Biographical Embeddedness and Social References of World Views in precarious Life Situations

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Project DirectorDr. Kornelia Sammet
Research Assistent: Daniel Bergelt, Sociologist (Dipl.)
Student Assistents: Lena Dreier, Franz Erhard

Societal changes such as the reconstruction of the welfare state as well as the increase in structural unemployment since the 1970s have brought about the individualization of people’s responsibility for the course of their life and their life situation. Depending on their social situation, people perceive individualization either as a chance and an expansion of their opportunities for action or as pressure and an unreasonable demand. The latter impression leads to biographical uncertainty and limited participation in social activities.

In our project, we examine how these processes are reflected in the self-perceptions and world perceptions of those who are most affected by these changes from the perspective of the field of sociology of religion. We reconstruct people’s interpretations of life and the world in precarious life situations, which are determined by increased uncertainty, low material and symbolic resources as well as their experience with limited participation opportunities. Our research will contribute to an empirical foundation of the current debate on the “underclass” and the “precariate” (i.e. a social stratum of disadvantaged working and unemployed persons including but not limited to the new working poor).

Our project refers to the sociological concept of “world views” as developed by Monika Wohlrab-Sahr on the basis of Thomas Luckmann’s thoughts. “World views” can be defined as the basic assumptions about fundamental relations and causalities; the concept includes the dimensions of order, attribution and boundary. Consequently, the analyses refer to the ways of coping with order and contingency, the question of attribution of events and experiences as well as the horizons and limits of action. The project particularly focuses on those world views that are based on the perception of disorder and chance or a firmly established order without any leeway with respect to the dimension of order. In other words, we are mainly interested in anomic and fatalistic world views. With respect to the dimensions of boundary and attribution, we analyze whether effects are ascribed either to a person or to external powers in the sphere of middle transcendence (for example the family, the state, politics) or in the sphere of big transcendence. In the latter case, we speak of explicitly religious world views.

With our project, we seek to contribute to the theoretical discussion in sociology of religion by taking a close look at systematic gaps in current approaches in the field. In the past decades, the function of religion for biographies has increasingly become the object of studies in the field of sociology of religion. These studies were mainly interested in how far religion assists in coping with contingencies, in establishing consistency in the face of disparate life contexts or in dealing with crises. This perspective mainly highlights its assistance in establishing order, and less so its failure or non-acceptance which also serve a social purpose. By relating research questions concerning biographies and the sociology of religion, we aim to contribute to the closure of this research gap.

Anomic and fatalistic world views are perceived as addressing contingency. However, this does not necessarily imply the use of religious semantics, i.e. they can be a-religious. We speak of non-religious as opposed to religious world views by distinguishing between immanence and transcendence.

In our project we analyze the following: How are world views constituted biographically (and maybe passed on), which experiences they refer to and what impact do they have on one’s life conduct and future plans? With reference to Max Weber, this also concerns the relationship between social situations, interests and religious ideas. We mainly focus on the following questions:

  • Which interests are expressed in a fatalistic or anomic world view?
  • Which experiences and social situations are interpreted from the perspective of fatalistic or anomic world views?

We seek to develop a typology of fatalistic and anomic world views that may also include religious variants.
The analyses of social and communicative references of world views as well as their embeddedness in individual biographies are based on individual biographical interviews as well as group discussions. These are carried out with recipients of welfare benefits according to SGB II (“Hartz IV” recipients). The sample mainly includes persons with low educational capital; we also include persons with a high education to contrast our main sample.

We analyze our data based on the procedure of objective hermeneutics. The sequential analyses allows us to reconstruct the course of the interviewees’ life histories which induce specific world views and patterns of orientation.

Letzte Änderung: 7. Februar 2014