Österreichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 3–36

Individualisierung als Deutungsmuster sozialer Ungleichheit

Zum Problem des Sinnverstehens in der Ungleichheitsforschung

Individualization as interpretative scheme of social inequality: On the problem of understanding in inequality research


The individualization thesis has thoroughly challenged our picture of social inequality. The question whether social inequality today should be regarded as still ‘structured’ or rather ‘individualized’ cannot be answered satisfactorily. Therefore, in our paper we present an alternative interpretation. Individualization constitutes an interpretative scheme (Deutungsmuster) of social inequality. Individualization does not stand for the end or ‘destructuration’ of social inequality. Rather, it reminds us that research up till now has not adequately reconstructed what social inequality actually means to actors. Especially class theorists have not taken seriously enough Max Webers program of a sociology aiming at the interpretive understanding of social action and thereby a causal explanation of its course and consequences.

Research in social inequality must reconstruct context specific motives of action und connect these interpretive data with quantitative distributions. In an asymmetric society (Coleman), it will focus on interpretative schemes of occupational classes, on the one hand, and interpretative schemes of informal groups, life styles and individual self-descriptions, on the other hand. So far, an elaborated concept of this kind is not available. The debate on individualization has at least shown that we need it.


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Copyright information

© VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften/Wiesbaden 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fak. 1, Institut für SoziologieGerhard-Mercator-Universität DuisburgDuisburgGermany

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