Work – Society – Nature

The working group comprises both IfS staff members and external interested parties and is open to all those who want to critically examine the development of (wage) labor and society.

Discussions take place, on the one hand, in the context of our own research projects and the specific questions arising from them (sketches of ideas, initial results of empirical research, etc.). On the other hand, we deal with current social developments in the field of (wage) labor and relevant (critical) positions on them. The relevant topics and corresponding texts are jointly defined according to specific needs. For the coming period, we have decided to concentrate on the areas of socio-ecological transformation, platform capitalism and social reproduction, the transnationalization of labor, the “refusal of work,” law and lawlessness in work, and the social utility orientation of work, among others. In our approach, we consider it important not to look at changes in the world of work in isolation, but always to examine the respective conceptual treatment with regard to its conception of work and social theory, how they are connected, or what insights follow from this connection for the relevant special topic.

We welcome interested parties who are open to a qualified commitment to participate.

Aesthetics and Media Culture

The working group deals with sociological, political and social-philosophical questions in the area of aesthetics and media culture. In addition to the historical genesis of a marketized culture and its social and political impacts, current developments in the field of social and so-called participatory media culture (the Internet, pop culture, reality TV, etc.) are also discussed. Art and culture are considered not only as aesthetic and communicative forms of expression and relationship, but also with regard to their contribution to democratization and the expansion of cultural participation. The subject of the working group is the question of the extent to which culture is associated in a paradoxical way with a growing reification and marketization in the cultural sphere and with new forms of criticism and political practice. These questions are discussed with reference both to the classical cultural criticism of Critical Theory and to more recent research contributions.

Democracy and Participation

The working group addresses challenges for the future of democracy, especially as they have come to light in the wake of the financial and austerity crisis. It deals with socially controversial debates about flight, migration, and minorities as well as conflicts related to housing, urban development, and neighborhoods. In future, we plan include the debates on climate change and decarbonization and pandemic policy, as well as those on the political role of scientific expertise.
The focus is, on the one hand, on opportunities for political participation beyond the mere election of ruling elites and, on the other, on the specific participation problems of marginalized groups and the problems of expertocracy and of populist counter-movements.

Coordinators: Hermann Kocyba, Maria Kontos, and Chantal Magnin

Field Research

This working group is aimed at researchers conducting qualitative, empirical studies and provides a forum for exchanges among colleagues at various stages of a research project. The subject of the discussions and exchanges is not only the production of empirical knowledge, but also (self-)critical reflection on the entire research process and its situatedness, including (grounded) theory formation. With its commitment to adopting a reflexive stance on one’s own research activity, the working group locates itself in the reconstructive research tradition of Critical Theory and builds on other (inter)disciplinary approaches to critical social research. The monthly block meetings of the working group consist of consultation on cases among colleagues, joint reading of methodologicall and theoretical texts, and exchanges with invited guests. In addition, the members engage in joint interpretations of empirical material and discussions of drafts of articles or book chapters. The program is drawn up in a collegial manner, taking into consideration the challenges of the respective research projects. The discussions in the working group are continued in public lectures and workshops with guest speakers.

Gender, Kinship, Sexuality

The working group ties in, on the one hand, with the research of the IfS on the connection between family, socialization, and society, especially the studies on authoritarianism, and, on the other, with the often neglected tradition of feminist research at the Institute. In addition, the working group would like to take up the topic of another Frankfurt line of research that has lacked the necessary institutional material support in recent decades—namely, the critical-theoretical and empirical examination of sexuality. The working group continues the social-theoretical perspective on these areas in the tradition of Critical Theory: Society and social change, together with questions of emancipation, cannot be understood without including gender, reproduction and care relations, as well as the order of the sexual, which in turn are profoundly shaped by the constitution of capitalist societies. At the same time, these lines of research will be updated to take into account a variety of recent critical-theoretical approaches and current studies. Thus, it is important to think of social relations as sexual relations and to base our analyses on an expanded concept of kinship that goes beyond the model of the heteronormative family and takes into account all forms of caring communities, including friendships. At the same time, we take up perspectives that make care the starting point for reflections in democratic theory and thus also critically redefine the much-discussed notion of participation as social citizenship. For this purpose, the working group will also undertake intersectional and decolonial perspectivizations and discuss them against the background of social theoretical debates within gender, queer, Black, and childhood studies.


Christina Engelmann, Sabine Flick, Sarah Mühlbacher, Sarah Speck


Christina Engelmann |

Sabine Flick |

Sarah Mühlbacher |


Critical Education Research

The working group takes as its starting point a threefold critique: a critique of the current transformation of the education system, which preaches inclusion and practices selection, celebrates excellence and spreads uniformity; of the dominance of an evidence-based empirical education research, whose investigation of social reality leads to its effective normalization; and finally a critique of the rhetoric of a permanent educational crisis, which skillfully combines justified criticism of the commercialization of education and culture with the assertion of traditional privileges.

With this background, the working group analyzes and criticizes developments in the fields of education policy and education research in the national, transnational and international context after 1945, with a particular focus on the current structural dynamics of both fields. The working group examines these developments from a social-theoretical perspective, which ties in with IfS research and also includes various disciplines and research approaches from the social sciences and humanities. The theoretical and methodological approach of the working group focuses both on the subjective (psychological, affective, aesthetic, cognitive) and objective (institutional, economic, political, social) conditions of transformations as well as on their ideological legitimizations and epistemic forms of justification.

The working group understands itself as an open forum in which critical educational analyses and research can be publicly discussed. The working group consists of both IfS staff members and external participants. A colloquium (hybrid) takes place four times a year, in which the conception and results of research projects on critical education research as well as theoretical contributions on bildung, education and socialization are presented and discussed.

Alongside the Institute for Social Research, the working group is organized in its founding constellation by members of the Institute for Educational Science at the University of Wuppertal and the “Critical Education Research” network (Goethe-University Frankfurt, University of Mainz).

We look forward to the participation of further people interested!


Ricarda Biemüller (

Rita Casale (

Christina Engelmann (

Laura Hanemann (

Critical Social Theory and Social Philosophy

The working group deals with the history and presence of Frankfurt School Critical Theory as an intellectual tradition based on the mediation of social research and social philosophy. The focus of interest is on the critique of ideology and domination as elements of a Critical Theory of society that seeks to achieve object adequacy through the constellation of concepts, theory and empirical research. Based on pressing issues and in confrontation with conflicting approaches, we want to work out the potential of this approach as well as discuss possible gaps. The main interest of our discussions is the question of method and task of critical social theory today.

Critical Sociology

The working group, which is jointly supported by the Institute for Social Research and the Department of Sociology of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Goethe University Frankfurt, sees itself as a forum for critical social research. The working group organizes the lecture series “critical sociology,” which explores starting points, objects, and effects of sociological criticism in connection with the tradition of Frankfurt School Critical Theory. In the process, the most diverse areas of society are brought into focus. The discussions are framed by cross-cutting questions that also address sociological critical practice itself with a critical (self-)reflexive orientation: Which objects can be subjected to critique, why, and from what perspective? What are the theoretical and methodological requirements of critical sociological research? What forms of criticism can be distinguished and how? In this way, the working group wants to contribute to a (self-)understanding about tasks, requirements, and goals of a critical sociology of the present in the conversation between the tradition of Critical Theory and conceptions of criticism from other traditions. Furthermore, it promotes the cooperation between the IfS and the Faculty of Social Sciences of Goethe University by promoting the networking and exchange of all researchers whose work or projects are dedicated to the questions and problems of critical sociology.


Laura Hanemann, Stephan Lessenich, Susanne Martin, Doris Schweitzer


Stephan Lessenich |