Social Stratification and Political Culture in Contemporary Urban China

Project manager Prof. Dr. Björn Alpermann and his team focus on the effects of stratification processes on political thought, with special regard to attitudes towards authority and participation.


China’s urban society is currently undergoing rapid transformation in the course of economic modernization. This constitutes a severe test for the country’s social cohesion. The party-state has to face this challenge and is now trying to counteract centrifugal tendencies. Thus, in order to stabilize its social base, the Chinese Communist Party has as a sociopolitical target the generation of a new middle class. The stability of the political system in future will depend on how the new as well as existing social groups handle their ascent or descent within the social hierarchy as such changes can have an effect on political thought and normative concepts.


As a starting point, Prof. Dr. Alpermann and his team center their research on the changes to social identity within the current process of social restructuring. They employ an open-ended, qualitative methodological approach. In the project’s first stage narrative interviews with particular social groups such as urban workers and unemployed former workers are being conducted. Later in the research process this empirical base will be expanded to enable comparison with other social groups and between different cities. The Institute for Sociology at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences is assisting the team in conducting the field research. In 2010 one scholar from the Chinese partner organization is visiting the University of Würzburg.


The project successfully kicked off with an internal workshop held on April 12, 2010. In this context, Prof. Dr. Alpermann; his new team; and the two sociologists and China experts Prof. Thomas Gold, University of California, Berkley, and Dr. Dominique Schirmer, University of Freiburg, discussed the project’s theoretical approach and its methods of field research and qualitative data analysis. Such reflections on methodology will be a crucial element of the project as it progresses. A second workshop was held in Würzburg in June 2010. There all the junior researchers from the research network attended a course on qualitative interviewing held by Dr. Jan Kruse, a sociologist at the University of Freiburg, in order to broaden their knowledge of empirical research methodology.