Investigating and transforming resonance (RESet)

Philipp Gies, Center for Labour and Political Education (zap), University of Bremen

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-209-Gies.pdf

In our research project RESet at the Center for Labour and Political Education (zap) at the University of Bremen we look at the current crisis of democracy and representation in Germany. From this we investigate the results of individual and societal frictions as well as experiences of exclusion and marginalization within the society. (Decker 2016; Bofinger et al. 2012) We recognize a strong connection between societal and political exclusion on the one hand an (in-)stability of employment relations on the other. (For instances as results from digitalization of work, increase of atypical employment, growing precarization and the lasting risk of unemployment and hence risk of poverty.) We analyze the relation of persons towards their work and towards the democratic system in the context of Hartmut Rosas resonance theory.  Following the empirical studies we aim to highlight  possibilities of (political) adult education to react and change current developments.

The concept “resonance“ comprises a certain modus of relation of each individual towards their environment, like political structures, workplace, civil society or simply towards other individuals. It is a reciprocal answer-relation, meaning both sides act with their own voice and reacting to each other. The opposite of resonance thus is alienation.

We expect that the postulated political crisis emerges both from a rising alienation - in the sense of the two sides not recognizing and understanding each other - and individually lacking participation of citizens – resulting from an absence of competences and/or missing engagement from institutions. Increasingly both sides do not recognize each other and will not foster the necessary reciprocal answer-relation. (Rosa 2016: 298) We see continuous and stable employment relations as one central factor against alienation within the society. It is - seen as standard employment relation - providing material resources, delivering capabilities, offering interactions and possibly meaningful work activities. Thus, endowing the individual a position and identification within society. The loss of work or even a precarious situation compromises (or even cuts) these possibilities of being part of the resonance relation. (Rosa 2012) Failing to balance the role of work through other social and cultural spheres individuals tend towards isolation, apathy and radicalization against society.

The diverse social status groups are affected differently. Especially unemployed, people in precarious situations and people bound to the low-wage sector bear a higher risk of feeling (and being) excluded and marginalized from society.  (Dörre et al. 2013, Bernhard 2016) Being hardly equipped with material resources, having hardly securities to plan ahead and often without (employee) representation, has a likely impact on self-efficacy. One reason could be that precarious work relations won't lead towards the nexus of voice and entitlement – meaning the comprehensible entanglement of articulating ones interest (voice) and gaining on the other hand effective rights and obligations (entitlement) on  democratic terms. Without that nexus decisions are likely not representing ones own interests. And in general societal developments can't be perceptible and  acceptable, which would be the core for a functioning relation between individual and society. (Mückenberger 2010)

Hence, we investigate and work together with long-term unemployed. We expect that the perception of societal participation is strongly influenced by the opportunities to work and thus reflecting self-esteem and personal competences.  Additionally, we interview experts of state institutions and work related measures to gain insight of the other side connected to the answer-relation between individual and society.

In a wider development, we see changes through the digitalization of the working environment, leading to restructuring new developments of whole industrial sectors. In the civil society it leads for one part to a digital social space in which communications, opinions and arguments can be gained and distributed on online platforms. Training political and social digital competences takes an ever greater role in education and measures for unemployed, especially with regard to   the labor market and societal/political participation. We advocate the use of digital tools in the context of (adult) education and trainings.  Therefore, we highlight and test in our research transfer experimental methods to co-create corresponding tools.

We want to set up more positive resonance relations as we believe that these help to strengthen the integration of and identification with democratic societies. Succeeding in giving all groups of society likewise the perception and affiliation of resonance allows for stabilizing democracy in its entirety. And so we hope to gain insight on current resonance relations of the German society and to understand the effect of frictions and alienations between individuals, society and politics. Consequently, we try to evaluate following questions: At which times can an individual friction lead to an alienation with society itself? What are the central factors stopping or accelerating these developments? How can, given further digitalization, new (digital) societal relations be established? Which impact have employment relations on societal participation? How can our findings transfer in practical approaches of adult education? And which impact can digital tools have in this field? With nearly two years of research in September 2019 we want to answer some of these questions within track 1 of the ILERA 2019.


  • Bernhard, Chr. (2016): Materielle Lebensbedingungen im Grundsicherungsbezug. in: Hans-Böckler-Stiftung (Edit.), Krisenerfahrung Hartz IV: Lebenssituationen im Grundsicherungsbezug. Schwerpunktheft. WSI Mitteilungen, No. 69 (5), Düsseldorf, 344–352.
  • Bofinger, P.; Habermas, J.; Nida-Rümelin, J. (2012): Einspruch gegen die Fassadendemokratie, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 03.08.2012, [24.01.2019].
  • Decker, F. (2016): Demokratie ohne Wähler, Politik ohne Bürger. Neue Herausforderungen für die Politikwissenschaft, in: Gallus, A. (Edit.), Politikwissenschaftliche Passagen. Deutsche Streifzüge zur Erkundung eines Faches, Baden-Baden, 109–128.
  • Dörre, K.; Scherschel, K.; Booth, M.; Haubner, T.; Marquardsen, K.; Schierhorn, K. (Edit.) (2013): Bewährungsproben für die Unterschicht? Soziale Folgen aktivierender Arbeitsmarktpolitik, Frankfurt am Main.
  • Mückenberger, U. (2010): Demokratische Einhegung der Globalisierung? Neue Akteurskonstellationen bei universellen Normbildungsprozessen, in: KJ Kritische Justiz, No. 43 (1), 38–45.
  • Rosa, H. (2012): Arbeit und Entfremdung, in: Dörre, K.; Sauer, D.; Wittke, V. (Edit.), Kapitalismustheorie und Arbeit. Neue Ansätze soziologischer Kritik, , Frankfurt am Main, 410–420.
  • – (2016): Resonanz. Eine Soziologie der Weltbeziehung, Berlin.

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