Why are there divisions in fantasy football
Researcher on social cohesion: "There is a willingness to show solidarity"
The University of Bremen researches the cohesion of society. A conversation about social milieus, opportunities for advancement and the consequences of the pandemic.
Cohesive people, here at a demonstration against agitation in Emden in 2012 Photo: Ingo Wagner / dpa
taz: Mr. Groh-Samberg, the University of Bremen is one of eleven research institutions that have been analyzing the growing cracks in the social structure of Germany for four years since June. Do you only care about Bremen?
Olaf Groh-Samberg: No, we are trying a decentralized format to include the competencies of different locations. Together we form the interdisciplinary research institute Social Cohesion, which realizes over 80 related individual projects, seven of them in Bremen.
What are you investigating?
How social cohesion is lived within and between social milieus that are comparable in terms of income and education, but also with regard to central attitudes, world views and cultural values. In rural areas one finds quite broad milieus in terms of social structure, which many groups can integrate. People know each other in the village, have similar views, but different status groups. There is the mayor, farmers, craftsmen, but all of them are integrated into associations and go to church together. Urban milieus define their cohesion in a much more egalitarian way; people only move among their own kind, so that an urban society segregates into ever smaller micro-milieus.
In the search for inner cohesion, new boundaries are always drawn, like in social networks?
On the Internet we know it as surfing in the bubbles of our own imagination. This progressive isolation has developed much earlier and more strongly in the offline world, so that many milieus no longer have any contact with one another, which is also evident in professional life. We are now investigating whether the milieus at least still accept each other or deliberately delimit each other.
Does social cohesion work in Bremen?
The city-state is marked by great inequality in terms of financial wealth and education. This social division is reflected in a strong segregation of the city districts. There you will sometimes only find one or two milieus, which in turn do not occur in other parts of the city. Compared to other large cities, the social mix in Bremen is below average, especially among children.
Why is that?
49, is Professor of Sociology at the University of Bremen and works there in the Research Center Inequality and Social Policy (Socium). Since June 2020 he has been one of the three speakers of the nationwide Research Institute for Social Cohesion (FGZ). His main focus is on social inequalities.
Bremen is the front runner among the federal states when it comes to the poverty rate, but it is also wealthy. This is nothing new, but for 30 or 40 years the inequality between rich and poor has been increasing. This is happening particularly drastically in Bremen because poverty has increased particularly sharply here. This can be seen in ever greater differences between the rich and poorer parts of the city.
What are the prospects for promotion and relegation?
In the 1980s and 1990s there were quite a few people in the lowest income groups who came out of poverty. The mobility of upward mobility has decreased sharply since then. On the other hand, there has been a slight increase in the decline of people from the lower middle class into poverty. The number of those who rise from the upper middle class to the very wealthy has also risen slightly.
The social psychologist Klaus Boehnke from Jacobs University came to the conclusion that social cohesion is very good in Bremen.
The social climate in Bremen is nowhere near as raw and harsh as in some East German regions or cities in the Ruhr area. And there is the empirical finding that tolerance for other cultures is more pronounced in Bremen than in other cities.
So the liberal Hanseatic bourgeoisie is not a fantasy?
In Bremen there is an above-average interest in trying to balance out opposites. This helps ensure that economic inequality does not translate so strongly into political and cultural demarcation, which is why the AfD in Bremen is not so super strong. But we also have a long-standing involvement of the SPD in the government and still have these problems.
Or just because of that?
In any case, one has to ask how long an urban society can withstand such a strong social and economic polarization, how long are the protests of the bourgeoisie, how long is government policy credible if nothing changes in the growing poverty? I wonder why, despite the declared will to want to do something about it, so little gets around.
Do you remain skeptical about cohesion?
Often only the average values of people's attitudes are formed. If the result is a medium value for trust in social cohesion, it can mean that almost all respondents have such a medium level of trust. But it can also mean that one half has very big confidence, the other half has no confidence at all. In our research, we now look more at such divisions, but also at people's practices, i.e. investigate what people actually do for social cohesion.
Or how do they harm him?
Take the group of cosmopolitan people. They are well educated, have a positive attitude towards globalization, support a welcoming culture, stand up for sustainability and against climate change, are committed to gender equality and diversity - on the one hand these are the good guys. But our thesis is also: Many of them are too focused on their own benefit and do not realize that increasing their resources is at the expense of others.
Is property theft?
Not only. Let's look at the education sector, which is expanding more and more, but educational inequality is still very high in Bremen. Because those who have a lot of education continue to care a lot about their own education and that of their children. We call this status investment with the aim of surviving well in a competitive society. But that makes it difficult for the groups that start from a much lower level to keep up. It's an arms race.
And the losers in education?
There are those who are in favor of more national isolation, fight against “gender madness”, feel patronized by political correctness. On the other hand, it is more important in these milieus to adhere to rules, there is a greater conformity to norms than, for example, among academics who define themselves through individual freedom. These two attitudes work well side by side if you only move around in your own district and only socialize with people like you - and lose sight of the fact that there are other milieus. The reality of life in many sections of the population is no longer depicted in public discourse, and the less qualified in particular lack a political mouthpiece. The danger is that right-wing populism tries to use it. This is the result of inequality and segregation.
Your concept says you want to have a direct dialogue with the whole city.
We want to conduct detailed one-on-one interviews with citizens in selected parts of the city, also get into conversation with schoolchildren and population groups in workshops and discuss our research results there, for example in Gröpelingen.
... and in Schwachhausen?
The plan is to bring people from different parts of the city back together. The desired effect would be that you get to know and understand each other. Such encounters easily lead to demarcation and confirmation of prejudices.
Does Corona promote social cohesion or does the virus harm it?
I believe that there is a need for solidarity in all walks of life and that was lived out in the first lockdown. The willingness to show consideration and help yourself was very great.
Because that has to be suppressed in everyday egoism caused by capitalism?
Exactly. In our neoliberal world there is hardly any chance to do so. The willingness to show solidarity, however, was not included in concrete policy, and the initial euphoria remained unused. One could have set an example immediately and financially, for example, making nursing professions much better.
Does the corona policy promote social division? Instead of togetherness, social distancing is propagated. Instead of promoting social participation, their places are closed.
For social cohesion, it is absolutely fatal that families now play a much larger role in providing education, because children from less educated families are left behind even further. We cannot yet foresee the long-term consequences. I think Corona could have had a positive effect if politics had made more use of the willingness to show solidarity.
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