Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies

The economy, society and politics are the focus of work at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. The Institute conducts advanced basic research aimed at developing an empirically based theory of the social and political foundations of modern economies. The researchers at the Institute are particularly interested in the interrelationship between economic, social and political processes. For example, they are investigating how markets and business organizations are embedded in historic-institutional, political and cultural frameworks, how they develop and how their social contexts change over time.


Paulstr. 3
50676 Köln
Phone: +49 221 2767-0
Fax: +49 221 2767-555

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy

Department The Sociology of Markets more
Department Economic Sociology and Political Economy more
A status symbol to die for
Three rhinoceroses are killed in South Africa each day, their horns chopped off and sold illegally on international markets. more
How fictional expectations drive the dynamics of economic developments
The financial crisis reached its apogee in the autumn of 2008: the market for mortgage-backed securities from US mortgage loans imploded. Investors who had made what they thought were safe investments in securities, suddenly found themselves facing massive losses. The writedowns required and the payments due from credit insurance policies brought the financial system to the brink of collapse in a very short space of time. more
On the political economics of the European Central Bank's bond-buying programme. more
<p>Not every network is a guarantor of professional success for women</p>
Actresses that work with diverse, not homogeneous teams, are more successful in their careers more
Children, work and consumption: why demographics and political economy are inseparable
Births and birth rates are normally subjects for family sociology or demographics. So what are they doing in a research programme on the political economy of modern capitalism? more
Family policy must adopt a regional approach
The birth rate depends on more than just income and childcare facilities – cultural models also exert an influence more
Children are not for sale

Children are not for sale

December 08, 2014
Intercountry adoption as a field of conflict: the absence of market characteristics more
What the electric meter tells us about the birth rate
Species that use more energy live longer and have fewer children more

The EU is Missing its Targets

December 14, 2005
Member nations carrying out their promises poorly more
Max Planck scientists cooperate with partners in more than 110 countries worldwide. Here they relate their personal experiences and impressions. Marcin Serafin studied sociology at the University of Warsaw. For his doctoral thesis, he chose to attend an International Max Planck Research School, where he enjoyed the opportunity to concentrate exclusively on his doctoral research – a stark contrast to the usual working conditions of doctoral students in Poland.
The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG) has been looking at the issue of “illegal markets” since 2012, and it has proven far from easy to draw any clear lines of demarcation. After all, the cycle of manufacture, distribution and consumption isn’t always as uniformly criminal as in the case of drugs or child pornography. Academic staff and doctoral students headed by Director Jens Beckert are researching counterfeiting in Argentina, the mining and trade in diamonds in Sierra Leone, the trade in rhinoceros horn and financial market crime – a look at an innovative project in economic sociology.
With the financial markets broadening their international reach, there was hope that microcredit might alleviate poverty and lead to the emancipation of women in the “global South.” Sadly, however, there are no indications that microfinance has had a positive effect. On the contrary, the poor have suffered more discipline, while surplus labor is extracted from them even more than before. Worse still, the microfinance sector has triggered a series of devastating crises. Our author explains why we can’t use more debt to create social justice.
As Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Wolfgang Streeck’s research focuses on the tension between democratic politics and the capitalist economy. In this interview, he speaks about the consequences of fiscal policy decisions, such as the establishment of a debt brake, the cutbacks required as a result and the shared liability for debt in the eurozone.
Will Europe fail if the euro collapses? Many believe it will, and are trying to save the euro. Our author holds a different view: If the euro is to be used as a tool to preserve European integration, the eurozone must be reduced to a core of countries that are equipped for long-term stability, allowing the remaining EU members to return to the more flexible European Monetary System.
Old Buddhist temples, rural underdevelopment and extreme poverty on the one hand, skyscrapers, high-tech and world champion in exports on the other: during the past 40 years, China has surged forward to catch up with the industrialized nations.
Mankind owes its prosperity and its fund of knowledge primarily to the division of labor. It is this phenomenon that has brought both industry and science to their present peak of productivity.
The Excellence Initiative pursued by Germany’s federal government has acted as a catalyst in stimulating and accelerating the process of differentiation in the German university landscape.
In the German Rail workers’ wage dispute, the opposing parties frequently resorted to the labor courts. Political scientist Britta Rehder foresees unwelcome consequences if this becomes the general rule.
Early in the present decade, political actors at the national and regional levels finally seemed to agree: if government at both levels was to remain effective, Germany‘s system of federalism needed to be reformed.
The chances of living a long life are getting better and better – with far-reaching consequences for both individuals and society.
For members of parliament, voting is part and parcel of their political routine. But what role do lobbyists play in Europe‘s political theater?
No job offers available
Economization is a basic historical process that has profoundly changed the relationships between the economy, the state, society, and individuals since the 1970s. The political power of the private sector has grown, and the terminology, self-images, goals, and yardsticks of economics have become increasingly predominant. Only if we know about such basic historical developments we can understand the forces driving the world around us today and imagine what options are available for influencing future developments. more

The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne has a long history of researching European integration and European monetary orders. The MPIfG’s research on Europe links the analysis of multilevel systems to insights from Comparative Political Economy into the inherent logic of the manufacturing and distributive regimes that are found in the EU and the eurozone. How can the euro crisis be judged on this basis and which possible solutions follow?

2008 the market for mortgage-backed securities from US mortgage loans imploded. The writedowns required and the payments due from credit insurance policies brought the financial system to the brink of collapse. Why had economists failed to spot the warning signs of the incipient worldwide financial crisis? The rationality assumptions behind economic theory founder on the complexity of the economy; expectations cannot be understood rationally but are contingent visions of the future. Such “fictional” expectations play a central role in decisions and in the dynamics of economic developments. more
Low interest rates from the European Central Bank, loan offers galore on the internet, zero-percent financing from retailers: it has rarely been easier to get personal credit. Evoking the dangers of excessive consumption and credit bubbles oversimplifies this phenomenon, however. A political economy of household debt puts household debt into perspective. more

The short march to capitalism

2014 ten Brink, Tobias
Social and Behavioural Sciences
Old Buddhist temples, rural underdevelopment and extreme poverty on the one hand, skyscrapers, high-tech and world champion in exports on the other: during the past forty years, China has surged forward to catch up with the industrialized nations. What are the causes of this economic boom, and what are the factors that could lead to the destabilization of the Chinese success model? more
European systems of corporate governance have so far resisted harmonization because of the diverging interests of member states. With its “Golden Shares” judgment, the European Court of Justice has however begun to independently impose a liberal market approach to corporate governance. How has such a politically sensitive move towards integration been possible against the wishes of member states? more

What makes our goods valuable?

2012 Beckert, Jens
Social and Behavioural Sciences
A desire for increasing economic output causes society to have contradicting expectations of political actors. Either they should create incentives for investment, or they should do the opposite by increasing wages and government spending and thus raising the demand for goods and services. According to Chancellor Merkel, “growth is the key to everything.” This implies, however, that consumers actually keep wanting to buy more and more goods and services. But do they really? And if they do, what exactly do they want to buy? more

An index of fiscal democracy

2011 Streeck, Wolfgang; Mertens, Daniel
Social and Behavioural Sciences
Policy legacies, benefit claims and public debt are eating away at an increasing amount of tax revenues, constraining democratic policy-making and reducing the fiscal flexibility of the state to govern innovatively. An index of “fiscal democracy” can serve to compare the range of policy-making options open to Germany and the USA since the 1970s. more
How can cross-border economic transactions be regulated in order to shield societies from their negative effects? This has become an urgent issue in the wake of the financial crisis, which many commentators have attributed to a combination of too little government regulation and too much self-regulation in the private sector. The Research Group on Institution Building across Borders at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies is exploring the conditions that precede effective transnational regulation. more

No Big Deal? Why a Lower Voter Turnout is Bad for Democracy

2009 Schäfer, Armin
Social and Behavioural Sciences
Voter turnout in Germany is decreasing as it is in many established democracies. At the same time other modes of participation in politics are increasing. This combination is detrimental to the democratic ideal of political equality because elections are less socially skewed than other types of political participation. more

Goods with Negative Utility: The Lottery Market in Germaný

2008 Beckert, Jens; Lutter, Mark
Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences
The volume of sales in lottery markets is huge. Since less than half the receipts are distributed as winnings, lottery tickets have an expected utility lower than their purchase price. Why do millions of people play the lottery week after week anyway, even though they are losing money? more

Why do we trust? A theoretical approach to an everyday problem

2007 Möllering, Guido
Behavioural Biology Social and Behavioural Sciences
Because trust is based on many things in everyday life, research on trust needs to follow many paths of inquiry. Research and real-life events show that the foundation of trust is the willing suspension of uncertainty. When people trust, they set uncertainty aside and make a leap of faith, all the while knowing they might need to bring uncertainty back in if facts contradict their expectations. more

Do they lobby in Brussels like they do in America?

2006 Woll, Cornelia
Social and Behavioural Sciences
Long considered a suspicious activity in Europe, lobbying used to be thought of as an American way of doing politics. Yet today, Europe is the world’s second largest market for the lobbying industry. Have the Europeans copied the Americans? While there are similarities between the two systems, the Europeans have a very different way of promoting their organized interests. In the long run, they are less aggressive. more
In scholarly debate and the public arena, the German biotech industry is considered significantly less competitive than its British counterpart. It is also thought to be funded largely by the state. A study at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies suggests that these assumptions are not correct. No clear difference can be made out between the competitiveness of the biotech industry in Germany and Britain. The study also shows that biotech firms in Germany are funded mostly by venture capital, much of which comes from foreign investors. State funding plays little more than a supplementary role. more

The role of federalism in Germany today

2004 Manow, Philip
Social and Behavioural Sciences
Germany’s brand of federalism was once considered one of the most outstanding features of the country’s system of government. Now, however, it is thought to be the cause of many of Germany’s political and economic problems. In recent studies researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies have found that critics are largely justified in saying that German federalism is so full of policy gridlock that it has become inefficient. There is a chance, though, that the system can reform itself from within. more
Go to Editor View