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Goals and Research Spezifications of the Institute

Political, social, and cultural conflicts are a ubiquitous and unavoidable phenomenon in democratic and pluralistic societies. In positive cases, they lead to an enhanced problem awareness and social change; in negative cases, to increasing polarization and violence.

The work at the Institute concentrates on theoretical and empirical analyses of both constructive and destructive conflicts and their consequences. One particular focus is on the extent and the causes of violence.

The forms that this destruction takes, its extent, and its consequences for the mental and physical integrity of individuals, the coexistence of social groups, or the moral constitution of a society have often been described. Most analyses are accompanied by the hope that modern society is developing along a culturally humane path with the structural goal of social equality, whereby political interventions ensure that violence becomes increasingly less of a threat to individual and social life. This hope is shaped by the assumption of civilization as progress. How trends in violence are perceived in the current situation then depends on the chosen historical time framework. For example, the long-term decline in homicide rates in Western societies has inverted since the 1960s, and it is becoming necessary to ask how far this trend should be related to the anomic and disintegrative consequences of rapid social change.

The current need for explanation has been triggered particularly by the return of ethnic and cultural conflicts and the politically motivated violence that comes with these in modern industrialized Western societies. This trend had not been perceived as a particular problem before, because ethnic and cultural stratification seemed to be irreconcilable with the constitutional conditions of modern societies. The increasing socioeconomic polarization in Western societies, and their growing ethnic and cultural heterogenization and sociospatial segregation, point to new and complex problem structures harboring a high capacity for conflict. This increasing capacity for conflict is accompanied by structural problems in ensuring satisfactory systemic and social integration in Western industrial societies. Therefore, one focus of work at the Institute is on forms of dynamic integration and disintegration that generate far-reaching problems. A specific concern is whether processes of disintegration and the violence that accompanies them are on the increase.

Social identity theories provide a particularly good framework for analyzing the social-psychological consequences of these societal problems. They permit the investigation of processes of ethnic group formation or exclusion with their sometimes escalating consequences, and also investigation of the conditions leading to the breakdown of such collective identities.

A further central goal of research in the context of social integration or disintegration is the longitudinal analysis of attitudes of enmity such as racism, anti-Semitism, or xenophobia in the population, as well as their expression in extreme right-wing group violence in public spaces.

Research on the effects of social disintegration and research on violence by groups from the majority society also needs to be related to the development of political and religious attitudes or activities in migrant groups. This makes it possible to trace both trends and causes of power-oriented religious fundamentalism, for example, and also to gain early warnings on potential hostilities.

These goals lead to the formulation of major research questions on the complex interactions between structural conditions (e. g., of the economy, social conditions, legal frameworks), social-psychological mechanisms (e. g., of psychological development or in political socialization), and interacting groups (e. g., political parties, ethnic groupings, violent extreme right-wing groups) in the sociospatial context designed to analyze not only conflicts with a constructive course but also, and above all, destructive conflicts and the potential emergence of violence. They require not only multilevel analyses but also interdisciplinary conceptions which may contribute, in turn, to a further development of the theories on which they are based. In the light of the current situation, the Institute has concentrated on long-term investigations in recent years, and on multi-thematic research associations on various levels of analysis. The aim is to consider the three main areas, violence, right-wing extremism and xenophobia, and ethnic and cultural conflicts both in terms of their long-term development and their many-facetted complexity.


© IKG 2004-2006 — last updated 2006-12-08 8:57 AMImpressum