Research projects

DFG-project: Insuring modern society: A historical-comparative sociology of private insurance, its evolution, origins and consequences

This project proposes a historical-comparative sociology of the private insurance sector in its life and non-life branches (property, transport, etc.) in 20 old OECD countries starting in the late 19th century and 15 emerging economies with shorter coverage (Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe). The insurance sector annually collects about 7% of world GDP as premium income, holds about half of total banking assets and becomes increasingly important in times of rising climate and catastrophe risks. This has strangely been neglected by either historians and economists of finance, with their focus on banks and capital markets, or political scientists, with their strong focus on public insurances within the welfare states. Sociologists themselves have covered “risk sociology” very well, but largely ignored the insurance sector therein. This project aims at filling this gap by building a cross-country historical database of the main stock and flow variables of modern premium-based insurances in order to study their evolution across time and countries, to explain their growth and to investigate selected consequences in three working packages. The first working package will build the insurance database and describe the about 200 years of modern insurance development and will compare its growth trends with those of other financial institutions and the public welfare state. It will also uncover countries’ different insurance growth trajectories. The second working package addresses the question of different growth determinants by mainly looking at often discussed economic and cultural factors, i.e. the relationship between economic development and insurance growth and the potentially Weberian relationship between Protestantism and different denominations and insurance development. A final working package focuses on selected consequences of insurances: does the sector macroeconomically insure against financial and other crises by allowing for quicker economic recoveries? Is there a trade-off between private insurers and public insurance domains, particularly in the pension and accident domain? Overall, the project connects to some questions studied across different disciplines for very short time spans, but plays out a huge data advantage of covering many countries in the long-run. Beyond building a future database for practical use in welfare, finance and securities studies, the project contributes to a potential sociology insurance that connects to Weberian themes of rationalization, to the different worlds of public welfare and the varieties of capitalism.

Political Economy of Housing

This project investigates housing in the broader economy and society in historical comparative perspective. The book "Homeownership, Renting and Society" tried to explain why countries differ so widely and persistently as to their dominant forms of tenure (homeownership, renting). As one potential cause, this project currently looks at the history of homeownership ideology which itself was one of the reasons behind the explosion of mortgage debt. A further question is to ask why the rising levels of mortgage debt in many countries have neither led to the promised democratization of homeownership nor to more housing construction. Finally, the project investigates the feedback of housing and homeownership on political behavior and housing market effects on segregation in German cities.

Sociology of competition and the political economy of antitrust

Economic competition and growing concentration are core features of modern capitalism. The project investigates the rise of capitalist competition, its regulation in antitrust policies and its history of ideas. It aims at a better understanding of the much-discussed Great Atlantic Divide that opened up between the European and US-American understanding of competition. In one paper, we link antitrust regulation and varieties of capitalism. It further investigates antitrust and merger regulation in the European multi-level system. Finally, the project discussed the new dimensions of social inequalities that may result from recent trends of increasing economic concentration