Universität Bielefeld

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Research Profile

Because the Research and Teaching Unit is concerned with a variety of research topics, the information provided in the following can only serve as examples. Theory work is a highly individualized affair, with each member of the Research and Teaching Unit pursuing their own interests, leaving little room for inter-individual coordination and making it difficult to identify key research activities.

Prof. André Kieserling  focuses on the advancement of Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory. This involves issues such as the relationship between stratification and functional differentiation or the influence of complementary roles on the architecture of modern society. If stratification does not disappear but in fact is persistently reproduced, how does that reconcile with the statement that modern society uses functional differentiation as its primary form of differentiation? Given that we still observe that life chances are distributed unequally depending on a person’s socioeconomic stratum, how can we nonetheless say that stratum effects are secondary? For example, is it possible to show that social class and class differences rarely, if ever, structure public situations shaped by occupational roles any more and instead manifest themselves primarily in personal lifestyles and consumption styles? If modern function systems produce not only occupational or performance roles (e.g. doctor, teacher or politician) but also layman or complementary roles (e.g. patient, student or voter), what exactly is the latter? Can particular complementary roles of a person become differentiated or independent from other roles of that person, so that they belong primarily to their function system rather than representing a link to ‘society as a whole’? What role does the higher degree of irrationality granted to layman-role bearers as compared with performance-role bearers – can it carry the differentiation resulting from the decoupling from determination by other roles?

Prof. Volker Kruse seeks to combine sociological theory-building and historical observation (on the basis of historical research). Historical observation can serve as a critical corrective with a constructive purpose, as a productive confusion and as a source of innovation in sociological theory-building. Conversely, social theories can be used to develop novel perspectives on historical issues.
One example of this is the research on modern wartime society. According to sociological theory, modern society differentiates into autonomous, self-referential function systems (economy, politics, law, science, etc.), each of which further differentiates into subsystems. As has been shown in studies of the societies during the world wars, a reverse trend is observed under the conditions of major total war – namely, a loss of autonomy of the individual function systems and the emergence of a dictatorial political–military leadership. This is an inevitable consequence of war imperatives, because mobilization for a major total war necessarily requires centralized coordination. Another critical condition for success in war is the minimization of internal conflict. During the two world wars, patriotic communities developed that also included previously excluded social groups such as workers, whereas ‘enemy aliens’ are excluded. The mobilization race between the warring parties leads to the ‘dilemma of wartime society’ – that is, modern society can be regarded as an interplay of civil-society and wartime-society modernity. Quite a few of the structures we perceive as ‘modern’ today have their roots primarily in major wars, including the collective bargaining agreement system, worker participation and civil rights, as well as universal suffrage.
Prof. Kruse is also concerned with the historical-sociological study of the place of utopias in modern society, and he publishes textbooks on the history of sociology.

Dr. Barbara Kuchler studies wars and their relationship to social structures as well, albeit more in the opposite direction. If all kinds of other manifestations of the social are determined, either in part or entirely, by a society’s fundamental form of differentiation, does this not also apply to wars? Is it possible to show that, roughly speaking, what type a war will be is determined by the social order of the society engaged in that war? To what extent have the wars of the past two centuries been wars of modern society that have been shaped in the same way as the structures of this society? In addition, Dr. Kuchler is interested in the dynamics of financial markets: When we speak of the autonomization of the global financial markets, what exactly does ‘autonomization’ and, in fact, ‘autonomy’ mean? Does it have something to do with the increasing commensurational ability of financial markets – that is, their ability to reduce different types of securities and capital transactions to a common measure and compare them in a controlled manner?



Research Projects

Niklas Luhmann: Theory as a Passion
Scholarly Curation and Critical Edition of Unpublished Works

Along with Max Weber, Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998), who researched and taught at Bielefeld University from 1968 to 1993, was the most famous and most influential German sociologist of the twentieth century. His theory of the social and society, which he developed over thirty years, is renowned internationally. It is equalled, if at all, only by the social theories of Jürgen Habermas, Pierre Bourdieu or Michel Foucault, although it differs from those theories in its unique theoretical and terminological architecture, its claim to universality and its interdisciplinary connectivity. In 2011, Bielefeld University was able, with support from the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation and the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, to acquire Luhmann’s extensive archive of unpublished works. These works reveal the author and his theoretical system beyond his published works, rivalled in its information content in the history of ideas only by the previously unpublished works of Edmund Husserl. Of particular epistemic value is Luhmann’s file card box, which contains about 90,000 individual notes and which was the centre of Luhmann’s theory work. In addition, his estate includes some 200 unpublished, in some cases extensive manuscripts.
The aim of this long-term project (2015–2030), which is funded by the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Sciences, Humanities and the Arts, is to secure and index the unpublished scientific works of Niklas Luhmann, to study them in the genealogical context of his work and to publish them in critical editions. For this purpose, records of enduring value (manuscripts, file card box, correspondences, library, etc.) are secured and curated. Those parts of the collection intended for later scientific study are then digitized and provided for further editing. The purpose of the subsequent critical edition is to make Luhmann’s unpublished works accessible as a document of the history of ideas both to the scientific community and the interested general public. Bielefeld University and Cologne Center for eHumanities have been working together to establish a freely accessible information portal for a user-friendly digital presentation of all scientifically relevant parts of Luhmann’s estate. In addition, the portal offers a variety of audio and video documents and an extensive bibliography, which provide more detailed information about the works and their author.