Sociology beyond the University: The Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna

Sociological research and training in Austria is not only done by universities, but also by extra-university institutions, which are an important pillar within the academic sociological landscape. One mayor player in this field is the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) in Vienna, which in addition to sociology hosts departments of economics and political sciences. The IHS was founded in 1963 by the sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld und the economist Oskar Morgenstern – both of them Jewish migrants during the Nazi-dictatorshEntrance of the IHSip – with funding from the Ford-Foundation. The aim of the institute was then to (re-)establish the social sciences in Austria and to further develop the IHS to a leading social science center.

Today the Department of Sociology consists of 25 researchers, 15 student assistants and 8 doctoral students. The organizational structure of the department rests on three pillars; two thematically focused research groups (EQUI and STEPS) and the postgraduate training program on the “Sociology of Social Practices”. The postgraduate training program is the interrelating link between the other two departmental units.

EQUI (Employment-Qualification-Innovation) is a research group within the Department of Sociology and was founded in 1999 in order to strengthen problem-oriented and empirically based, yet theory-driven commissioned research, and to establish sustainable expertise of the IHS in the fields of employment, qualification, and innovation. With respect to the latter, EQUI substantially contributes to the advisory function of the IHS to the Austrian government – with a focus on European issues. During the last year the advisory function has been further strengthened in education and training policy by expanding project-related collaborations with the economics department on the improvement of educational governance in Austria. In the fields of early school leaving and transition from school to work a series of projects substantially contributed to policy development in Austria. EQUI was also responsible for a considerable part of the latest national report on education policy in Austria. The research of EQUI mainly focuses on the change and development in education and employment systems, emphasizing their interrelations and coordinating mechanisms as well as the role of knowledge production in those processes. Key issues are social and gender specific disparities in schools, higher education, adult education, and in the labor market. The main methodological focus is on comparative research, which extends into evaluation research as well as the development of indicators and monitoring systems. Quantitative and qualitative methods are regularly applied in combination and further developed. Increasing attention will be paid to quasi-experimental methods for causal inference, which becomes more important in international educational research.

The interdisciplinary research group Science, Technology and Environment as social Practices’ (STEPS) was founded in November 2005. It started its work with the observation that science and technology (S&T) are driving forces of post-industrial societies. They significantly influence developments in economics, politics, medicine, media and the public discussion. At the same time science and technology shape the relationships between societies and their natural environment. Science and technology are considered to have positive impacts such as economic growth and the evolution of democracy. But S&T also yield negative effects, which are mostly reflexive: in other words societies are increasingly confronted with problems produced by societies themselves. Science, technology and society-environment-relations do not follow linear, predetermined pathways. Rather science and technology and the society-environment-relationships are constituted through social action. Social action produces, reproduces and varies social and technological structures by means of social practices. Social practices are clustered social actions, which consolidate as patterns. They can be described as more or less routinized ways in which bodies are moved, subjects are treated, objects are used and the world is understood. To analyze social practices in different societal fields is a genuine task for social science. As a consequence STEPS focuses on social practices in the context of the emergence, shaping, impacts and governance of science and technology. The group also contributes to societal problem solving in this field through science-based interventions in (semi-) public discourses and through policy-oriented recommendations. The social production of gender differences is viewed upon as a fundamental social practice and is treated as cross cutting theme of science, technology and society-environment-relationships.

The Department of Sociology offers a three-year post-graduate program in sociology with the theme “Sociology of Social Practices”. The overall aim of the departmental training program is to train young postgraduate scholars in social research concentrating on the “Sociology of Social Practices”. The course provides a general training in sociology at post-graduate level including theory, methods and contemporary research problems. Graduates should become familiar with both quantitative and qualitative methods at an advanced level as well as developing complementary skills enabling them to compete on the international jobs market and to participate effectively in international projects. At the end of the three-year period, participants are expected to be able to present an advanced research project at a level equivalent to a doctoral dissertation. The program provides improved career opportunities for graduates in research and in areas where research training is important. Over the last ten years roughly one half of the IHS students have been employed at universities, one quarter in public administration and one quarter in the private sector.

For further information see:

Beate LittigBeate Littig is head of the Sociology Department at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna. She studied sociology, history, philosophy and psychology at the Universities of Göttingen, Hamburg and at the Free University Berlin. Her research and teaching include qualitative methods, theory of practice, gender studies, environmental sociology and socio-ecological transformation.

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