How do sociologists contribute to society

Introduction to sociology

Theresa Fibich and Rudolf Richter
Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Vienna

The present learning material was designed for Support for the lecture "Introduction to Sociology" as part of the introductory and orientation phase of Theresa Fibich, BA and Univ.-Prof. Dr. Rudolf Richter designed and created.

The learning material is used for Introduction to the basic problems and concepts of sociological thinking and research. Above all, it aims to make it clear what characterizes the "sociological view" of social phenomena. To do this, on the one hand basic theoretical and methodological concepts in sociology mediated, on the other hand the most important subject areas presented, in which sociological knowledge is applied today.

Sociology - An Approach
1.1 The subject of sociology
1.2 Nature - culture - society
1.3 Sociology as the Science of Enlightenment
1.4 Sociological thinking
values ​​and standards
2.1 What are norms? What are values?
2.2 Standard-compliant and deviating behavior
2.3 Georg Simmel: What is of value?
2.4 Change in values
2.4.1 Ronald F. Inglehart: Materialistic and Post-Materialistic Values
2.4.2 Helmut Klages: Self-development values
Social action
3.1 Behavior vs. (social) action
3.2 Determining reasons for action according to Max Weber
3.3 interaction
3.4 Symbolic interactionism: why do interactions work?
3.5 On the relationship between action and structure
4.1 Institution near Durkheim: "Social facts"
4.2 Berger & Luckmann: The emergence of institutions
4.2.1 Habitualization
4.2.2 Reciprocity of Typing
4.2.3 Facticity
5.1 Taylorism - Scientific Management
5.2 The Hawthorne Experiment
5.3 Organization as a social system
Social role
6.1 Social role: structure-functionalist definition
6.2 Intra- and inter-role conflicts
6.3 Social role: Interactionist definition
Social group
7.1 Primary and secondary groups
7.2 Formal and informal groups
7.3 Affinity groups
Power and domination
8.1 Hobbes: Social Order and the Power of the Leviathan
8.2 Domination - The legitimation of power
8.3 Rational bureaucracy
8.4 Forms of power
Social inequality
9.1 Social Stratification Theories
9.1.1 History of Social Stratification and the Bolte Onion
9.1.2 Social classes in Karl Marx
9.1.3 Classes and stands at Max Weber
9.1.4 Theodor Geiger's mentality
9.2 Measure social stratification
9.3 Weaknesses of the Concept of Stratification: New Theories of Social Inequality
9.3.1 Schelsky: leveled medium-sized company
9.3.2 Beck: Individualization
9.3.3 Bourdieu: capital types and tastes
9.3.4 Hradil: Social milieus
9.4 Measurement and indicators of social inequality
9.4.1 GINI coefficient
9.4.2 Global gender gap index
9.4.3 Human Development Index (HDI)
10 bibliography

1 Sociology - An Approach

The term sociology was first used by August Comte [1] (1798-1857) used. He spoke of a “physique sociale” a positive (in the sense of an observation based vs. speculative) science. THE definition of sociology does not exist. One definition that most sociologists (would) agree to is the well-known definition by Max Weber:

"Sociology (in the sense of this very ambiguously used word) should mean: a science that interprets social action and thus wants to explain its course and effects causally." Weber (1985 [1920]: 542)

References in this chapter:

1.1 The subject of sociology

Graphic: Das Soziale, Source: T. Fibich

The subject of sociology is society. But what does "society" mean? Society, so says sociology, arises from the relationships between people, from the interactions between those involved. These interactions form structures, so-called social structures. The concepts of interaction, relationships and structure describe the essential peculiarity of sociology. It explores what is going on between the actors, it deals with the result of their actions, but not with the actors themselves.

In modern variants of sociology, especially of systems theory, but also of symbolic interactionism, the concept of communication is added to the concepts of interaction and structure. For Niklas Luhmann, the developer of systems theory in Germany, social systems consist of communication. Society, he says, is the most comprehensive social system. Society consists of communications.

These general terms can create the impression that sociology has released people from the social sciences. That is not completly correct. The individual creates society. Society cannot come into being without the individual. On the other hand, society already exists before the individual, the individual grows into social structures.

This addresses a basic problem in sociology: that Relationship between the individual and society [1]. This can be linked to two classics. Karl Marx, who focuses on processes of society as a whole, and John Stuart Mill, who focuses on the individual and sees this as the basis of all society.

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 3.5

1.2 Nature - culture - society

Western, European thinking is characterized by polarization and the development of differences. The fundamental difference between nature and society [cf. Kröll & Pesendorfer: Basics of social science ways of thinking [1] ] thinking in science.

The differentiation of Natural sciences and humanities (The latter are now diversified into cultural and social sciences) This contrast is also reflected in the organization of different faculties in universities. “We explain nature, we understand spirit” was how the German humanities scholar Wilhelm Dilthey put it at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, thereby establishing the difference.

Today this difference is increasingly being called into question. Nature and society are always inextricably linked. Genes - such a suitable picture - are the paper and the pencil, we have to write ourselves. Without genes there would be no human behavior, and without a mutual relationship between humans, genes would not be effective. Humans would only be unable to survive because of their biological constitution; they need company. Today's social sciences will have to work more closely with the natural sciences in order to research human and thus also social reality. The contrast is becoming increasingly questionable.

A distinction is also made between Society and culture. While society has to do with structures and structural elements, the ideal superstructure belongs to the field of culture. Sociology deals with social structure, norms, social roles, and anthropology deals more with values, myths and the meanings of material things, according to the disciplinary differentiation. Today this opposition is no longer so specifically organized in the sciences. The former ethnology has been renamed cultural and social anthropology at the University of Vienna and sociology uses ethnographic methods in the field of qualitative social research and analyzes processes of giving meaning in society.

Today it is not so much a question of delimiting nature, society and culture, but rather of observing the interactions between the areas. It is about interdisciplinary research into how the concrete life of people on earth is shaped by biological and spiritual (cultural, social) processes.

References in this chapter:

1.3 Sociology as the Science of Enlightenment

One central question dominates every discussion about the status of sociology in society: does sociology as a science also have the task of changing society? Can she do that? Should sociology be judgmental?

Sociology as an empirical science is committed to the spirit of the Enlightenment and thus to the “exit of man from his self-inflicted immaturity”, as Immanuel Kant (1784) formulated the idea of ​​the Enlightenment.

The scientific analysis itself must always tend to be value-free, objective and comprehensible. Regardless of this, the selection of topics is determined by values ​​and every scientist will have his own values ​​and also pursue them. At the beginning of the 20th century, Max Weber, the founder of understanding sociology, made a distinction between science as a profession and politics as a profession. The work in science must be value-free, but the topics are determined by values ​​and the results can and should even flow into political action. According to Jürgen Habermas (1968), sociology is primarily interested in emancipating knowledge. In addition, there is also an interest in technical knowledge (what is feasible), but this does not satisfy the enlightenment point of view of sociology. Sociology also contributes to possible changes through an objective analysis of social reality.

The Sociological Imagination, so says Charles Wright Mills [1] (1967 [1959]), would consist in bringing the problems of people's everyday life, the injustices and disadvantages, to those in power and advising them on the development of a “good” society. Here sociology formulates a representation of the disadvantaged, by no means neutral in terms of value.

The task of sociology as a science, as we can say today, is to explain, understand, analyze, and describe society. The more rational and objective these findings are, the more well-founded political influence is possible.

However, the discussion about this will continue over and over again.

References in this chapter:

1.4 Sociological thinking

What does it mean to think sociologically? Sociologists have to take a distant perspective on social phenomena, since they too are part of society. Abels (2009a: 64) writes “Sociology begins with that doubtthat the social conditions naturally developed in this way. ”Every person (including a sociologist) has an idea of ​​what reality is in everyday life and follows his“ common sense ”(Abels 2009a: 19). That is precisely the difficulty of sociology. Sociological thinking begins where this everyday knowledge feels safe. Luhmann therefore also speaks of the “doctrine of the second look”. Wherever it is clear “that this is how it is”, “that it is so”, sociologists should take a closer look. One should therefore be reflexively aware of one's own assumptions, distinguish between personal values ​​and factual analysis and not take the self-evident for granted (Abels 2009a: 19ff). This makes it possible to think in terms of structures.

2 values ​​and norms

"Values provide a general framework for thinking and acting, Norms more or less strictly stipulate how to act ”(Abels 2009b: 15). But why do people adhere to norms and values? And what if you don't do it? Sociology tries to provide answers to these questions. She also deals with the causes and effects of changing values.

2.1 What are standards? What are values?

Photo: Queue in front of the Eiffel Tower, source:

“In a sociological sense, values ​​can be understood as the conscious or unconscious ideas of the members of a society about what one should strive for and how one should act” (Abels 2009b: 15). Standards regulate coexistence and make life plannable. They are more binding than values ​​(Peuckert 2004: 213). Norms and values ​​tell us how we should act: after a demonstration there is applause, at the supermarket checkout people stand in the back; we know the dress code at a funeral, on the beach or in the office, for example. This is by no means given by nature, it is people who have created these values ​​and norms and they are therefore also culturally shaped. Anyone visiting Japan would do well not to blow their nose at the table, while in Austria it would be embarrassing not to do so when it is urgently necessary. Values ​​are therefore always tied to a social context which, however, is not limited to national borders. Different subcultures can also develop within a society in which different value systems dominate (e.g. different youth cultures) or the same values ​​are interpreted differently (e.g. freedom: in art vs. economy) (Peuckert 2006: 353).

2.2 Standard-compliant and deviating behavior

"Values provide a general framework for thinking and acting, Norms more or less strictly stipulate how to act ”(Abels 2009b: 15). But why are norms followed by people? Through socialization we internalize the valid values ​​and norms, we act automatically and it seems normal or natural and sensible to act in this way. Positive and negative sanctions (praise, confirmation, punishment, etc.) safeguard the applicable norms. Anyone who goes to work in swimwear or suddenly goes to see their superiors is called to order.

So norms determine both conforming and deviating behavior (Peuckert 2006: 213). Norms that are sanctioned by the state are enshrined in law. In a society in which there is a pluralization of values, norms and values ​​lose their orientation function (Abels 2009b: 52).

What happens now if people do not adhere to these given regulations? Depending on the severity of the norm, they are sanctioned, up to and including (if this norm is enshrined in law) sanctioned by the judiciary. Would a society in which there were no violations of norms be a society that did not need sanctions? To Durkheim [1] a rare violation promotes the anchoring of the norm in the collective consciousness. Or as Abels (2009b: 54) says: "Norms that are not talked about lose their effect." Punishments therefore have a "useful function" (Durkheim 1976 [1895]: 181), even for those who do not punish become: on the one hand as a deterrent and on the other hand as a reminder of the existence of this norm. However, where “it is too often known that norms are being violated, they also lose their effect” (Abels 2009b: 54). If most people ignore the red light, it loses its binding effect. Popitz (1968: 17) therefore speaks of the “benefit of the unreported figure”. The state has no interest in sanctioning every violation of the norm, as knowing about the constant violation would weaken the norm. If it becomes publicly known that every second person evades taxes, public tax morale will decline (Abels 2009b: 56).

References in this chapter:

2.3 Georg Simmel: What is of value?

Photo: Georg Simmel (1858-1918), source:

Simmel [1] (1858-1918) writes in his work "Philosophy of Money" that things are naturally of equal value. So all things are equal in their existence, so nothing is worth more than something else. It is only people who attach importance to things by introducing a hierarchy of values. It is therefore a "ranking according to values" that exists completely detached from the state of nature and that "summarizes reality in a completely autonomous order" (Simmel 1989 [1900]: 23ff). These values ​​are by no means objective and differ from person to person. Objects are assigned the chance of satisfying their own needs, be it material, social or spiritual. This creates a value that exists alongside reality (cf. also Abels 2009b: 19). Where no effort is required to achieve satisfaction, for example because the possibility of satisfaction is in abundance or appears to be completely impossible, each individual possibility loses its value (Abels 2009b: 19).

References in this chapter:

2.4 Change in values

Values ​​and norms are created by people and are therefore subject to change.Just a few years ago it would have been inconceivable that a woman and a man without a marriage license in Austria would stay in the same hotel room, that hitting is not a suitable educational measure, etc. Two researchers who deal intensively with the topic of changing values ​​against the background of increasing prosperity in of the second half of the 20th century are, on the one hand, Ronald F. Inglehart (* 1934), who observed a change from materialistic values ​​(basic physiological needs, performance, fulfillment of duties) to post-materialistic values ​​(autonomy, anticipatory engagement, etc.) and on the other hand, Helmut Klages (* 1930), who subsequently (also with criticism of Inglehart) observed an increase in self-development values ​​and a decrease in mandatory and acceptance values ​​(cf. Peuckert 2006: 354).

2.4.1 Ronald F. Inglehart: Materialistic and post-materialistic values

Inglehart (* 1934) assumes in the 1970s / 1980s that socio-economic changes within a society also change value preferences and thus bring about a change in values. At the same time, a change in values ​​would in turn change the structure of a society. Based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs (1970 [1954]), he assumes a sequence of values ​​that ranges from covering physiological needs such as hunger and thirst to self-realization. He also assumes that the social environment in which one grows up also has a decisive influence on one's own values. To test these assumptions, he formulated two hypotheses (Inglehart 1989: 92):

  • Deficiency Hypothesis: "A person's priorities reflect their socio-economic environment: the greatest subjective value is attached to things that are relatively scarce."
  • Socialization hypothesis: A person's fundamental values ​​"largely reflect the conditions that were prevalent in his youth."

The hypotheses were confirmed. Inglehart observed in his studies a change from materialistic values ​​(protection of basic physical needs, economic protection, security needs etc.) to post-materialistic values ​​(need for belonging, political freedom, intellectual and aesthetic satisfaction, self-realization etc.). People from wealthy families showed predominantly post-materialistic goals. Materialists were mainly in the older generations (war cohorts). The post-war cohorts showed post-materialist goals (Inglehart 1989: 101 ff). Inglehart himself called this "The Silent Revolution" (1977).

Inglehart's results have been widely quoted but also criticized. The thesis is exaggerated, the questions were asked incorrectly and had nothing to do with the actions of the respondents (cf. Abels 2009: 42). Among the critics was too Helmut Klages [1] (*1930).

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 2.4.2

2.4.2 Helmut Klages: Self-development values

Klages observed (similar to Inglehart [1]) a change in values ​​in industrial societies and shows this on the basis of the change in educational goals in the period between 1951 and 1998 in the FRG (Klages 2001: 730). However, Klages (1992: 12ff) strongly criticizes Inglehart. Klages believes that the materialistic and post-materialistic goals formulated by Inglehart do not necessarily cancel each other out and therefore do not lie on one dimension. Klages speaks of a change from compulsory and acceptance values ​​to self-development values, whereby these are not mutually exclusive, but "are independent dimensions of the range of values ​​that can enter into various combinations in social reality" (Klages 2001: 728). “Rather, it is such that values ​​are handled flexibly and appropriately to the situation” (Abels 2009b: 49). On the one hand, parents would grant their children a lot of freedom and rights, but at the same time express the opinion that they want to have an influence on their profession, education and behavior (Klages 1998: 118f).

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 2.4.1

3 Social action

The concept of social action is one of the most important concepts in sociology. Because according to Max Weber it exists Task of sociology in this to understand social action interpretively and in its course and its effects to explain the cause (Weber 1968 [1920]: 542). Social action does not mean altruistic action, but action that, in its sense, is related to the behavior of others. This sense arises from purposeful, value-rational, traditional or affective determinants. However, not every social act leads to an interaction. Possible explanations why and how interaction works without constant misunderstandings is given by symbolic interactionism.

The concept of action is also to be considered in the relationship between action and structure: which came first? The acting individual or society?

3.1 Behavior vs. (social) action

According to Max Weber [1] it is the task of sociology to interpret social action and to explain its course and effects causally (Weber 1968 [1920]: 542). But what does “social action” mean, or rather: what does it not mean?

Social action does not mean - as is perhaps common in everyday life - good, nice or helpful action. It is also to be distinguished from instinctive behavior. Flinching when it thunders is not acting but behavior. Act after Weber means meaningful action. That doesn't mean that my actions actually make objective sense - it's about you subjectively meant sense (as opposed to behavior). I my something with my actions (ex: I open the window to ventilate. I go for a walk to do a little exercise. A driver slowly drives over the threshold past the school to protect his car, etc.).

The exact definition according to Weber is:

"Action" should (...) mean human behavior (regardless of whether it is external or internal action, omission or tolerance) if and insofar as the agent or agents associate it with a subjective meaning.(Weber 1968 [1920]: 542)

So acting also means failing to act.

“Social action”, however, should mean such action which, according to the meaning intended by the agent, is related to the behavior of others and is based on this in its course(ibid .: 542).

Sociology is primarily concerned with the latter: social action. In our sense of action, we refer to others (e.g. I turn off my cell phone in the cinema so as not to disturb the other visitors. I go for a walk because the neighbors are listening to loud music. The driver slowly drives past the school the threshold so as not to endanger the children. I roll my eyes because someone at the supermarket checkout only pays with cent coins. etc.).

Not only do we act meaningfully, we also assume that other people mean something specific by their actions. Weber brings the following example: Two cyclists collide at a blind intersection because they have not seen each other. This is an event, not a social act. If one then hits the other because he believes the other has deliberately knocked him down (he thinks the other meant something by his actions, acted socially), then that is a social act.

The other people do not necessarily have to be present for a social act: if I clear a log away from the federal road so that the next driver does not drive over it, it is a social act, even if this person will never find out about it. So not every social act leads to one Interaction [2].

References in this chapter:
[2] See chapter 3.3

3.2 Determining reasons for action according to Max Weber

Of social action [1] According to Max Weber, it is spoken when the action is “related to the behavior of others in the intended sense and its sequence is based on this.” But when is an action subjectively meaningful? Max Weber names four ideal-typical determinants of social action (Weber 1985 [1920]: 565):

  • Purposeful action: Purpose, means and side effects are weighed up rationally. The best possible action is chosen.
  • Value-rational action: It is acted according to ethical, aesthetic or even religious demands and commandments, without taking into account the consequences of the action. In your actions you feel obliged to a certain intrinsic value of the thing itself and act accordingly (e.g. religious action, obedience of the officers, ecological action, fundamentalist ideas, etc.).
  • Affective action: An external stimulus is responded to without rationalization and without reflection. This includes feelings and emotions. This type of action is mostly on the borderline to what seems to us to be consciously meaningful.
  • Traditional trading: It is acted because this has always been done. One acts out of habit.
References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 3.1

3.3 Interaction

We mutually assume that we pursue a subjective meaning with our actions, that we mean something with our action (social action [1]). But not every social act necessarily leads to interaction. "Interaction means having at least two individuals together and related to each other act."(Abels 2009b: 184). Georg Simmel [2] (1894: 54), when he speaks of society, speaks of interactions between individuals, what he calls the process of Socialization designated. When one speaks of society, the starting point is the individuals and their relationships with one another. But how, or rather why, does such an interaction work? Nobody can look into the other and read their subjective meaning. How is it possible that we don't constantly misunderstand each other and that interaction works? Symbolic interactionism offers an explanation for this. George Herbert Mead [3] and his student Herbert Blumer are considered to be the founders.

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 3.1

3.4 Symbolic interactionism: why do interactions work?

According to George Herbert Mead [1] (1974 [1934]: 44) behavior is reactive and prospective. So we are influenced in our actions by the actions of the other and imagine how the other will behave. Interaction is therefore “a permanent process of acting, observing and designing further actions” (Abels 2009b: 185). Through the Use of symbols, to which the actors orient themselves, they try the To show each other the meaning of their actions. Symbols are signs or terms that express a general or specific meaning. They represent a complex context, but can be interpreted. There is no automatic reaction, but several interpretations are possible (Mead 1974 [1934]: 164f.). Significant symbols are signs that trigger the same reaction in all participants in the interaction (ibid .: 188f). The most important significant symbol is language.

Symbols are confirmed and changed in an interaction. The situation is defined together. This creates objective conditions for action within the interaction and forms the structure of further interactions.

Herbert Blumer (1978: 81) formulates a summary three premises:

  • People act toward things based on the importance those things have to them. (In this case, things are not only referred to as things of a physical nature, but also Institutions [2]Ideals, actions of other people etc.)
  • This meaning arises or is derived in the interaction processthat one enters into with one's fellow human beings.
  • This meaning is historically changeablebecause it is changed in an interpretative process by the person concerned.

Communication succeeds because those involved use common symbols to understand the meaning of their actions. The meaning of things is not fixed in advance, but is negotiated in interactions and is therefore subject to a process of change.

References in this chapter:
[2] See Chapter 4

3.5 The relationship between action and structure

A question that is discussed again and again in sociology is the question on which level sociological questions should be dealt with: on the structural level, i.e. the Macro level - or on the Micro levelthat focuses on the actions of individuals? So that is a Basic problem of sociology addressed: the relationship between the individual and society. This can be linked to two classics. Karl Marx [1](1818-1883), for example, advocated that the actions of individuals could be explained purely from the structure, which requires access at the macro level. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), on the other hand, argues that society can only be viewed by looking at individual individuals. People act, individuals orient themselves in their actions to the actions of others. Structures are created.

Modern sociological theories try to solve this problem from different angles. They either deal more with structural questions (structural functionalism, systems theory) or with the acting individuals (interpretive sociology). Some theoretical approaches want to model a connection between the two areas, such as the symbolic-materialistic approach of Pierre Bourdieu [2] (1930-2002) or Anthony Giddens' structuring theory

Anthony Giddens [3] (* 1938) solves the problem mentioned by talking about a Duality of structure speaks. Abels (2009b: 168) summarizes this as follows:

Graphic: Duality of the structure, source: T. Fibich

  • “The actors act and through their actions create conditions for further action - for themselves and for others, that is, structures;
  • But they act under the impression of the structures that already existed, with the baggage of their socialization and in reaction to the actions of the others. So action is structured. "

Nevertheless, the question of the connection between the individual and society has not yet been resolved. More recent ethnographically proceeding directions mean that the question has been posed incorrectly. You concentrate on the actual actions, observe where and how interactions come about and social issues arise as a result. They impress with their precise description without developing general theoretical models of society. This approach is prominently represented in the actor network theory of Bruno Latour (* 1947). The question of the relationship between the individual and society remains unanswered and remains a broad field of activity in sociological theory formation and empirical studies.

References in this chapter:

4 institution

In everyday life, the terms institution and organization are mostly used synonymously. Institution then refers more to public institutions such as schools, hospitals, authorities, etc. In contrast, organizations are more likely to refer to production and service companies such as department stores, factories, companies, etc. (Gukenbiehl 2008: 146). However, the social science distinction is to be made differently:

What they both have in common is “the regulated cooperation of people, working together and dealing with one another that neither happens by chance nor arbitrarily” (Gukenbiehl 2008: 146). But what is the difference? Abels (2009a: 174) defines the two terms as follows:

"A institution represents a social system of rules that has historically grown out of human practice, but has largely become independent. " So it is a bundle of norms and values ​​that structure social reality and are socially constructed. They are “diverse forms of regulated cooperation” (Gukenbiehl 2008: 147). They already exist before we are born, we learn them as part of socialization and they appear to us to be objective or we usually act accordingly unconsciously.

Examples: marriage, language, greeting, religion, barter, purchase, etc.

"A organization[1] is a rational object that is created by consciousThought and action was generated. " They are regulated cooperations based on rationality. They have a binding structure and order, are geared towards a specific goal or have been created for a specific purpose.

Examples: Catholic church, football club, companies, magistrate, etc.

References in this chapter:
[1] See Chapter 5

4.1 Institution near Durkheim: "Social facts"

Photo: Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), source:

According to Emile Durkheim [1] it is the institutions, he speaks of “social facts” that determine how individuals think and act. In a society there are ideas about what one does or may do how and what one or how not to do without having to communicate about it: How do you greet each other? How do lessons work? How do you discuss? How do you buy something? What happens on a hen party? (How) do you celebrate a birthday / Christmas? What is family What is appropriate clothing in which situation? How do you behave in traffic? In all of these questions there are "Forms of regulated interactions “(Gukenbiehl 2008: 147), which are of social origin. I don't have to think about what's going on in class. I have an idea of ​​what a lesson is: a room with a certain set-up (school desks, blackboard, armchairs; also with a corresponding arrangement in the room), a trained teacher, several pupils, certain rules of conduct: no speaking without pointing, etc. . I know that in traffic the right-hander has priority and that I have to stop at a red light.

Durkheim calls the conceptions of this seemingly objective reality (the social facts) “collective consciousness”, which has its origin outside of the individual himself. It is the awareness of things that existed before you were born. Here are also examples from Durkheim (1976 [1895]: 105f.) Himself: conceptions of duties as a brother, husband or citizen; Customs and beliefs of religion, sign system to express thoughts, coin system or credit paper.

Institutions establish themselves as rules in society. Through socialization, institutions such as language, coin systems and marriage appear normal and almost natural to us. They therefore coerce us. It does not occur to us to act differently (we do not greet each other by waving our feet, but with our hand). Since we have internalized the social facts, we act automatically and are seldom aware of this compulsion. Similar to Norms and values ​​[2] negative and positive sanctions are associated with institutions. If I want to pay with dollars at the supermarket checkout in Austria, I will usually not be able to do so.

According to Durkheim (1976 [1895]), for an institution to emerge, several individuals must have begun to combine their activities and thereby create something new. "Where traffic is regulated by a red traffic light, there was someone who expressed an appropriate regulation with this sign, and at least one other who confirmed through his actions: I understand" (Abels 2009a: 142).

References in this chapter:
[2] See Chapter 2

4.2 Berger & Luckmann: The emergence of institutions

In their book "The Social Construction of Reality", Peter L. Berger (* 1929) and Thomas Luckmann (* 1927) describe the Establishment of institutions out Habits of action [1] and routines that become habitualized. Reciprocal typing [2] enables mutual expectations to be met. The Facticity [3] of the institution arises through historicity and apparent objectivity and makes it difficult for us to recognize the social context.

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 4.2.1
[2] See chapter 4.2.2
[3] See chapter 4.2.3

4.2.1 Habitualization

Successful behavior becomes internalized into typical behavior and as a pattern for further action. The pattern becomes the habit. This means that every situation does not have to be redefined. Institutionalization is the result of habitualization processes. Typifications (institutions) are created.

4.2.2 Reciprocity of Typing

The Reciprocity of Typing is central here: Institutions become common property and “are accessible to all members of the respective social group” (Berger / Luckmann 2009: 58). These rules set up behavior patterns and alternative options for action are no longer considered (e.g. when I see an infected wedding ring, I don't get the idea that this means “divorced”). Human behavior is therefore controlled by the existence of the institution. When person A and person B become carriers of typical actions, they are carriers of Roles [1]. There is a generalization of expectations (= typifications), whereby the actions of the individuals are mutually calculable, which facilitates the orientation in life with others.

An example: We don't have to explain to the cashier at the supermarket checkout what we want from him, and he doesn't have to explain to us the other way around either: he expects us to put all the items on the conveyor belt, we expect that we can (not at the sausage counter) and then be able to take the products with you without having to call the police. We "play" them social role [2] of the customers and he that of the cashier.

References in this chapter:
[1] See Chapter 6
[2] See Chapter 6

4.2.3 Facticity

“As long as emerging institutions are only sustained through the interaction of A and B, their state of objectivity remains tense, fluctuating, almost playful (...). However, that changes when it is passed on to a new generation ”(Berger / Luckmann 2009: 62). The factuality "hardens" and "condenses". The institution appears as Naturally (e.g .: language) not as an agreement. The new generation learns: “That's how it is!”. The institutional world becomes history (historicity) and thus receives objectivity, although it is nonetheless a constructed objectivity is. Berger / Luckmann call the moment when we lose the ability to think differently reification: It "is the conception of human products, as if they are something different from human products: natural conditions, consequences of cosmic laws or revelations of a divine will ”(Berger / Luckmann 2009: 95).

5 organization

Organizations are (in contrast to institutions [1])rational purpose structures. On the one hand, they are characterized by rationality and, on the other hand, they were created for a specific purpose or goal (cf. Abels 2009a: 174).

Graphic: Example of an organizational structure, source:

Abels (2009a: 178ff) summarizes typical characteristics of an organization:

  • Members (This is accompanied by regulated tasks or entry and exit conditions, qualification requirements)
  • environment (Organization is not a closed system, but interacts with the environment)
  • aim and purpose (Function of the organization)
  • rationality (effectively, quickly, rationally)
  • Formalization and structure (formally structured: vertical and horizontal differentiation, role systems with functions)
  • Target specificity (Formal goals: officially set, coordination of those involved according to these goals; informal goals: e.g. working atmosphere, form of cooperation between employees; potential for conflict between formal and informal goals!)

Examples of organizations: Banks, department stores, parties, choirs, schools, research institutes, old people's homes, kindergartens, sports clubs, museums, hospitals, youth associations, etc.

References in this chapter:
[1] See Chapter 4

5.1 Taylorism - Scientific Management

Photo: Mechanic at Tabor Co., one of Taylor's flagship companies around 1905, source:

At the beginning of Organizational research The investigations focused primarily on work and business management aspects. Above all is Frederick W. Taylor to mention the at the beginning of the 20th century Ask about increased productivity followed. He advocated the thesis that, among other things, division of labor, standardization of work processes, determination of performance curves, fixed working hours and breaks, specification of a workload and piecework wages lead to an increase in productivity (Taylor 2011 [1911]). So it should Not more of the People come first, but the organization himself. Taylor was convinced that this development would also benefit the workers themselves, since they too would be interested in the individual attribution of their work (cf. also Abels 2009a: 191). This approach became known as Taylorism.

In order to expand this knowledge and also to obtain knowledge about the design of the work environment (such as room temperature, food intake, etc.), Roethlisberger, Mayo and Dickson in the Hawthorne Works [1] carried out an investigation from 1927-1933. The aim was to find ideal conditions for production. The importance of human relationships within an organization was discovered.

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 5.2

5.2 The Hawthorne Experiment

One of the most famous experiments on the subject of organization was that carried out by Frotz J. Roethlisberger, Elton Mayo, and William J. Dickson between 1927 and 1933 Experiment at the Hawthorne Works. The researchers tried the then prevailing theory of the Scientific Management [1] to expand in order to generate knowledge about the ideal work environment in terms of increasing productivity.

As part of the experiments, working conditions were changed in an experimental group and kept constant in a control group. For example, treatments were set in areas such as the length of the break, the length of the working day, the length of the working week, remuneration based on performance and the behavior of the foreman (Roethlisberger et al. 1964 [1939]).

It was found that an increase in production was recorded both in the experimental group and in the control group. After this surprising result, interviews were carried out with the workers. Two central results can be derived (cf. Abels 2009: 190):

  • Employees cannot be reduced to a homo oeconomicus: The presence of the researchers made the workers feel more perceived as individuals, which drove them to perform better. This was not foreseen in the concept of Scientific Management.
  • In addition to the formal organization, there is also an informal organization: On the one hand, there are informal agreements about how much work is done and, on the other hand, there is an informal status hierarchy independent of the formal hierarchies. Certain workers have more influence over the rest of the workers than others.

The researchers came to the conclusion that human relations have a decisive influence on organizations. Even today, the results are fundamental to research in the field of organizational sociology.

Under Hawthorne Effect to this day we understand when the behavior of the examined persons is changed solely by the presence of the researcher, and thus the research result is influenced.

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 5.1

5.3 Organization as a social system

Based on the theory of the American sociologist Talcott Parsons [1] (1902-1979), according to which organizations are always goal-oriented socialSystems are speaking Niklas Luhmann [2] (1927-1998) of social systems, "when the actions of several people are meaningfully related to one another and can therefore be delimited in their context from an environment that does not belong to it" (Luhmann 1975: 9). Communication plays a decisive role: "As soon as communication at all takes place among people, social systems arise "(Luhmann 1975: 9). Communication starts a story that selects because" only some of the many possibilities are realized "(ibid .: 9). There is a selection: What is communicated about? is not communicated? In sociology, for example, explanations from the findings of physics or chemistry are rarely discussed or used to explain social phenomena. Depending on the process of this selection and the boundary to the environment, different social systems are formed (cf. Abels 2009a: 196ff): Beside Interaction systemswhere the boundary is drawn by presence or absence, and Social systems (Interactions with others are possible; however, it is thematically more open, since reference can also be made to those who are absent) Luhmann speaks of Organizational systems: they are special social systems with generalized structures of action and expectation. They have their own rationality, their own imperatives. They “coordinate interaction under objective aspects and separate between individual and Role [3] "(Abels 2009a: 198).

References in this chapter:
[3] See Chapter 6

6 Social Role

The concept of the social role is now not entirely undisputed in sociology. Bahrdt (2003: 67) warns against wanting to explain the whole world through a role theory and emphasizes that the term should be understood as a pure instrument for grasping social phenomena. So it is an important sociological term among others.

Two basic perspectives on the social role within sociology can be distinguished, although they do not necessarily contradict each other, but set different priorities:

Talcott Parsons [1] (1902-1979) is considered to be the founder of - let's say - “classical” role theory in a structure-functionalist tradition which, according to Peuckert (2006: 243), is mainly used in highly formalized contexts. Accordingly, the individual himself wants to hold on to the social roles that have been brought to him in order to contribute to maintaining the system. Central here is the normativity of the social role. Role conflicts can also arise in the role model: either due to the expectations of different reference groups (Intra role conflict [2]) or by taking on several roles at the same time (Inter-role conflict [3]). The interactionist role theory [4] (George H. Mead) is a good instrument for less pre-structured interactions (Peuckert 2006: 244). She uses a more dynamic role concept and assumes that in the specific situation the role has to be negotiated, interpreted and possibly also modified in order to make the role play successful.

References in this chapter:
[2] See chapter 6.2
[3] See chapter 6.2
[4] See chapter 6.3

6.1 Social role: structure-functionalist definition

In structural-functionalist sociology, the term social role usually means Bundle of behavioral expectations understood, which are brought up to individual individuals or even whole groups (cf. Bahrdt 2003: 67). Students are expected to attend lectures and seminars, do research in the university library, learn independently, etc. Expectations are also placed on mothers, fathers, teachers, politicians, etc. Roles convey the information “what belongs in this position”. People's behavior becomes predictable and facilitates interaction. In this way, a student takes on the social role of the student in relation to his professor, not that of the son and vice versa, without long discussions about it. He will not ask him about his summer plans, but will limit himself to certain topics of conversation, adhere to certain rules of interaction, etc. So social roles provide orientation in social situations and are just like others Standards [1] secured by sanctions. Role regulations are “special norms that only apply to those who hold a certain position” (Bahrdt 2003: 68). Although this expectation is directed towards the respective person, it actually relates to the social positions that the actor assumes (cf. Peuckert 2006: 242).

To Parsons [2] (1902-1979) social roles are the Interface between the individual (Personality system), the collective (social system) and the norms (cultural system). Norms are aimed at maintaining the structure of the social system. As a result, the individual must be made to align his or her personal interests with the norms in order to preserve the social system.“With his theory of role, Talcott Parsons wants to explain how individuals come to behave want, how they behave should"(Abels 2009b: 103). This happens through “successful” socialization, whereby the individual is brought to align his or her motivation to act towards the social system and to voluntarily agree to the norms. Parsons pupil Robert K. Merton [3] (1910-2003) countered that in reality not all individuals would voluntarily consent to the norms and developed his "Deviant Behavior" Theory (Anomie). In addition, he replies that "a social order that overtaxes the actions of its members with supposedly universal goals" (Abels 2009b: 114), since values ​​and roles are only ever linked to their own Reference group [4] apply (e.g. subculture, specific company, company, organization).

References in this chapter:
[1] See Chapter 2
[4] See chapter 7.3

6.2 Intra- and Inter-Role Conflicts

Robert K. Merton [1] (1910-2003), a student of Talcott Parsons [2], means that not just a single role, but an entire set of roles belongs to every social position, whereby not all roles are constantly in interaction or visible. This implies several expectations of a position holder, which may even contradict each other. So-called role conflicts arise.

  • Intra role conflict: Different contradicting expectations are placed on the same role. A role can therefore be confronted with different expectations of different reference groups. Examples: an elementary school teacher who is pedagogically motivated and does not want to give homework, but would act against the will of the director and the parents. The foreman stands opposite the subordinate workers, customers and the owner. (see Abels 2009b: 115f)
  • Inter-role conflict: Different expectations of different roles are placed on an individual. Example: Teacher is related to a student and should grade their schoolwork. A student has to study for an exam, is invited as a best friend to a friend's farewell party and should actually help his aunt move. (see Abels 2009b: 115f)
References in this chapter:

6.3 Social Role: Interactionist Definition

“A social role is to be understood as a cross-situation, updated, learned behavioral figure in relevant situations, which is known and recognized in society” (Bahrdt 2003: 73). However, it is not enough to have internalized roles that have already been learned. The I.Although interaction partners have ideas of how the situation will develop (and which roles are associated with it) based on typifications, they do not actually know this in advance. Bahrdt (2003: 74) gives the following example: A man who goes shopping can expect a shopping situation to arise because he behaves as a customer, the saleswoman stands behind the counter and takes on the role of the saleswoman. If he starts to flirt with her, the situation changes and with it the roles that now have to be modified, even if the saleswoman does not want to leave her role as the saleswoman (Bahrdt 2003: 74). Role expectations are therefore not complete, but have to be negotiated in the specific situation and possibly also modified in order to continue to make sense. Interpretation work is therefore necessary in order to achieve a successful role play. The normative force, as it is also in the structural functionalist concept of role [1] can be found, is not lost, but moves into the background and puts the dynamic character of the role play in the foreground (Bahrdt 2003: 73).

The impression could arise that the human being is a being without a personality and consists only of assuming social roles. This is not the case: Man encounters his self in social action (Bahrdt 2003: 78), which is the product of social processes. According to George Herbert Mead [2] (1973 [1934]) the “Me” (in Mead's case the socialized self of a person, i.e. the sum of the social expectations it has learned) is in a balancing act with an individual spontaneity - the “I” of a person. Externalizing one's own person makes an ego identity possible, since the person sees himself through the outside world or can distance himself from himself. The "Me" is concretized in the assumption of roles and thus enables an identity apart from it (Bahrdt 2003: 78f).

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 6.1

7 social group

Graphic: group, source:

The group is a very common social entity. A "group means a certain number of members (Group members), which to achieve a common goal (Group goal) in a relatively continuous communication and interaction process standing and a feeling of togetherness (We-feeling) develop.“ (Schäfers / Lehmann 2006: 97; emphasis placed by the author). This goes hand in hand with a common one System of standards and a Division of roles and tasks. The sense of togetherness and the common norms enable differentiation between ingroup and outgroup or in and outgroup. In a statistical context, one often speaks of groups when they share common characteristics such as age, level of education, migration background, etc. Since they have no common goals and no identity of their own, one does not speak of a social group, but of a social category or a group of characteristics.

Usually there is a group at least 3 people. According to Georg Simmel (1858-1918), a dyad, i.e. a group of 2 people, is a special case of a group. As a rule, with 3-25 members, one speaks of a small group such as a family or a school class. If there are more than 25 people, one usually speaks of a large group.

Different names are used depending on the composition and function of a group: primary and secondary groups, formal and informal groups and reference groups.

7.1 Primary and secondary groups

Relationships in the Primary group are emotional and intimate. The people are perceived less as role bearers than as personalities. This includes family, peers and the local community. In it, the individual learns for the first time a group feeling and norms within the framework of socialization. It is strongly determined by close face-to-face relationships (Abels 2009: 259f; Schäfers 2008: 135). At Secondary groups stands above all the social role (and not the personality) of the individuals at the center. The relationship is factual, impersonal and instrumental. The number of members is significantly larger, which is why there is no direct interaction between the group members (cf. Meyer 1991: 79). Examples of this would be urban communities, businesses, political parties, churches, etc.

7.2 Formal and informal groups

Formal groups are formed out of impersonal considerations to serve a specific purpose. They are strongly formalized and structured, as is the case, for example, in organizations: there, formal groups are used to realize their goals (Meyer 1991: 82). Since the Hawthorn study [1] von Mayo, Roethlisberger and Dickson is known to be within a formal organization as well informal and unplanned groups exist that are based on personal relationships (human relations) and also have a strong influence on the processes within the organization. These informal groups are not dissimilar to the primary groups in terms of their characteristics (face-to-face, we-feeling, affectivity), but exist against the formalized background of the formal group already mentioned (Meyer 1991: 83).

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 5.2

7.3 Affinity groups

According to Bahrdt (2003: 89f), those groups are referred to as reference groups “who bring the expectations of the role bearer up to them, which the Role [1] and are also interested in the imposition of sanctions in the event of deviations ”. The individual is thus strongly oriented towards the expectations brought to him by a specific reference group. This can be, for example, certain clothing in a youth subculture or in a company. It is important for the individual to behave in accordance with the expectations of others (the members of the reference group). The reference group does not necessarily have to represent a social group with internal role differentiation, a sense of togetherness, etc. Bahrdt (2003: 90) brings here the example of a newspaper that is based on the reference group of a “community of readers”, but which cannot be described as a social group.Reference groups can be "social groups", but do not have to be.

References in this chapter:
[1] See Chapter 6

8 power and domination

When power is talked about in sociology, it is usually the definition Max Weber's [1] (1980 [1922]: 28) used:

"Power means every chance within a social relationship to enforce one's own will against resistance, regardless of what this chance is based on."

In everyday life, power is often seen as something negative. In an enlightened view, it is rather an “invisible property of a social relationship” (Imbusch 2008: 164). Power is only conceivable in connection with other people. It is therefore subject to a reciprocal relationship, thus process-like and changeable in its form (cf. Imbusch 2006: 166). For this reason, it is never about power alone, but always about power relations. So power is the ability to influence relationships and to force other people to behave in a certain way or to prevent it.

The term “power” is versatile and often seems a bit vague, which is why Weber (1980 [org.1922]: 28) describes power as an “amorphous” term. There are many constellations and imaginable Forms of Power [2] : This can range from the power in a relationship between spouses, to the power of a restaurant owner, whether she / he makes it possible to order the lunch menu without soup, to the teacher who does (no) homework, to the police, who distributed speeding tickets. Weber therefore introduces the concept of Rule [3] an institutionalized form of power linked to legitimation. For him it is "(...) the chance to find obedience for a command with a certain content in specifiable persons" (ibid .: 28). The most rational form of the exercise of power sees Weber [4] in the rational bureaucracy [5].

References in this chapter:
[2] See chapter 8.4
[3] See chapter 8.2
[5] See chapter 8.3

8.1 Hobbes: Social Order and the Power of the Leviathan

One of the central themes in sociology is the subject Power or domination, in which Rule the legitimate form of power represents. Thomas Hobbes, a state philosopher from the 17th century, sees the transfer of decision-making power to a superior person as the central mechanism that makes social order possible in the first place. He describes this in his work "Leviathan" (1969 [1651]):

Graphic: Original cover picture of the work "Leviathan" by Hobbes (1651), source:

Man is a being that is selfish on its own. Everyone is fighting against everyone else. In the natural state, every person is concerned with his own benefit. If the one stands in the way of the other in the satisfaction of his needs, he becomes the enemy and everyone tries to gain control over the other or to kill him. Fear (especially of violent death) leads people to peace. They close one Social contractaccording to which everyone transfers power to the Leviathan in order to escape the deadly struggle of everyone against everyone.

8.2 Rule - The legitimation of power

"Power means every chance within a social relationship to enforce one's own will against resistance, regardless of what this chance is based on." (Weber 1980 [1922]: 28). In a relationship of power, the relationship appears to the powerful as justified, as legitimate. At this point Weber introduces the (almost more important) concept of rule: This is a “special case of Power [1] “.

"Dominion is the chance to find obedience for a command with a certain content from specifiable persons" (ibid .: 28).

Dominance is characterized by permanence and is not limited to obedience to a specific area (e.g. in work with superiors). But the central moment in which power becomes rule is legitimation: In contrast to power, the oppressed also see it as justified in a rule and consider it legitimate: the rulers and the ruled both accept the validity of the relationship of domination and feel it lawful. According to Weber, this legitimation can be based on three reasons (= 3 pure types of legitimate rule) (ibid .: 124ff):

Legal rule is the rule that is based on legal law. Legal rule is detached from personal characteristics and is tied to the formal position that the person concerned holds (e.g. position of Federal President). So it is not the person that is obeyed, but the established law. People change, but the position remains. One example of this is the democratic constitutional state, as it is also present in the nation states of the EU. Weber sees the most rational form of exercise of power in the rational bureaucracy [2]. Decisions are made there purely according to objective criteria.

Charismatic rule describes a form of rule based on the charisma of the ruler and thus accepted by the subordinates. A seemingly extraordinary person with a unique charisma is obeyed. In contrast to legal rule, charismatic rule is strongly tied to the ruling person and cannot be passed on without further ado. (Examples: Osama bin Laden, Martin Luther King etc.)

Traditional rule is based on the permanence of their existence. It is obeyed because the regulation has always existed and has proven to be practicable and functional or there is ignorance about possible alternatives. There is a belief in the sanctity of the existing order (example: patriarchal rule, monarchy, etc.).

References in this chapter:
[1] See Chapter 8
[2] See chapter 8.3

8.3 Rational bureaucracy

The most rational form of exercise of power sees Max Weber [1] in the bureaucracy: Detached from the person, she follows objective and transparent rules and is therefore predictable for everyone. It can be checked and is limited to the implementation of rules and material laws. She is dehumanized. Sensations like love, hate, compassion etc. are switched off.

In reality, we encounter this type of rule as a bureaucratic administration with a staff of officials. This is accompanied, among other things, by a fixed hierarchy of office, fixed official competencies, factual official duties, specific professional qualifications and contractually stipulated salaries (Weber 1980 [1922]: 126f.). Whether this is to be judged positively or negatively remains open: on the one hand, this type of exercise of power, as already mentioned, is understandable and transparent, on the other hand, the bureaucratic administration threatens to isolate itself from society and to become stuck in its task of pure execution of rules. According to Weber, however, modernity demands this rationalized predictability.

References in this chapter:

8.4 Forms of Power

According to the definition of Max Weber (1980 [1922]: 28), power means “(...) every chance within a social relationship to enforce one's own will against resistance, regardless of what this chance is based on." The reasons for having this chance are diverse, but have a certain kind of superiority (psychological, physical, political, etc.) in common. Abels (2009a: 246 ff.) Gives an overview of forms of power:

  • Political force: The task of political power is to establish social order. In this context, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) is often quoted as the adviser who advised the Italian prince that it is better to be “feared than loved”, since [it] (...) is difficult to combine the two ( ...) "(Machiavelli 2012 [1532]: 87). However, power must be exercised in order to maintain social order (in the broad sense of Hobbes [1]) to accomplish. Accusing politicians of wielding power is therefore utterly nonsensical, since that is precisely what their job is to do.
  • Ideological power: Power over the thinking of others is known as ideological power. What is meant here is a type of thinking that does not allow any alternatives and “also includes power over what is repressed, which one does not dare to think” (Abels 2009a: 248). So whoever has power over what is thought has a higher chance of asserting his will against others and of determining what is reality, which is why totalitarian systems always seize the means of communication in order to generate "correct thinking" (ibid .: 248).
  • Structural power: Power that results from social relationships is called structural power: it therefore means: who belongs to it? Who does not? Social inequality and belonging to a financially well-endowed group, for example, influence the chances of being able to exercise power (ibid .: 249).
  • Authority: Technical or moral superiority leads to authority, be it from persons or also Institutions [2]. In contrast to violence, which is based on submission to insufficient resistance, authority is seen as an objectively justified power. In contrast to violence, submission is voluntary and through recognition of authority. Furthermore, a distinction can be made between functional, which results from the (professional, political, etc.) position, and moral authority (ibid .: 249f).
  • Violence: Exercising power through violence (be it physical or psychological) “does not count on agreement, but on submission” (ibid .: 251). In this relationship the only thing left for the other is the possibility of passivity. There is no justification for one's own power (ibid .: 251). In contrast to authority, an armed attack is not aimed at getting the other party to agree to this exercise of power.
References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 8.1
[2] See Chapter 4

9 Social inequality

How to unequal distribution of life and action opportunities comes within a society is one of the core issues of sociology. In sociology, social inequality is mostly included Stratification models explains: in this way income and wealth distributions, educational qualifications and qualification structures, power structures and prestige differentiations are analyzed (Hradil 1983: 101). Separable from each other emerge Classes [1] or Layers [2] (depending on the theory). Newer theoretical approaches [3] put the living conditions and opportunities for action in the foreground and speak of Milieus and lifestyles. These are virtually transverse to the layers. According to this, a university professor of mechanical engineering may have more in common with an auto mechanic than with a philosophy professor, although they would be worlds apart when calculating a shift index.

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 9.1
[2] See chapter 9.1
[3] See chapter 9.3

9.1 Theories of social stratification

The concept of social stratification originally comes from geology, which means a vertical arranged structure of the rock is called (Abels 2009a: 265). The sociology of social stratification investigates the question of why individuals and groups become one higher or lower position in a (vertical) ranking is attributed to why they ascribe this to themselves and what impact this has on society.

9.1.1 History of social stratification and the bolte onion

Until modern times, Europe was divided into a seemingly “natural” social hierarchy based on religious beliefs. Religious legitimation provided the basis of social order (e.g .: class society) and was given by God. Belonging to a certain class implied privileges, dress codes, ownership of land / property, work, etc. (cf. for example "Policey Order" in Abels 2009a: 269). After the French Revolution, which was based on the idea of ​​the natural equality of all human beings, property and achievement came to the fore as central criteria of social differentiation.

If you look at the so-called Bolte onion (named after Karl Martin Bolte) you can clearly see the difference between the hierarchy of a pre-industrial agricultural society and today's western industrial society:

Legend: Population of the Federal Republic: dark = members of the new middle class, stripes = members of the old middle class; white = members of the workforce; Points = fixed social status; vertical lines indicate the phase of a status build-up.
Graphic: Bolte-onion: ranking pre-industrial and today's industrial society, source: Bolte / Hradil 1984: 84; 220

The middle class has expanded significantly. Only a few people find themselves at the very "top" or "at the bottom".

9.1.2 Social classes in Karl Marx

Photo: Karl Marx (1875), source:

Karl Marx [1] (1818-1883) gives one of the best-known answers to the question of how social stratification or social inequality comes about. He sees the relationship to the means of production as the central mechanism that determines the position within a society. So he differentiates between two groups in a society: The bourgeoisie, the Owners of the means of production like machines, raw materials, soil etc. and that proletariat, the above has no possession and his Sell ​​labor must to meet his needs. Marx predicts a revolution of the workers when they become aware of their impoverished and oppressed situation (cf. Abels 2009a: 272).

References in this chapter:

9.1.3 Classes and stands at Max Weber

According to Max Weber [1] the class situation is not exclusively determined by the relations of production (in contrast to Marx [2]). Economic conditions play a central role, but they are not the only factor. Weber distinguishes between Classes and booths, combining class with economic aspects. In the class structure, however, honor and the way of life are at the center. This describes a “(...) typical component of the life fate of people, which is determined by a specific, positive or negative, social assessment of the "Honor" which is linked to some common characteristic of many ”(Weber 1980 [1922]: 534). It is therefore a "specifically designed lifestyle" (ibid .: 535). A "we" feeling implies a demarcation from others who are not befitting. “So, with a bit of oversimplification, one could say:“ Classes ”are structured according to the relationship to the production and acquisition of goods,“ Estates ”according to the principles of their goodsconsumption in the form of specific types of “conduct of life” ”(ibid .: 538).

References in this chapter:
[2] See chapter 9.1.2

9.1.4 Theodor Geiger's mentality

Also Theodor Geiger [1] (1891-1952) comes to the conclusion that the relationship to the means of production is not the only decisive factor in determining the social situation of an individual. However, this characterizes “lifestyle and Life chances"(Abels 2009a: 284). In addition to professional status, level of education and religion, he sees them mentality (Lifestyle, consumption habits, leisure activities, forms of family life, etc.) as a central factor. He assumes that “people in a similar social situation are likely to think and act in a certain way” (Abels 2009a: 282). Recent theories of social inequality [2] therefore speak less of social classes and more of social milieus and lifestyles.

References in this chapter:
[2] See chapter 9.3

9.2 Measuring social stratification

In sociology, strata is usually measured in two different ways: in the form of an index or through self-classification.

  • Self-classification: In this measurement, the respondents have to rate themselves. Studies have shown that people primarily classify themselves in the middle class. In this context, one often speaks of a “medium-sized company”. People from lower classes tend to see income and moral evaluations (hardworking / lazy, decent / not decent, etc.) as structuring factors for class, while upper classes tend to see education and aspects of prestige (Bolte / Hradil 1984: 281).
  • Socio-economic status index (SES or SÖS): An index is formed from professional position, educational qualification and income.
Lower underlayer0-14 points16%
Upper lower class15-22 points30%
Lower middle class23-29 points17%
Middle middle class30-39 points12%
Upper middle class40-49 points5%
Upper class50 and more points2%
Not classified18%

Table: Scheuch / Daheim 1961: Social stratification in Germany, source: Abels 2009a: 291

9.3 Weaknesses in the concept of stratification: New theories of social inequality

Newer theories of social inequality speak less of social classes than of social milieus and lifestyles that are more or less transverse to the classes. You do not make classifications based on less objective characteristics (e.g. income and professional position), but rather focus on living conditions and opportunities for action.

9.3.1 Schelsky: leveled medium-sized company

Against the background of the ascent and descent processes after the 2nd World War in Germany Helmut Schelsky (1920-1984) by a leveled medium-sized company. The economic situation of the people would have standardized and the large interest gap that loud Marx between bourgeoisie and proletariat [1] existed if there were no more. A "leveled out petty-bourgeois-middle-class society emerges, which is just as little proletarian as bourgeois, i.e. is characterized by the loss of class tension and social hierarchy" (Schelsky 1954: 218). Let there be one Uniform possibility of participating in the modern comfort of civilization through flourishing mass production. Nobody would have the feeling of not being able to participate in luxury (cf. Abels 2009a: 294ff). However, this thesis could not be held empirically.

References in this chapter:
[1] See chapter 9.1.2

9.3.2 Beck: Individualization

Photo: Ulrich Beck (* 1944), source:

Ulrich Beck (* 1944) also criticizes the concept of stratification. He speaks of one Customization of life situations and styles that the concept of stratification cannot do justice to. In a society "Beyond class and class" (as he says) these structures would still exist, only they would take a back seat: Although the distribution relationships would remain relatively constant, people's living conditions would change drastically. Through "shifts in level (economic upswing, educational expansion, etc.), subcultural class identities would be increasingly melted away," class "colored class positions would be de-traditionalized and processes would become one Diversification and Customization triggered by life situations and paths of life (...) [are] that undermine the hierarchical model of social classes and strata and increasingly question its reality content ”(Beck 1983: 38). Individualization processes are therefore the focus. The life course of an individual is no longer determined by his class, since the actual circumstances are extremely heterogeneous.

9.3.3 Bourdieu: types of capital and taste

Pierre Bourdieu [1] (1930-2002) agrees with Marx [2]that the economic component is central to the placement of the individual in society. Bourdieu also identifies two other types of capital that are decisive for the position of the individual in the social hierarchy (he calls it “social space”). Depending on the combination and total scope of the types of capital, the individual positions himself in the social space (Bourdieu 1985: 9ff). "Based on the positions in space, classes (...) can be prepared, that is, ensembles of actors with similar positions, and who are subject to similar conditions and similar conditioning, in all probability have similar dispositions and interests (...)" (Borudieu 1985 : 12).

According to Bourdieu, there are three types of capital:

  • Economic capital: Money, property, possessions
  • Cultural capital: Knowledge, education, educational title
  • Social capital: Networks of relationships (formal and informal), “Resources that are based on the Belonging to a group based "(Bourdieu 1983: 190f).

The combination of the types of capital are internalized and form the action and thought structures of the individual: the Habitus. The habitus does NOT designate the actions themselves, but is a system of dispositions and habits that underlie the actions that make actions probable. “The sense of one's own social position as a feeling for what one can“ allow oneself ”and what not, includes the tacit acceptance of the position, a sense of boundaries (“ that's not for us ”), (...), a sense for distance, for closeness and distant, which are to be signaled, to be adhered to and to be respected (...) "(Bourdieu 1985: 18). The distances between the positions in the social space are thus reflected in the practice of The habitus gives rise to different tastes (food, clothing, art, home furnishings, etc.), preferences for sporting activities, socializing, etc., according to which membership of certain social groups is displayed. Structures are (re) produced as a result. So there is a permanent interplay between structures and actions.

Bourdieu fans out these tastes in one of his best-known works, "The Subtle Differences" (1984) (cf. Abels 2009a: 312ff):

  • Legitimate taste the ruling class: these are people with great economic capital (such as bankers or entrepreneurs) or people with great cultural capital (such as intellectuals). E.g. piano, know many composers, works and performers; philosophical essays, museum visits, golf, yacht sailing, show jumping etc.
  • Medium or pretentious middle class taste: well-tried classical music, you know the most important composers by name, read popular science magazines, visit castles and historical sites, ascetic sport ("body for the other" such as gymnastics)
  • Popular or barbaric taste of the popular class: Habitus directed towards functionality, practical, naturalistic ideal of beauty; on the beautiful blue Danube, La Traviata, Schlager; Reading love stories;

Why is this inequality reproduced now? Abels (2009a: 317) sums it up as follows: “Social inequality persists because in all social classes the habitus conveys the feeling of being competent in its circles. That is why one is sure of the respect for one's own kind. By feeling part of it, you know the limits on which you differentiate yourself from others. That also strengthens self-confidence. From top to bottom, subtle differences act as distinction and rejection. From the bottom up, mass culture nourishes the illusion that in principle there are no cultural boundaries. "

References in this chapter:
[2] See chapter 9.1.2

9.3.4 Hradil: social milieus

Photo: Stefan Hradil (* 1946), source:

Stefan Hradil (* 1946) believes that in order to be able to judge whether there is social inequality, one must, according to Hradil, have ideas about which good should be evenly distributed based on ideas of justice. Hradil therefore sees inadequate consideration of social inequality purely using the instruments of stratification research. In addition to income and education, dimensions such as working conditions, quality of life, degrees of freedom (leisure conditions), social security, etc.which are also unevenly distributed and do not stop at high salaries and educational qualifications (e.g. a new self-employed person who receives a high salary but has little free time and little social security). The “individual relevance of structural conditions” must therefore be taken into account (Hradil 1983: 114). A certain income, a certain education or a permanently secure job has different meanings for different circles. Bolte / Hradil (1984: 256) cite as examples artist circles, the traditional working class milieu, alternative movements, the bourgeoisie, the nouveau riche, etc. If these people were classified purely in the “income” scheme, the different ways of life and views would not be apparent.