Institute of Sociology

Research project

Social Identity and Social Cohesion: How Disrespect threatens Social Cohesion

Within the last few years, we have come to witness numerous signs indicating an erosion of social cohesion across nations. For instance, citizens of many countries, including Germany, are increasingly putting less trust in institutions. At the same time a growing number of people support populist parties and embrace the emphasis these parties put on drawing exclusionary boundaries between social groups. As particularistic boundaries weaken social integration within society at large, it is necessary to explore why relevant parts of the society are increasingly receptive to such exclusionary social practices.   


Explanations from earlier studies put a lot of emphasis on the importance of socio-economic factors and increasing social inequality in order to explain the growing support for particularistic and polarizing societal concepts. Yet more recent studies show that those explanatory attempts fail to provide accounts for diminishing social cohesion and highlight the importance of socio-cultural factors. Following up on Francis Fukuyama´s prominent “threatened social identities” thesis the project at hand tries to understand the increasing support for attitudes supporting populism, secession, xenophobia and anti-immigration as a reaction to increased threats towards established social identities. We analyze the potential threat to social cohesion with a particular focus on processes of social change and the detrimental consequences these may have for the emergence of stable and positively evaluated social identities.  

Within the project we investigate the consequences of socio-structural and socio-cultural change on the emergence of social identities with a particular focus on the lack of recognition towards identities and its potentially detrimental consequences for social cohesion. First, an international and longitudinal comparative secondary data analysis will enable us to trace the consequences of social change on identity building and social cohesion over time and national contexts. Second, several online surveys which are representative of the German resident population are carried out and will allow us to investigate group specific processes of identity emergence and their consequences for social cohesion in more detail. Third, these studies will be complemented with online experiments that allows us to draw conclusions about causal relationships which observational data cannot provide.