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Department of Sociology
The sociology of North America as it is represented at the John F. Kennedy Institute consists of two main areas of research and teaching: first, the sociological analysis of social structures and processes in North American societies; second, the theoretical approaches and research programmes originating in North America. Both areas are intertwined. That is to say, we teach both the specific problems and solutions in the social field of this particular region (North America), as well as the theoretical and methodological approaches to account for them as they have developed in the discipline of North American sociology.
Historically and systematically significant theoretical approaches and research programmes, and in particular pragmatist and functionalist social theory, therefore constitute basic topics of teaching. Equally significant are debates about contemporary and historical problems of North American societies. To understand these societies, it is indispensable to also include North American culture – primarily mass and popular culture – in our analysis; the approaches of cultural sciences and of cultural sociology complete the account sociology can provide of North American societies. Consequently, the public sphere, mass media, and religion constitute central topics for our teaching and research.
Qualitative, hermeneutic methods of empirical research make accessible the culturally defined social realities of North America. As in other realms of teaching and research the sociology of North America has originated innovative patterns, e.g. the methods of visual sociology.
The department’s fields of research are additionally supplemented by projects in the field of social theory (theories of communication and, in particular, visual communication), of social integration (and the mass media and mass culture contributing to it) and of social change (particularly catastrophic social change and change by destruction).
To characterize the research profiles of the JFKI’s dept. of sociology and of the members of its team we like to point to order and conflict as a general theme – which is intertwined with another pair of concepts: the micro- vs- the macro perspectives, i.e. the focus on interaction between people in limited settings and the “BIG PICTURE” of large collectivities, and structures.
You can read more about our research interests in the drop-down menus below.
- security, surveillance, police and military – particularly in the perspective of political sociology, as well as how sociology can use surveillance and other 21st Century video recordings for analyzing social processes
- hyperincarceration – in no other country are so many people in prison or subject to some measure of the criminal justice system – in absolute numbers. Young Afro-Americans living in the inner cities are disproportionately represented among the incarcerated – this is what the term “hyperincarceration” refers to.
- social integration of immigrants. What are the obstacles which illegal immigrants have to cope with? In which way are they discriminated against? In which does this discrimination resemble the discrimination of other minorities. Social integration, of course, immediately points to
- emotions – in particular the role of emotion communication in interaction and crowd emotions
- class struggle and the increasing inequality,
- the cultural and political divide between conservative and progressive forces and factions,
- social movements and their struggles, e.g. for cultural hegemony,
- violence and its causes: Why do some political rallies and demonstrations turn violent – while so many remain peaceful? Why does the United States show so many rampage school shootings? New visual methods of analysis and the use of video data create new opportunities for analysis and explanation – and, in the long run, for more effective measures of violence prevention and de-escalation.
- Criminal behavior: How are crimes committed? What does criminal behavior caught on CCTV or mobile phone cameras, such as armed robberies, look like and which interaction rituals do they follow?