My research focus is the New Political Economy and the New Institutional Economics, in particular the effects of national institutional frameworks on economic development as well as on income inequality and physical quality of life in international comparison.
In addition, I am engaged in international comparative suicide studies in the tradition of Emile Durkheim: The aim is to precisely capture anomic potential or anomic tensions between integration and regulation capacities in different societies empirically and to relate them to suicide rates in country and time comparisons; a particular challenge is also the operationalization of the dependent variable of suicide rates.
Military sociological issues I am investigating include, following the work of Max Weber, whether and how the type of military organization of a society has an impact on income distribution and how arms races during and after the Cold War can be explained sociologically and captured empirically.
Another research focus is the explanation of deviant or criminal behavior. Are criminal acts the result of a rational decision-making process or can they be better explained by the (lack of) internalization of social norms of conformity? In my work, I pursue both approaches with respect to everyday crime, such as corruption, insurance fraud, shoplifting, fare evasion, hit-and-run driving, and tax fraud, and try to combine them in a consistent model of action. Extensive, self-conducted postal surveys in Germany and Switzerland serve as a data basis.
In an ongoing research project, I am investigating, together with cooperation partners from Germany and abroad, how widespread the use of (legal and illegal) drugs is among students and teachers at (German) universities. In addition to the intended empirical elucidation of the dark field, we pursue the question of how the decision to take these preparations can also be explained with regard to the ethical dimension of the phenomenon.
In view of the demographic change to be observed (falling fertility rates and rising life expectancy) in Germany and other (post-)industrial societies, social systems are coming under pressure to adapt. As a consequence, various social policy reforms are being discussed. In a research project we will now investigate how the acceptance or rejection of certain measures can be explained in the population. We assume that acceptance can be explained on the one hand by internalized values regarding the institutions welfare state and family, and on the other hand by individual cost-benefit expectations of the measures as well as by an interaction of both predictors.
In principle, I follow the classical rational choice approach of microeconomics. This assumes that people have individual and hierarchically ordered preferences with regard to physical well-being and social recognition and try to realize these preferences and goals given the individual possibilities and restrictions. To do so, they evaluate, in the face of the concrete decision situation, which alternative actions are available to them. Each of these alternatives is associated with certain benefits, costs and their probabilities of occurrence, which are estimated by the actors. Actors ultimately choose the alternative from which they expect the highest (net) benefit. Because actors do not act atomistically, but are always integrated into diverse social contexts, certain groups of actors have quite similar estimates of costs, benefits and probabilities, and this social integration also has a fundamental influence on how actors interpret their environment. It is precisely this "social construction of reality" that manifests itself in socially defined symbols and codes that give meaning to a complex situation, pre-structure it and thus make it comprehensible to the individual in the first place. Thus, the social situation forms a framework for action. Particularly powerful symbols are social norms and institutions (i.e., bundles of sanction-validated expectations of action). This "normative construction of society" ensures that, given a sufficient degree of norm internalization, certain alternative courses of action fall outside this framework from the outset and others are suggested. Full deliberation occurs only when either no framework is apparent or is neutralized by other situational features. Thus, rational choice approaches are combined with normative culturalist approaches to form a coherent decision heuristic, the Model of Frame Selection.
Methods and understanding of methods
Social science is empirical, which means that statements and hypotheses derived from metatheory (medium-range theories) must also always be tested empirically. Thus, scientific progress in knowledge consists in eliminating empirically falsified medium-range theories step by step.
Such a procedure requires that already during theory building and theoretical work the later obligatory empirical testing has to be kept in mind - in particular this means to clearly name causal relations within the theory and to precisely define the variables for the later operationalization.
In my own work I try to follow this ideal and to test every theoretically founded statement, hypothesis and expectation against the real world. In doing so, it should apply that in each case the appropriate and parsimonious method is used to test the statements (Ockham's Blade).
In view of this, my goal is to teach the quantitative methods of social sciences in an applied manner, i.e., always with respect to relevant issues in the social sciences at the micro and macro levels. This includes a thorough training in methodology, such as critical rationalism. Statistics has a special place in this context - students should be enabled not only to intuitively penetrate stochastics and probability theory, but also to apply them in the context of sampling theory. Basic statistical procedures, such as central and scatter measures, cross-tabulations and correlation as well as regression analysis are the focus of my lecture "Introduction to Statistics". In the lecture "Introduction to Methods", in addition to the methodology and stochastics already mentioned above, the most common methods of sampling and data collection will be discussed, such as postal surveys and the handling of secondary data (individual and aggregate data).