The sociology pursued at Jena’s Institute of Sociology can be summed up in terms of the descriptive trio public, critical and pluralistic. The work of the Institute takes its lead from recent concepts of ‘public sociology’ which take as given that social scientific knowledge is generated through interaction and dialogue with intellectuals, civil society actors and experts from various spheres of society. This understanding of public research leads beyond a supposed one-way transfer of scientific insights to society and instead opens up spaces for the co-production of knowledge. In the course of this, the Institute advocates a critical form of Sociology, one that seeks not only to describe social relations but also to contribute toward critiques of relations of domination, inequality and/or exploitation in a theoretically rigorous and empirically well-grounded way. The public and critical Sociology of the Institute is also pluralistic: this is demonstrated not just in the highly diverse issues it addresses but also and above all in the way it positions these in relation to a wide spectrum of paradigms, theories and methods.
Given that sociological research is more than the mere accumulation of data, this approach to research is based on another trio: bringing together theories of society and subjects with an analysis of the times we live in (one that is sensitive to current processes of transformation) and empirical social research that is methodically broad-based, encompassing qualitative and standardized procedures alike.
Here we explore the transformation of (waged) labour-based societies and labour markets under conditions of increasingly intensified globalization. This involves looking at structural changes on both the macro level (financial, goods and labour markets) and the micro level (e.g. in the workplace or family). It also involves looking at the activities of individual and collective actors (e.g. trade unions). Processes of growing job insecurity are as much a focus in the Institute’s research as are developments in financialization, the de-standardization of paid work, the polarization of labour markets and the scarcity of skilled workers.
Closely linked to the transformation of labour-based societies is the development of global and national social inequality/inequalities. Most nation-state societies are currently seeing an increase in inequalities of income and assets alongside a simultaneous decrease in inequalities between the states of the North and the South. The aim here is to conduct empirical research into social structures, structures of distribution and educational pathways as well as to study class relations and conflicts and to analyse welfare state institutions and socio-political instruments in terms of their influence on societal relations of inequality. Another key focus at the Institute is the analysis of property relations, which for decades have been neglected in Sociology due to the latter’s concentration on the distribution of income and goods.
Neither work-based societies nor relations of inequality or property can be addressed in a ‘gender-neutral’ way, which is why a gender-sensitive approach is an integral part of all the research foci. At the same time, the analysis of gender relations constitutes a focus in its own right within our work: analysing (changing forms of) masculinity is just as key here as studying family structures, couple relationships and changing sexualities. Taking an extended concept of work – one which encompasses household and care work as well as waged work – as our point of departure, scholars at the Institute also conduct research into the crisis of social reproduction and changes in relations of care and caring in an era of rapid changes in family structures and the welfare state as well as demographic change. In this context, another key focus of our research is the ageing society and ageing individuals.
Rapid technological change is fundamentally restructuring conditions of working and living in general as well as modes of knowledge and information processing in particular. This research focus involves studying the conditions and consequences of forced digitization in the world of work (widely known as 'industry 4.0') and leisure as much as questions to do with intellectual property in the digitized knowledge economy, the importance of knowledge and information for the transformation of today’s capitalism (‘post-capitalism’ or ‘knowledge capitalism’) and changes in temporal structures and structures of ownership on the financial markets where securities, which are traded automatically, are held for only fractions of a second. A further focus of research in this area is the restructuring of ‘privacy’, or the private sphere, and of the public(s) in digitization processes.
Forced digitization and the growing significance of social networks are restructuring democratic public spheres, and the impacts of this are anything but straightforward. On the one hand, it is enabling new forms of democratic engagement and mass mobilization while, on the other, complex algorithms, data protection rules around anonymity and the digital spreading of ‘fake news’ are undermining democratic discourse and strengthening the influence of regressive forces in society. In this research area we look at the changes and the dangers to democracy under conditions of a globally reinvigorated right-wing populism on the one hand and of a neoliberalism guided predominantly by corporate interests on the other. We look into the reasons for and causes of this upsurge in right-wing forces as well as the anti-democratic effects of economic and austerity policies that are presented as being the only viable option and a logical response to the situation. The shared point of departure for research in this area is the observation that a fundamental, though historically varied, relationship of tension exists between democracy and capitalism.
We are currently seeing an accumulation of ecological threats that are either exceeding or may potentially exceed the bounds of the planet’s capacity to cope. These challenges cannot be regarded as separate from fundamental issues of growth and the capitalist dynamic of accumulation, and they are closely interwoven with social issues and inequalities. In this research area, then, we study the connections between ecological and social problems and scrutinize the socio-cultural, ecological and political implications of economic growth. Analysis here is focused in part on the processes by which economic growth rates in the so-called early industrialized countries are slowing down even as high-growth societies (China and India in particular) are rapidly ‘catching up’; equally, though, we study specific alternative economies oriented toward sustainability, and the challenges associated with the energy transition. A special strand of analysis, pursued in cooperation with the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig, is dedicated to the study of societal contradictions that arise in processes of transformation toward sustainability.
This research area focuses on subjects and their socialization under conditions of Late Modernity. It involves studying issues of subject formation in the context of social, labour market and health policies focused on individuals’ self-help capabilities while also looking at the consequences for both individuals and societies of an increasingly accelerated world of work and everyday life and the phenomenon of social exhaustion (‘burnout’). A fundamental question also addressed here is: who is even accepted as constituting a social subject? This question serves to structure our study of social struggles against exclusion and discrimination of certain subject positions (e.g. of so-called 'Hartzers' – i.e. people receiving state welfare benefits – or of transgender people). With regard to temporal relations, study is focused on the extent to which society’s understanding of time or typical patterns of people’s use of time are undergoing change. Finally, we analyse relationships between subjects and their environment as ‘world relations’, linked to the question of how – and under what conditions – people create a resonant connection to the world.