Overall Research Program

Social Problems in Contemporary Modernity
The Formation, Governance and Consequences of Public Issues

Research program Sociology Section

The research of the Sociology Section addresses the formation of social problems and their consequences in the context of ‘liquid modernity’. Central to the concept of liquid modernity is the idea that stable social institutions (class, family, labour, community, nation-state) are being replaced by fluid institutions and networks that produce more insecurity and make social life less predictable. The research program takes up key sociological questions (regarding social equality, social cohesion and identify formation) but addresses them in a context of rapid change characterized by flows of persons, goods and capital. This is a modernity characterized by continuous re-evaluation, risk and mobility, and hence by the permanent disembedding of individuals, families, institutions, organizations and communities. The research program specifically focuses on the social problems related to this modernity, their cultural, institutional and technological contexts and the policy responses to such problems.

In line with C. Wright Mills’ classic distinction between ‘private troubles’ and ‘public issues’, the program focuses on 'public issues' that are related to the main institutions of modern society.(1) It analysis the construction of public issues and the nature of contemporary 'social problems', and also their organizational forms and social consequences for individuals and families.
The most pertinent examples of the research program are the following:

  • Public issues: Global forms of mobility; migration control; big, open and linked data, monitoring and surveillance; families in transition; the fragmentation of citizenship; uses and meaning of public space; changing political climates, including populism.

  • Professional contexts: Changing work conditions (e.g., flexibilization); the contestation of traditional forms of authority (e.g., the shift from science to contested knowledge); changing conceptions of the professional and the organization;

  • Personal consequences: The personal consequences of changing welfare entitlements and changing work arrangements; the character of families and the impact of mobility on the (transnational) family; identity formation and technologies of the self.

The research program has therefore a triple focus on the spheres of

  • the public,
  • the professional and
  • the personal.

This triple entails a thematic focus while aiming at theoretical and methodological openness, and opts for a sociology that matters, in the conviction that sociological knowledge is most valuable when it has relevance also to publics outside the academy. A sociology that matters explicitly engages with issues of wider public concern through, among other things, a high degree of participation by members of the research program in the public sphere (including a variety of media).

The sociological research agenda feeds directly into the research concerns of the Public Administration Section. While its predominant focus is on forms of governance related to public issues; the Sociology Section focuses on the social and technological context in which public issues emerge, as well as on their relations with and consequences for personal life. Members of the Public Administration Section and the Sociology Section cooperate in several research projects, such as the EU 7th Framework project INSPIRES on innovative social labour market polices and the EU/JPI Urban Europe project IMAGINATION on the urban governance of labour migration from Central and Eastern Europe.

Lastly, the research program has a decidedly European focus. This is expressed both in research concerns and research sites as in research funding, including several EU -projects (FP7; NORFACE and JPI), two ERC Starting projects and one ERC Advanced project.

In order to guarantee a sustainable scale of research, building on the strengths of research lines set up in the past, and in accordance with the research foci of the projects funded, the program has been divided in two research lines with corresponding subprograms that were first constructed in 2010. These are:

  • Citizenship, Migration & the City (CIMIC)

  • Family, Welfare & Work (FWW) in the 21st century. 

In addition, the Sociology Section coordinates the newly formed Erasmus Institute for Public Knowledge (EIPK).


1) C. Wright Mills wrote (1959, p. 8): Troubles  occur within the character of the individual and within the range of his immediate others (...) A trouble is a private matter (...) Issues have to do with matters that transcend these local environments of the individual and the range of inner life. They have to do with the organization of many such milieus into the institutions of an historical society (...) An issue is a public matter (...)."