What are the most wrong directions in life

Life planning !? Biographical decision-making practices of irritated middle classes

Summary

One of the main pillars of the lifestyle of the middle classes is a planning imperative - viewed from the sociological point of view: a demanding lifestyle based on rationality and sustainability. But what happens to the planning requirement when the lives of middle-class members, as it has increasingly been the case in the last twenty years, are exposed to ever stronger irritations in all areas of life, which can develop into a syndrome of multiple irritations? This problem is deepened in this article in three steps. In a first step, the planning imperative of the middle classes is defined more precisely. In the second step, with reference to the very first exploratory empirical findings from group discussions, what remains of this planning imperative of the middle classes is fathomed today. A distinction is made between five inductively obtained types of dealing with the planning imperative. In a third, speculative step, the assumption, which has so far hardly been empirically proven, is sketched that the life of the middle classes today is more likely to be determined by ad-hoc reactive coping than by planning. Coping as a sub-incremental decision-making mode is characterized as a four-step mechanism of lifestyle.

Abstract

One of the cornerstones of the middle classes ’conduct of life is an imperative of planning - in terms of a decision-making perspective: An ambitious conduct of life with regard to rationality and sustainability of biographical decisions. But what happens to this planning ambition if the life of middle class persons is confronted with more and more irritations in all spheres of life which could amount to a syndrome of multiple irritations? The article deals with this problem in three steps. In a first step it is clarified what the planning imperative implies. In a second step it is explored, based on first empirical results from group discussions, what remains of this planning imperative under today's circumstances of life. Five inductively found types of handling the planning imperative can be distinguished. Finally, in a third, speculative step the hypothesis is sketched that middle class life today consists of more of ad-hoc reactions of coping than of planning. As a sub-incrementalist mode of decision-making, coping is characterized as a four-step mechanism of “doing life”.

Résumé

L’un des principaux piliers de la conduite de vie des classes moyennes est un impératif de planification - considéré sous l’angle de la sociologie de la décision: une planification de la vie ambitieuse misant sur la rationalité et le long terme. Qu'advient-il cependant de cette ambition planificatrice quand la vie des membres de la classe moyenne est, comme ces vingt dernières années, sujette à des déstabilisations de plus en plus fortes dans tous les domaines pouvant aller jusqu'à prendre la forme d ' un syndrome de déstabilisation multiple? Cette question est approfondie en trois temps. Dans un premier temps, l’impératif de planification caractéristique des classes moyennes est appréhendé de manière plus précise. In un second temps, cet article s’interroge sur ce qu’il reste aujourd’hui de cet impératif de planification en s’appuyant sur les toutes premières études exploratrices empiriques basées sur des discussions de groupe. Cinq types de rapport à cet impératif de planification sont différenciés de manière inductive. Enfin, dans un troisième temps, l'idée encore peu vérifiée empiriquement est avancée à titre plus speculatif selon laquelle c'est vraisemblablement moins la planification qu'un "coping" au cas par cas qui préside aujourd'hui à la vie des classes moyennes . The "coping" comme mode de décision infra-incrémentaliste est caractérisé comme un mécanisme de conduite de vie à quatre temps.

Notes

  1. 1.

    See also Peter Gross' (1994) portrait of today's “multi-option society”, which makes this statement very vividly clear. Of course, it is clear that decision-making options and expectations on the one hand and decision-making capacities on the other are increasingly divergent. Often enough, we do not actually decide our actions. However, if something goes wrong, it will be held up to us as a decision - and if we then say that we have not made a decision here, it will be used against us even more.

  2. 2.

    See also the analogous distinction between “costs of making decisions” and “costs of errors” in Sunstein and Ullmann-Margalit (1999, p. 11).

  3. 3.

    Of course, the latter does not only happen to middle-class members - although lower-class members should have it easier in that the doctors traditionally put the factual decision in their mouths in an authoritarian or paternalistic way.

  4. 4.

    Not only in Germany, also in other developed western countries: see Ehrenreich (1989) as an early topic and from the last few years Chauvel (2006), Herbert Quandt Foundation (2007), Bagnasco (2008), Vogel (2009, 2011) , Collado (2010), Burzan and Berger (2010), Heinze (2011), Hacker and Pierson (2011), Mau (2012), Burkhardt et al. (2012), Gornick and Jäntti (2013), Koppetsch (2013), Fourquet et al. (2013), Burzan et al. (2014), Marg (2014), Groh-Samberg et al. (2014), Schimank et al. (2014).

  5. 5.

    Which, of course, mostly not only and by no means the most, but now also affect the middle classes.

  6. 6.

    Even though Burkart and Koppetsch (1999) have shown that parts of the middle classes have illusions about how egalitarian they really shape their partnership.

  7. 7.

    The considerations presented here are in the context of discussions that I have had with colleagues in Bremen over the past three years on the subject of the middle class - the first concepts of a research agenda can be found in Groh-Samberg et al. (2014) and Schimank et al. (2014), on which the present article is based. I owe a lot of the ideas put up for discussion here to the discussions with Sonja Drobnic, Karin Gottschall, Olaf Groh-Samberg, Betina Hollstein, Johannes Huinink, Steffen Mau and Michael Windzio. I would also like to thank Fabian Gülzau for comments on this article.

  8. 8.

    For the following, a conceptualization is fundamental that I have drawn as the quintessence of previous research on decision-making - regardless of what kind of decision it is about - (Schimank 2005): If one leaves aside simple decision problems that allow optimal decisions, one can for difficult ones Decision problems distinguish between three levels of difficulty of decision-making, which correspond to three attainable levels of rationality of decision-making. The medium difficulty level allows incrementalism, the lower planning, and the upper only allows sub-incrementalistic decision-making practices, which will be treated in more detail below as coping.

  9. 9.

    Just as a good illustration, see Lothar Gall's (2000) case study of the Bassermann family, who come from the trade and advance over several generations into the upper bourgeoisie. In terms of sociology of decision-making, Günter Burkart (1994, 1995, 2002) shows how low the level of planning is even today despite all the postulates of “planned parenthood” based on having children.

  10. 10.

    This “rejoicing” is perhaps the most important aspect of what Pierre Bourdieu (1986) calls a “biographical illusion”.

  11. 11.

    That is the apt title of the German translation.

  12. 12.

    The discussions were carried out by the aforementioned Bremen sociologists as preliminary studies for a planned research project; Moderators were Olaf Groh-Samberg in one discussion and Karin Gottschall in the other. The participants were persuaded to talk about "New opportunities - new risks? New opportunities - new risks?" Challenges of professional and private everyday life ”to talk to each other. Verbatim quotations from panelists are quoted as follows: "A2: 844-846". "A2" stands for person A in the second group discussion, "844–846" indicates the quoted lines of the transcription.

  13. 13.

    At this point one could add F1: a pensioner who had a professional plan of her own, but which never came into play because the necessary external circumstances did not arise, although it had initially looked quite good. Planning errors can always occur, even if planning is possible in principle. F1 sums up: “I can understand someone, who, then, who has dreams, and that's what I want, and that's why I studied and that's where I want to get there. I can understand that. I can understand that people want that, but it just turned out differently. (3 seconds pause) "(F1: 940-942). This is the downside of the imperative of planning: You can fail and struggle with it for a long time, sometimes for a lifetime.

  14. 14.

    It thus practices one of the components of “garbage can decision-making”: Problem solutions that are at hand look for problems that are often actually none at all (Cohen et al. 1990; March 1994, p. 198 ff.).

  15. 15.

    This conceals the phenomena mentioned in the introduction, which are almost all discussed in the other passages of the group discussions.

  16. 16.

    Here, the condescension mentioned takes revenge on the - actual or supposed - "haphazard" treatment of lower class members with comparable irritations.

  17. 17.

    On sub-incremental decision-making in general, see Schimank (2005, p. 371 ff.), On coping in politics Schimank (2011). The coping concept, further developed in the following, would have to be checked in the future with customized empirical findings, but first of all with the empirical observations and type formations by Bonß et al. (2004) and Burzan et al. (2014, p. 110 ff.).

  18. 18.

    Coping - like incrementalism - represents a mechanism of interlocking components. In general on social and psychological mechanisms, which are often also metaphorically described as gears, see Elster (1989) and Mayntz (2005).

  19. 19.

    His empirical case is the people in a South American provincial town who get through life improvising in this way.

  20. 20.

    Or, what amounts to the same thing, he realizes that the goals he had befriended for a while are no longer his own.

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Affiliations

  1. Faculty 08 Social Sciences, Institute for Sociology, Working Group Sociological Theory, University of Bremen, Mary-Somerville-Str. 9 (UNICOM), 28359, Bremen, Germany

    Uwe Schimank

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Correspondence to Uwe Schimank.