Current Research

Here you will find a selection of the latest research from the field of analytical-empirical sociology and its neighbouring sciences. The contributions below have appeared in a variety of publishing formats.

Article published: 22.03.2021
Theories of Middle Range

Middle range theories consist of delimited sets of assumptions from which specific hypotheses could be logically derived and empirically tested, yet are sufficiently general to apply in a range of domains. Characteristically clear and simple, the ideas in middle range theories involve specified ignorance of what must be learned to build cumulative knowledge of the subject at hand. Strain and anomie, the unanticipated consequences of purposive social action, the self‐fulfilling prophecy, and the Matthew effect are a mere sample of the icons in Merton’s grand oeuvre.

Jennifer Lee (2021): The Legacy of Robert K. Merton: On Theories of the Middle Range. Sociological Forum, Series 'Legacies of Sociology’s Past' Online, 1-5  (Essay), ungated.

Image: Wikipedia

Article published: 11.08.2020
Online Markets: Herding, Trust & Reputation

In today’s online markets, reputation systems substitute informal sanctioning mechanisms at work in close-knit groups and enable complete strangers to trade with each other across large geographic distances. The organizational features of online markets support actors in solving three problems that hamper mutually beneficial market exchange: the value, competition, and cooperation problems. However, due to the plethora of trading opportunities available online, actors face a problem of excess, i.e., the difficulty of choosing a trading partner. Imitation of other actors’ choices of trading partners (i.e., herding) can solve the problem of excess but at the
same time lead to the neglect of information about these trading partners’ trustworthiness. Using a large set of online-auction data, this paper investigates whether herding as a strategy for solving the problem ...

... of excess undermines the reputation mechanism in solving the cooperation problem. Our analysis shows that although buyers follow others in their decisions of which offers to consider, they do not follow others at any price and refer to sellers’ reputations to establish seller trustworthiness. Results corroborate that reputation systems are viable organizational features that promote mutually beneficial exchanges in anonymous online markets.

Wojtek Przepiorka, Ozan Aksoy (2020): Does herding undermine the trust enhancing effect of reputation? An empirical investigation with online-auction data. Social Forces Online First (ungated).

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Article published: 28.07.2020
Meta-scientific Programme to Analyse & Optimise Replicability

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) established the new Priority Programme “META-REP: A Meta-scientific Programme to Analyse and Optimise Replicability in the Behavioural, Social, and Cognitive Sciences” (SPP 2317). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the first three-year funding period (2021–2024; CfP deadline: December 2, 2020.

The behavioural, social, and cognitive sciences are in the midst of an intensive debate about the replicability of their empirical findings. Shaken by the results of many replication projects that have been conducted in recent years, scholars have begun discussing what replicability actually means and when a replication can be regarded as successful vs. failed, whether low replication rates are caused by too many false positive findings in the literature, ...

... methodological weaknesses in the replication studies, measurement issues, and/or the underappreciated influence of contextual effects, and what can be done to effectively and sustainably secure a high level of replicability in the behavioural, social, and cognitive sciences.

The Priority Programme aims to contribute significantly to this debate by:

  • describing and defining “replication” (including “successful” vs. “failed” replications) across different scientific disciplines (the “what” question),
  • explaining why replication rates vary across and within different disciplines (the “why” question), and
  • evaluating measures that have been proposed and implemented to increase replication rates (the “how” question).

See DFG Website for more information.

(Photo: Lukas/Pexels).

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Article published: 27.07.2020
Social Status, Cultural Taste & Trust

Social status and common group memberships are important determinants of receiving and reciprocating trust. However, social status and group membership can coincide or diverge–with potentially different effects. This study contributes to the existing literature on the role of status and group membership by testing two separate trust-generating mechanisms against each other. Do individuals tend to place trust in high-status groups (irrespective of their own group membership) or, rather, do they tend to trust others with whom they share a common group membership? Following Bourdieu, musical taste classifies persons of different status. By demonstrating their “legitimate” cultural taste, upper-class members distinguish themselves from the middle and lower classes and signal their social status, thereby creating awe, respect and an air of trustworthiness. Empirically, this study relies in online experiments with incentivized trust games enabling to separate the two ...

... trust-generating mechanisms. No evidence is found that persons with “legitimate” tastes are generally trusted more. Instead, ingroup favouritism towards persons with a similar taste is demonstrated. Members of taste-based groups trust each other more than members of different-taste-based groups. Interestingly, this group-based trust is not always justified inasmuch as received trust is not necessarily reciprocated more strongly by own group members. This suggests that ingroup favouritism is, at least in part, driven by false beliefs.

Amelie Aidenberger, Heiko Rauhut, Jörg Rössel (2020): Is participation in high-status culture a signal of trustworthiness? PLOS ONE 15(5) (ungated)

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Article published: 21.07.2020
Egocentric Network Analysis

When collecting egocentric network data, visual representations of networks can function as a cognitive aid for depicting relationships, helping to maintain an overview of the relationships, and keeping the attention of the interviewees. Additionally, network maps can serve as a narration generator in qualitative and in mixed-methods studies. The article provides an overview of existing visually oriented tools that are used to collect egocentric networks and discusses their functions, advantages, and limitations. It further presents an experimental study where four different visual tools are compared with regard to networks elicited, manageability, and the impact of follow-up questions. The results provide evidence that the decision in favor of a specific visual tool (structured vs. unstructured) can affect the size and composition of the elicited networks. ...

... Follow-up questions greatly affect the elicited networks and follow-up cues can level out differences among tools. Respondents tend to prefer the concentric circles tool, with some differences in preferences and manageability of tools between participants with low and those with high socioeconomic status. Finally, assets and drawbacks of the four instruments are discussed with regard to data quality and crucial aspects of the data collection process when using visual tools.

Betina Hollstein, Tom Töpfer, Jürgen Pfeffer (2020): Collecting egocentric network data with visual tools: A comparative study. Network Science 8(2): 223–250 (ungated).

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Article published: 24.06.2020
Intergenerational Mobility in Germany

Research on intergenerational social mobility tends to focus on examining the level of overall social fluidity in society. However, from a social justice perspective it can be argued that the type of social fluidity that matters most is upward mobility from the lowest rung of the social ladder. Bastian Betthäuser (Nufflied College, Oxford) analyses the labour market chances of children from parents in unskilled working-class positions, relative to children from skilled working-class and higher social class backgrounds, and how they have changed across four birth cohorts in post-WWII Germany. He finds that individuals from unskilled working-class backgrounds have substantially lower labour market chances than individuals from skilled working-class backgrounds or higher social class backgrounds. Moreover, the gap in labour market chances between ...

... individuals from unskilled working-class backgrounds and individuals from more advantaged backgrounds has not narrowed but, if anything, has widened across the four birth cohorts we examine. Results suggest that an important factor underlying this sustained labour market inequality is a persistently high level of educational inequality between these groups.

Bastian Betthäuser (2020): Left behind? Over-time change in the social mobility of children from unskilled working-class backgrounds in Germany. Acta Sociologica 63(2): 133–155. (paper is gated).

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Article published:
Selectivity of Asylum Decisions

Although the Refugee Convention and European asylum legislation state that decisions regarding asylum applications should be determined solely based on persecution and other human rights violations, the outcomes of asylum procedures may be subject to socioeconomic selectivity. This article analyses whether the human and social capital of asylum-seekers affect the results of decisions regarding their asylum applications and the length of asylum procedures based on a comprehensive longitudinal survey of 5,300 refugees in Germany. Autors find that socioeconomic and social capital resources increase the probability of approval of asylum applications and reduce the length of asylum procedures. Moreover, human capital is particularly rewarding for asylum-seekers from countries subject to severe political and civil rights violations, whereas social ...

... networks are more conducive when the case for protection is rather difficult to prove. Finally, asylum-seekers with a higher socioeconomic status before migration seem to be better positioned to efficiently instrumentalize social networks during the asylum process. Altogether, similar to other claim-making processes, the asylum process seems to promote social inequality due to socioeconomic and social capital resources.

Yuliya Kosyakova, Herbert Brücker (2020): Seeking Asylum in Germany: Do Human and Social Capital Determine the Outcome of Asylum Procedures? European Sociological Review Online First (ungated, click here for access)


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Article published:
Parental Wealth & Educational Inequality

Parental wealth is often ignored in research on social inequality in education, or its influence is only considered at later stages of children’s educational careers. This  paper contributes to this research by examining the relationship between parental wealth and (1) children’s math competences at the beginning of primary school; (2) the development of children’s competences throughout primary school; and (3) children’s transition from primary to secondary school. Analyzing data from the German National Educational Panel Study, findings show that parental wealth has a distinct association with children’s educational outcomes that adds to social disparities by other measures of parents’ socioeconomic status (SES). Results indicate that children in wealthy households have higher competences already in the first grade. This ...

... advantage remains stable throughout primary school and translates into a higher probability to attend the highest secondary school track. Moreover, children in these wealthy households are more likely to attend the highest secondary school track, net of differences in competences and performance. These results imply that ignoring wealth as a component of parental SES leads to an underestimation of the level of social inequality in education in Germany.

Jascha Dräger, Nora Müller (2020): Wealth Stratification in the Early School Career in Germany. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility Online First (gated, see link here).

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Article published:
Computational Social Sciences & Sociology

The integration of social science with computer science and engineering fields has produced a new area of study: computational social science. This field applies computational methods to novel sources of digital data such as social media, administrative records, and historical archives to develop theories of human behavior. This paper reviews the evolution of this field within sociology via bibliometric analysis and in-depth analysis of the following subfields where this new work is appearing most rapidly: (a) social network analysis and group formation; (b) collective behavior and political sociology; (c) the sociology of knowledge; (d) cultural sociology, social psychology, and emotions; (e) the production of culture; ( f ) economic sociology and organizations; and (g) demography and population studies. Authors reveal that sociologists are ...

... not only at the center of cutting-edge research that addresses longstanding questions about human behavior but also developing new lines of inquiry about digital spaces as well. They conclude by discussing challenging new obstacles in the field, calling for increased attention to sociological theory, and identifying new areas where computational social science might be further integrated into mainstream sociology.

Achim Edelmann, Tom Wolff, Danielle Montagne,Christopher A. Bail (2020): Computational Social Sciences and Sociology Annual Review of Sociology 46 in advance (full access here)

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Article published:
Incentices in Survey Research

Traditional survey research faces declining response rates due to changing cultural habits and technological developments. This article focuses on the use of nonmaterial incentives in the form of a video that provides the invitees with information tailored to their life situation. Analysis of experimental data shows that instead of increasing respondents’ probability of starting the survey, the video treatments actually decrease it. The paper provides evidence that the lower salience of the intrinsic benefits of survey participation in the invitation email significantly contributes to this reduction. Additionally, the effect of the nonmaterial incentive differs across subgroups, affecting nonresponse biases in line with employment status, gender, and migration background.

Fabian Kalleitner, Monika Mühlböck, Bernhard Kittel (2020): What’s the Benefit of a Video? The Effect of Nonmaterial Incentives on Response Rate and Bias in Web Surveys. Social Science Computer Review Online first (full access here)