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The Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES)

An Institute for Basic Research in the Social Sciences

by Franz Urban Pappi & Andreas Weber

The establishment of the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung - MZES) as an institute of the University of Mannheim in the year 1989 represents a major extension of basic-research capacities in the German social sciences. The Centre is provided with an 18-member academic staff for conducting basic social science research. In addition, another roughly 24 scientists are working in grant-funded projects. This research staff is supported by a well-developed infrastructure, consisting of a library, the computer department, and the Research Archive EURODATA.

Central Questions of Research

Focussing the research on "The Developed Industrial Societies and Western Europe in Transition" the Centre was closely tied to research priorities of the Departments of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Mannheim. Committed to the Mannheim tradition of comparative social research, the MZES focuses on the study of the integration of European societies and political systems, especially in the framework of the European Union.

In the form of triannual research programs the overall research theme is given further elaboration and is put into practice in individual projects. With its 1993-1995 research program, the Centre moved into a decisive phase. The groundwork for the applied-for grant-based projects has already been laid at the MZES. It was possible, therefore, to achieve greater coordination among the individual projects.

According to four main branches of research orientation and disciplines the institute has a total of four Research Departments:

  1. Social Structures and the Welfare State in Europe: Comparative sociological research of European societies
  2. Problems of Governing in Democratic Constitutional States: Comparative politics of the European states and their policies
  3. Political and Social Aspects of European Integration
  4. History of the GDR and Eastern Europe.

The Departments

In Research Department I the comparative analyses of social structure and of the welfare state are interlinked in the investigation of the allocation of life chances, the creation of groups, and the formation of conflict in European populations. The social-structural analysis focuses on work-force structures, but these are conceptualized in an expanded sense by differentiating according to ethnic and regional origin and according to age and sex. The welfare-state analysis centres on the systems of social security, expanded to include central social services. Peter Flora is actually working on a project on the transformation of the family and family policies in international comparison (cf. the article of F. Rothenbacher in this Newsletter). In his project on the "Determinants of divorce" Hartmut Esser combines sociological and economic explanatory approaches in a theoretical modelling of the development of "conjugal" partnerships. These are two examples of the research of Department I.

In Research Department II democratic nation-states represent the primary units of investigation. The ways in which their systems of government function are examined by studying their parliaments and/or other institutions. This institutional analysis is complemented by an investigation of the elections to the European Parliament and to national parliaments, using a comparative perspective. A third focus, aside from institutional and electoral (or attitudinal) research, involves policy research, especially decision-making in specific policy areas from a comparative perspective (politics of policy), as well as policies of the European Union, e.g. labor and social policy or agricultural policy. Herbert Döring employs a large-scale project as the basis for comparing West-European parliaments in terms of the extent to which majority principles and minority rights influence decision-making style. This creates links between the projects in progress on policy research under the direction of Franz Urban Pappi, which aim to take advantage of recent models of policy decisions to explain, for example, the bargaining and negotiatory processes that take place in the Council of Ministers of the European Union. Hermann Schmitt is studying issue voting within a larger, international research project on the 4th European election.

At the core of Research Department III is the analysis of the interrelations between national-structural diversity and the process of European integration. This object of study is given concrete form e.g. in investigations of the role of regions or of changes in the conditions of interest aggregation under the influence of EU institutions. Beate Kohler-Koch is involved in a project on "Regions as Units of Action in European Politics": the aim is - by taking selected regions in individual member states of the EU - to improve our state of knowledge about the actual current importance and possible future role of regions as political actors in a European constitutional system. Research Department III is also the context in which the first cooperative efforts with the Faculty of Economics and Statistics occurred, taking concrete form in a project brought into the Department by Roland Vaubel. It involves explanations for the increasingly more comprehensive character of regulations on the European-Union level. Several projects in the Department address the interconnection between growing centralization of functions on the supranational level and rising demands for regional and local autonomy.

A special situation exists in Research Department IV, where Hermann Weber made the "Politics and History of the GDR" into a topic of a research facility that was established prior to the founding of the Centre. The primary goal is the completion of a history of the GDR with four volumes of historical analysis and documentation envisioned. This project, initiated prior to the dissolution of the GDR, now also has access to important material unavailable prior to 1989. Since unification, there has been a strong increase in scholarly and public interest in the history of the GDR, and it has very quickly become apparent how very much in demand Hermann Weber and his staff are, given their record of research on this topic. By taking up research in international Communism, the first step has been made in the direction of a strongly comparative orientation. In the future, this will be followed by further steps in the direction of research on Eastern Europe, conducted by Egbert Jahn. The MZES has to respond to new political developments. The breakdown of the Communist regime in Eastern Europe confronts these societies with immense problems of transformation. For this reason, the original focus on Western Europe contained in the founding program has been expanded. Therefore, the Research Department IV, is, in the medium term, to turn into a Research Department for Eastern Europe.

Organization and Infrastructure

Even if the focus of the Institute is clearly on the fields of sociology and political science, it displays a broad understanding of basic research in the social sciences, a conception that also encompasses contemporary history and the economic sciences. Organizationally, this is reflected in the fact that its supervisory board, the Collegium (Kollegium), consists of professors from the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Mannheim, and additionally, up to four professors from the Faculty of Economics and Statistics. Other scholars are also incorporated, for instance, from the respective Faculties of Business Administration and Jurisprudence. This expansion is based on the recognition of shared research interests in the study of European societies from a comparative perspective.

The directorship of the Mannheim Centre is appointed on a rotating basis. The Managing Director and the heads of the individual Research Departments are elected by the Collegium, and elections thus can lead to new research impulses for the MZES. There is no requirement that projects from the founding period be continued. Within the general framework of European research - in the sense of the comparative study of European societies and the problems of their integration, there is great leeway for initiating and implementing projects with new foci. The reliance upon grant funding, especially for comprehensive and costly field research (surveys, censuses, etc.) increases the outward orientation of the Centre.

One of the central parts of the infrastructure of the MZES - besides the library and the computer department - is the Research Archive EURODATA. It serves the internal research of the Centre's staff; and, given prior consultation, it also makes its holdings available to outside scholars. The basic function of EURODATA is fully described in the Editorial of this Newsletter.

An important institution associated with the MZES is the Zentrum für Europäische Umfrageanalysen und Studien (ZEUS; Centre for European Surveys and Studies). The European Commission has assigned ZEUS the task of processing the "Eurobarometer" surveys and incorporating them into an integrated data-base system; in this way, the entire data holdings accumulated since the first Eurobarometer survey in 1970 are made utilizable for secondary analyses of the development of the attitudes and opinions of the population of the EU countries.

Evaluation

The Centre aims to interlink its various projects not only with individual research departments, but also across departments, in terms of its general object of study. In order to perform this task successfully, the Centre has to rely on the critical monitoring of its projects by independent scholars from various European countries. This is the purpose of the Advisory Board (Beirat). Its members are: Gerhard Lehmbruch (Konstanz) Guido Martinotti (Milano), Yves Mény (Firenze), Frans Stokman (Groningen), and Helen Wallace (Brighton). The Centre's grant-funded projects are also subject to the strict external control of the peer-review procedures of the German Science Foundation (DFG) and the Volkswagen Foundation.


Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung
Mannheim Centre for European Social Research
MZES:
University of Mannheim
D - 68131 Mannheim
Tel.: xx49 / x621 / 292 - 1885, Fax: xx49 / x621 / 292 - 1735
E-Mail: direkt@mzes.uni-mannheim.de
WWW: http://www.mzes.uni-mannheim.de/

Author:
Prof. Dr. Franz Urban Pappi
Dr. Andreas Weber
University of Mannheim, MZES, D-68131 Mannheim
Phone: (+49) (0)621 - 292 1890
E-mail: aweber@mzes.sowi.uni-mannheim.de

EURODATA Newsletter No.1, p.13-15