological approaches that emphasize historical contingency, the momentum and self-understanding of religions, and also emphasizing structural and cultural influencing factors, general regularities, and societal interrelationships that lie behind the actors. Sociology is not limited to description, but has an explanatory claim without which it would not differ from the historical sciences. Therefore, in sociological and, of course, religious sociological work, it is always important to base the analyses on theoretical explanatory models, without allowing the empirical analysis to slide into a deductive business, to interpret the empirical research results obtained in the light of theoretical models and to use them to further develop theoretical drafts. In this respect, theoretical and empirical work are closely linked. In addition, it is crucial for the sociological work at the Chair of Sociology of Religion that reflexive methodological awareness and knowledge of craftsmanship are developed for dealing with empirical phenomena. Only through the use of highly developed methods of empirical social research will it be possible to arrive at intersubjectively verifiable, generally valid and falsifiable statements about the social reality to be investigated. Statements that cannot be falsified and are endowed with the claim to supersubjective validity or that elude intersubjective examination cannot be described as scientific statements. Among the methods, comparison undoubtedly has a privileged status due to its heuristic qualities.

    In terms of content, the processes of religious change in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe represent a first focal point. In addition - also and not least under comparative aspects - the countries of Western Europe are in the focus of attention. The research of religious change in the different regions of Europe is carried out taking into account the social, political, economic, legal and cultural context, whereby the above-mentioned mediation between social structure analysis and cultural historiography, macro- and micro-sociological consideration, explanatory and hermeneutic approach is aimed at. The sociology of religion conducted in Münster is contextual sociology of religion. Therefore, in addition to processes of religious change, changes in the economic sphere, in the state-church relationship, in religious policy, in cultural semantics and discourses as well as in public and political culture are always taken into account. Especially a method-consciously practiced sociology of religion will be able to avoid both the trap of scientism as well as mere paraphrase and may dare to reach insights beyond the individual case.


    Professorship for Sociology of Religion (Detlef Pollack)

  • Socialisation Research

    Socialisation as an Enforcement Reality and as a Social Practice

    Socialisation is a reality of execution, an individual and collective process of creation in the course of which people develop personality traits, identities, affiliations, ideas and values as well as social practices of togetherness. At the centre of this reality of execution are socializing interactions, from the course of which a reality stretches out both in the actors involved and between the actors, to which they align their actions. This reality is preconditional, i.e. socially and culturally framed. But how can this reality of execution be theoretically modelled so that it also reveals those design processes in which socialization ultimately expresses itself? How, then, can the practices of socialization be examined?

    One possibility is to model socialisational interaction as a conflictual situation that arises through conflicting views and interests of the actors involved (Oevermann). Equally important, however, seems to be the actors' desire to mutually recognize their views and insights in the process of interaction (Honneth 1992; 2010). Finally, however, the interactive realities thus conceived can also be interpreted as an attempt to shape the interaction with one another (Grundmann 2006). In all of this, it is always a matter of dealing with requirements and needs for action that are in themselves contradictory, as they can ideally be described by the term ambivalence (Lüscher 2010). Lüscher has also developed a research heuristic for this purpose, which can be used as a basis for sociologically sound socialisation research. With reference to the concept of ambivalence, however, it is also possible to describe how such basic human conflict situations or recognition and design needs can be dealt with in and through socialisation processes. The focus is on those social practices in which socialisation takes place. In this way, it can be empirically traced how contradictory world experiences (e.g. moral dilemmas or differences between self-perceptions and external perceptions) affect personality development and the genesis of the ability to act, which development risks contradict demands for action in different contexts (e.g.B. school, family, peer group), how individuals unite into groups or develop a sense of belonging to a group, how actors in social reference groups deal with individual and collective references to action, and how group formation processes take place between cohesion and anomie.


    Professorship for Socialisation (Matthias Grundmann)

  • Social Structure Analysis


    Professorship for Methods and Social Structure Analysis (Christoph Weischer)

  • Urban and Regional Analysis

    The topics of resilience and future strength of cities and regions have become increasingly popular in recent times. Under the conditions of differentiation and mobility, emerging resource scarcity and demographic change, as well as overshadowed by increasing social division, the question arises for more and more people as civil society strengthens: What could it actually look like, the city of the future in the region of the future? How should/could/must future infrastructure facilities be designed, how can local actors be involved and what are the specific municipal and regional resources for this?

    However, the urban and regional analysis, which has been conducted at our institute with different emphases for about 25 years, initially focused less on municipal resources and aspects of future sustainability than on municipal "problem areas". From the poverty problem to the role of the urban elites, to the integration problems of ethnic German immigrants, the needs of the generation of war children or the threat of poverty in old age, the current situation was measured and presented (cf. literature list). In a teaching research project that had been running for about three semesters, the question of local/regional resources came to the fore more strongly, initiated by students. Sustainability, in particular a sustainable way of life and economy, was identified as a means of making modern urban societies fit for the future - even against the background of the problems that had been explored in the two and a half decades before.

    In this context, as in previous projects, cooperation is currently taking place with the various actors in urban society: from politics and administration to associations, self-help groups and initiatives. For some time now, there has also been close cooperation with the chair of Prof. Grundmann (joint research), since we understand the new forms of life and consumption that are examined here as a resource and means for resilience and future stability.


    Prof. (apl.) Dr. Dieter Hoffmeister, Working Group on Community and Sustainability Research