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Department of Political Science

Research area Political Sociology

Political sociology is concerned with how social structure shapes politics. Social structure refers to those commonalities and contrasts that arise between individuals based on their experiences in the labour process, as members of religious communities and other social groups, or based on their gender. Political sociology includes Stein Rokkan's macro-historical explanation of the formation of party systems in Western Europe, as well as research in the tradition of Paul Lazarsfeld's Columbia School of electoral studies, which explores the social foundations of politics through surveys. The field of political sociology is thus defined by the type of questions asked, which establishes a methodological pluralism - it is the specific research question that determines the method.

By its very nature, political sociology is interested in those social relations that involve power and privilege (otherwise there would be nothing political about them). These social differences are sometimes perceived as such and politicised, but just as often they are kept outside the realm of the political. This can happen through the force of traditional social norms, through the embedding of individuals in patronage networks, or through narratives that depoliticise or legitimise empirically existing social differences. Research in this area therefore seeks to overcome the socio-structural determinism that still characterises some approaches to political sociology and therefore combines the structural with an actor-centred perspective.

The research questions that can be raised in such a perspective are manifold. Besides voting behaviour, they include, for example, preferences for a democratic or an autocratic order.

More on research in this area

Director of the area


Academic guests:
Gerlinde Theunissen
Jessica Lang
Prof. Dr. Simon Persico

Auxiliary assistants:
Louise Alberti


Main areas of research

Cleavage formation and change of party systems in Western Europe and Latin America, parties and democratisation, protest politics.



Department of Political Science
Affolternstrasse 56
8050 Zurich
Tel: 044 634 58 35 / 044 634 38 41
Office opening hours: Monday to Friday: 09:00 - 12:00 / 13:30 - 16:30