Mainstreaming Sport Science in Germany

Introducing ICSSPE’s Members
09/10/2014 16:23

Sebastian Braun is Professor for Sport Sociology at the Humboldt University Berlin (Germany) and has recently been appointed as Director of the newly founded Berlin Institute for Empirical Research on Integration and Migration (BIM). ICSSPE talked to him about his work and current projects as well as the interdisciplinary idea the BIM is based on.


ICSSPE: Sebastian Braun, could you briefly outline your main research areas?


Braun: In the last 15 years one of my main interests has been research on civil society, voluntary associations and civic engagement linked to social integration and social capital. It was not until recently that civic engagement has been re-discovered as a fundamental pillar of democracy and welfare and as an important institution of civic self-organisation in modern societies. Voluntary activities by individuals – which, under the name of 'Ehrenamt' ('honorary post'), had long been considered obsolete – and companies – which is becoming increasingly important against the backdrop of international debates on 'corporate citizenship' – are now being discovered as a resource for supplying a sustainable solution to the challenges posed by social, economic, political and ecological change. Against this background my research activities have taken an ongoing development towards focusing on the field of sport in the context of wider studies on civil society, civic engagement and social integration.


ICSSPE: Could you give an example?


Braun: The question of social integration in modern societies in general and German society in particular has again become a central issue in politics and social sciences. From various perspectives, sociological diagnoses of today’s society revolve around the question of what coheres modern, individualised and multi-ethnic societies, or even more to the point, what is able to still keep them together. This 'social glue' is seen not least in civic engagement, which is regarded as a basis of 'social capital' in modern societies. The fashionable term of 'social capital' is based on Robert Putnam`s concept that in addition to economic and human capital, there is a third form of capital in society – one that plays a central role for welfare and democracy. In this context social capital covers the following: first, social trust, which facilitates interpersonal cooperation and is needed for the coordination of a society; second, the norm of generalised reciprocity, which contributes to solving social dilemmas.

As empirical studies have shown, civic engagement - especially in small-scale projects delivered by associations such as sport clubs - does indeed provide a significant structural opportunity to provide the context for constructing social capital. Individuals can also draw upon this personal social capital beyond their civic engagement, provided by other individuals involved in civic engagement. And their resources are also available to them outside their associations, projects or initiatives. However, this in turn gives significance to the issue of social inequality and the associated opportunities of social inclusion in engagement networks. Participation in the public sphere is still closely connected with an individual's social situation. Civic engagement primarily attracts groups with habitual characteristics conveyed in the social practice of education-oriented middle class families. By contrast, civic engagement is significantly less common in socially deprived groups, particularly social groups with a low level of education.

Against the backdrop of this connection, which is relevant in terms of both integration theory and practice, the question arises of the extent to which institutional arrangements may be developed to give socially deprived groups more access to civic engagement for example in sport clubs. This is the point at which new debates set in, focusing in particular on educational facilities as central institutions that can remove social barriers preventing access to civic engagement at an early stage and support integration processes of socially deprived groups.


ICSSPE: Thinking of the themes you have just outlined could you describe the emergence, vision and mission of the Berlin Institute for Empirical Research on Integration and Migration, of which you are the Director?


Braun: The BIM is a research institute at the Humboldt University and funded and supported by the Hertie foundation, the German Football Association (DFB), the Federal Employment Agency and the Federal Government's Representative for Migration, Refugees and Integration. The BIM develops basic scientific principles and empirical data aimed at providing a factual basis for debate on integration issues in Europe, and investigates how integration and migration processes in Germany and Europe have taken place so far and will continue to develop. The BIM is designed for cooperative research and aims at building a broad base for establishing integration and migration research in Berlin. Through its research, the BIM transfers information and findings into the spheres of politics, civil society and media. On the one hand, the BIM focuses on theory-based empirical research that is always rooted in fundamental research. On the other hand and at the same time, the BIM strives for a systematic transfer of research into the public sphere, ranging from critical monitoring of political debates to events addressing the public and media interventions. In this respect, the BIM perceives itself as an active observer of societal trends. Against this backdrop, the BIM aims to bring together and re-focus the as yet frequently still unclear scientific perspectives and political debates.


ICSSPE: Which departments and disciplines are involved in the work of the BIM?


Braun: The scope of the subject area of integration and migration is reflected by six departments from various Berlin institutes that contribute their research knowledge to the BIM. These scientific disciplines range from social, cultural and educational sciences to sport sciences, psychology and medicine. The BIM thus unites and links widely differing scientific perspectives and methods. It investigates subjects such as the causes of educational inequalities between children with and without migration background and the possibilities of overcoming these inequalities. Labour mobility processes in migration societies are also on the BIM's research agenda, as are the functions of sport and football in social integration. At the same time, the BIM also examines the values and initiatives of civil society in the social spheres of migration societies and the socio-cultural framework conditions of health and illness. All these issues help us gain new perspectives on the subject area of integration and migration, while highlighting new questions concerning the treatment of social conflicts and diversity in migration societies. These questions will be reflected upon in German-speaking countries with reference to the international level.

Meanwhile in terms of interdisciplinary collaboration we have ensured ways of communicating amongst the researchers of the different departments, looking into mutual project initiatives, conducting research together and regularly organising lecture series. For example, we have recently started to evaluate the programme “Integration through Sport” of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB). For this purpose we work together with colleagues from a different department who can share their expertise on the development of discourses on integration within the last decades in order to explore how the historical context has affected certain understandings of integration and, hence, the policies of the DOSB. Such an approach adds analytical value to a mere synchronic empirical study of the programme.


ICSSPE: Thank you very much for providing these insights.                   


Further information on the Department of Sport Sociology, the Berlin Institute for Empirical Research on Integration and Migration, and the work of Sebastian Braun at Humboldt University can be obtained from: