SOLDISK: Discourses on solidarity in times of crisis

Analysing and explaining solidarity in the context of migration

The research project

How do political decision-makers and social actors understand solidarity? Is it possible to identify patterns in communication at the political, social and individual level that point to either increased or decreased solidarization or to the pluralisation of solidarity discourses? How resilient is a society’s understanding of solidarity and what could be a potential communication strategy to counter the erosion of solidarity? Do discourses on solidarity at the political level correlate with discourses at the individual or social level?

The interdisciplinary research consortium at the University of Hildesheim explores these and similar questions. Researchers from the divisions of political science and sociology of the Institute of Social Sciences and of the Institute for Information Science and Speech Technology cooperate in four sub-projects: the micro level (project headed by Prof. Kneuer) covers online and offline communication of residents; the meso level analyses communication of societal actors (project headed by Prof. Corsten) and the macro level covers communication of political decision makers (project headed by Prof. Schammann). Instruments from the field of computational linguistics (project headed by Prof. Heid) will help realise and supplement the discourse analysis conducted at the three levels.

The project lasts for three years and is funded by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower-Saxony and VolkswagenStiftung.

 

Sub-project 3: the macro level

Sub-project 3 aims at analyzing the understanding of solidarity as it can be derived from political deliberation on solidarity in the context of migration (the macro level). We want to pinpoint different conceptions of solidarity, delimit them from each other and trace their development over the past four and a half centuries. To this end, we examine the communication on solidarity by political actors, including speeches given during plenary sessions of Bundestag und Bundesrat. In a second step, we also analyse speeches given during plenary sessions of the parliaments of the federal states, as well as by members of the federal and regional governments and by political parties. Moreover, with respect to certain specific aspects, we refer to statements of politically active civil society organisations or activists, should it not be possible to rely on data of sub-projects 1 and 2.

The analysis at the macro level covers the time period between November 1973 – the moment the federal government decided to discontinue the recruitment of foreign labour (within the framework of the “guestworker” agreements) – and December 2019. We are particularly interested in the questions of if and why the prominence of certain conceptions of solidarity varies over the years. To put it differently: do specific events come along with particular understandings of solidarity? The period of investigation encompasses numerous migration phenomena and political and legal reactions that have triggered vivid discussions in the public and political realm, including the debates on family reunification (both in the 1970s and 80s and today), the Residence Act von 2004, the elimination of limitations to the freedom of movement after the 2004 and 2007 EU enlargement, the arrival of increased numbers of persons seeking international protection (mid-1980s, 2015/2016), to mention but a few examples. We are interested in the question of whether some of the debates were accompanied by intensified communication on solidarity. To this end, we conduct a discourse analysis which is realised with the help of instruments from the field of computational linguistics.

The macro project divides into three building blocks:

  1. Analysis of the negotiations between the members of the federal parliament, the members of the federal government as well as of the regional governments that took place in the plenary of the German Bundestag and the German Bundesrat between 1973 and 2019. The around 3500 plenary debates constitute our main corpus for the purpose of analysing communication on political solidarity in the context of migration.
  2. Detailed analysis of those series of debates that display a heightened concentration of expressions of solidarity in the plenary debates and that have led to specific policies (incl. legislative proposals, symbolic acts of government). For this purpose, we take into consideration further contributions of, to some extent, additional political actors, e.g. parliamentary questions, plenary debates of the parliaments of the federal states, party programmes or NGO position papers. In this way we hope to gain a clearer picture of the conceptions of solidarity of the various actors as well as insights on the actors’ capacity to access the debates. At the same time, we refer back to the micro and meso level: is it possible to identify those discourses on solidarity conducted at the political level also at the individual and social level?
  3. Qualitative analysis of the “practical” effects of political solidarity. We study the relationship of those policies analysed in the second step with their respective implementation. In this context, we are particularly interested in the conceptions of solidarity that are reflected by the policies. We conduct qualitative interviews with leading actors of the administration at the federal, regional and local level.