How do sociology and education differ?

German conditions. A social studies

Stefan Hradil

Stefan Hradil, born in Frankenthal (Palatinate) in 1946, was Professor of Sociology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz from 1991 to 2011. After studying sociology, political science and Slavic philology at the University of Munich (1968-1973), he worked from 1974 to 1989 as a research assistant at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Munich. Doctorate in 1979 and habilitation in 1985 at the University of Munich. From 1989 to 1990 professor for social structure analysis at the University of Bamberg. Stefan Hradil received an honorary doctorate from the University of Economics in Budapest in 1994, was chairman of the German Society for Sociology from 1995 to 1998, has been chairman of the Schader Foundation in Darmstadt since 2001 and a member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz since 2006. The main focus of work is social structure analysis, also in an international comparison, social inequality, social milieus and lifestyles, social change.

If the resources or living conditions of certain groups are such that they regularly have better life and realization opportunities than others, one speaks of social inequality. In social science, the term leaves open whether issues of social inequality count as "just" or "unjust".

In the social sciences, the word "inequality" is used to denote not mere (horizontal) differences, but rather (vertical) better or worse positions between people.

One speaks of "social inequality" (cf. Hradil 2001: 27-46) when the resources (for example the level of education or the income level) or the living conditions (for example the housing conditions) of people are such that for social reasons certain parts of the population regularly have better chances of life and fulfillment than other groups. Chances of life and realization are "better" when resources or living conditions offer certain people the opportunity to live a "good life" and to develop their own personality according to the applicable social standards (for example, with regard to security, prosperity, health) and others But humans don't. The extent to which these options are used individually remains to be seen. The term social inequality does not therefore exclude people with favorable conditions from leading a miserable life.

In addition to the social, that is, socially emerging, relatively stable and generalizable ones, there are many other inequalities between people. Individual, momentary and natural advantages and disadvantages are not considered social inequality. They arise, for example, from (un) beneficial personality traits, lottery winnings or congenital disabilities. In reality, however, natural, momentary and individual advantages and disadvantages on the one hand and social inequalities on the other hand often intertwine. The respective intelligence of a person, for example, is mostly shaped by both natural and social determinants.

Anyone who commonly speaks of "social inequality" usually associates this term with the idea of ​​illegitimacy or injustice. In contrast, the sociological concept of "social inequality" leaves it open as to whether issues of social inequality (e.g. income gap) are to be considered "just" or "unjust". Finding this out is left to our own studies.

Equal distribution and equal opportunities

"Distribution inequality" means the unequal distribution of a valuable resource (e.g. income) or an (un) advantageous living condition within the population as a whole. "Inequality of opportunity" describes the unequal opportunities of certain population groups (for example women or migrants) to get to advantageous or disadvantageous positions within such distributions (for example to achieve higher incomes). Inequalities of opportunity and distributional inequalities often change independently of one another. For example, the distribution of income in Germany has recently become more unequal. The income opportunities of women, on the other hand, have become more equal to those of men. In many cases, inequalities of opportunity, such as the low educational opportunities of migrant children or the poor career prospects of women, contain at least as much socio-political explosive as distribution inequalities such as growing poverty and increasing wealth.

Inequalities of opportunity exist in particular between: educational and occupational groups, families and childless households, residents of different regions, the sexes, age groups and ethnic groups. This also names the most important determinants of social inequality. Some of them are acquired individually, others are socially attributed: degrees of education, professions, family and lifestyles are more or less freely selectable for the individual. The gender, age, social origin or ethnicity cannot usually be changed for the individual. The inequalities of opportunity based on this (for example the disadvantage of women) are considered illegitimate in modern societies and are heavily criticized.

Dimensions of social inequality

The diversity of existing social inequalities is usually bundled into dimensions. In modern societies, the formal level of education, more or less secure employment, professional position, income or assets and professional prestige are the most important dimensions of social inequality. Not all dimensions had the same weight at all times: For example, formal education was rather unimportant for the majority of people in the late Middle Ages. Today there is much to suggest that the level of education achieved represents the most important dimension of social inequality for people. Within each of these dimensions, higher or lower positions can be distinguished. They are referred to as education, employment, occupation, income or prestige status.

Social classes

A social class consists of people who have a similar status within one or more dimensions of social inequality. So you can z. B. differentiate between educational and income groups. To determine the position of a person in the overall social stratification, one usually combines their educational, professional and income status. The top and bottom of the professional position, the qualifications required for this and the income resulting from it are considered in modern societies as the core structure of the structure of social inequality.

Class affiliation has many consequences, from which the advantages and disadvantages of class affiliation only become really clear: Those who belong to a higher class think and act in general more optimistic, performance-oriented, planning, future-oriented and assertive. The members of the upper classes are sick less often, live longer, are less likely to commit criminal acts and have larger networks with more "relationships". The children have better educational opportunities, etc.

Nevertheless, the mentalities and behaviors of people within the same social class are quite different (and sometimes similar across class boundaries). The terms of social milieus and lifestyle groupings serve to grasp these differences.

Social milieus and lifestyles

A social milieu is understood to be a group of like-minded people with similar values ​​and basic attitudes (for example the liberal-intellectual milieu). Those belonging to the milieu see and interpret their factual surroundings and their human co-worlds in a similar way and strengthen themselves in this. Often people from a certain social milieu also work and live in similar environments and co-environments. How do social milieus arise? On the one hand, they develop through the social stratification of a society: through the same social origin and the similar socializing, professional and social experiences of the members of social strata. In addition, there are also cultural (historical, regional, religious etc.) factors that contribute to the formation of social milieus within the social classes.

The concept of social milieus plays a major role in practice-oriented social science studies. How children are brought up, which party people lean towards, how people live, spend their free time or consume, is largely a question of social milieu.

Nobody behaves completely differently every day. Lifestyle is the totality of the recurring ways of thinking and behaving in a person. These routines are not just a matter of expediency, but also of people's identity. As a result of social assimilation and discussion processes, similar lifestyles extend beyond the individual to larger social groups. Lifestyles develop based on many factors: Age, gender, family and lifestyle, level of education, social class, but also personal decisions and external influences can shape lifestyles. Lifestyles are psychologically not as deeply anchored as milieu affiliations and therefore change more easily than these. Nevertheless, consumer decisions, friendship and partnership choices, leisure activities and much more are also a question of lifestyle.