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Summary of the Research Programme

People differ from one another not only in their physical features, but also in their nationality and ethnicity; in their cultural preferences, lifestyles, attitudes, orientations, and philosophies; in their competencies, qualifications, and traits; and in their professions. But how do such heterogeneities lead to social inequalities? What are the social mechanisms underlying that process? These are the questions that are of core interest in the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) “From Heterogeneities to Inequalities.”

Heterogeneities indicate difference, while inequality may refer to the outcome of socially legitimized mechanisms for the distribution of opportunities and the societal division of labour. The concept of inequality must be thought of in the plural—it is a multidimensional phenomenon. This applies in turn not only to the different components of inequality and their sociostructural distribution, but also to the perception, interpretation, and evaluation of different inequalities and states of inequality. We consider both classic resource inequality and inequalities in social recognition and in access to participation in various spheres of life.
Based on this distinction between difference and inequality, the projects that form the SFB all share a focus on the social mechanisms through which individual heterogeneities—in the sense of mere differences between members of a society—lead to social inequalities. The ways that particular characteristics of heterogeneity lead to particular inequalities is analyzed both from the synchronic perspective of different spheres of life and from the diachronic perspective of the life course, in order to do justice to the range of different interdependencies, levels, and contexts of inequality production. Comparisons between the concrete, substantive mechanisms that are constitutive of the various features of heterogeneity and those that are constitutive of the various inequalities form the longer-term research direction of the SFB as a whole, transcending the individual projects. The overarching issue is the homology of mechanisms of inequality production with the various features of heterogeneity, dimensions of inequality, and locations and phases of inequality production. SFB research is aimed toward developing a higher-level, abstract and theoretical typology of social mechanisms, not only building on the concrete and substantive mechanisms but also incorporating issues crucial to the wider theoretical debate. Put more broadly, to what extent can concrete mechanisms in specific fields of action be derived from more general, abstract and theoretical social mechanisms; and to what extent can generalized, abstract-theoretical social mechanisms be found to recur in manifestations that vary according to their context?

Diewald M, Faist T (2011) SFB 882 Working Paper Series; 1.
Bielefeld: DFG Research Center (SFB) 882 From Heterogeneities to Inequalities.