Hartmut Esser

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Hartmut Esser (2014)

Hartmut Esser (born December 21, 1943 in Elend , Harz ) is a German migration scientist and professor of sociology and philosophy of science at the University of Mannheim .

In his introductory work Sociology. General principles from 1993 as well as in the six-volume work Sociology published from 1999 . Special foundations he puts his on the theory of rational decision ( rational choice ) approach micro sound methodology in the social sciences before. He is considered a pioneer in this area.

In previous years he was mainly active in the field of migration sociology. Its epistemological orientation is that of the critical rationalism founded by Karl Popper . He has been a member of the Leopoldina since 2001 .


According to Esser, the task of sociology does not only consist in the correct description of social processes and systems. The central task of sociology is also to explain what happens in society, i.e. H. to work out its causes. Esser offers the model of the sociological explanation (MSE) for this purpose, as he further developed it following David C. McClelland, James Samuel Coleman and Siegwart Lindenberg .

So sociology should answer the question of why social events arose, persisted and changed in each case. The phenomena concerned must be recognized and analyzed as a consequence of certain causes. This is done through the sociological explanation (MSE) model. What is special about the model is that it applies to all social structures (including global society). It is not intended to explain these in their historical manifestations, but in a typically general way. The focus of the declaration is not the actor, but the dynamics of the interaction of several acting actors as well as the social structure, which enables the interaction as a framework as well as it emerges from it. The aim is to explain the regularities of such dynamics. A component of the declaration is the legal explanation of the choices of action of individual actors who carry and produce the dynamics of social structures.

Requirements of the MSE

Everyday human reproduction is based on the production of resources and their distribution. All kinds of material and immaterial things can be resources, and their distribution must be socially designed in order to survive. Esser's hypothesis at the beginning is as follows: Other people are only noticed when they are important for one's own actions. They will when they have interesting resources. All social situations are based on material-strategic structures. The motive for exchange is interest in the resources of others. Actors thus act in a reciprocal relationship with one another. The consequences of acting are connected with expectations and evaluations as well as decisions of others. Such action is, according to Esser, “social action”. In other words, one in which the actors relate their actions to the actions of others or orient them towards it (see also social action at Max Weber ).

Three structures emerge from social action:

a) Certain forms of social modes of production and distribution of resources (so-called material interests). So you answer the question: who produces and distributes which resources?

b) These structures are anchored institutionally through obligations and norms. This creates formal constitutions and socially valid rules for the actions of the actors in social situations.

c) Structural situations arise - cultural frameworks. Actors form conceptual models (“frames”) as collectively valid descriptions of the respective situation. Each frame is marked by certain symbols.

The method

1. The logic of the situation (macro-micro transition)

First, the objective nature of the situation should be described. (What is the primary goal? What are the interests - assessments and expectations of the actors?) The object is the cooperation of the actors and their socially valid assessments and expectations. These form the social situation. So three typical structures should be worked out (based on Max Weber ): interests, institutions and ideas. It is important to ensure that actors not only orient their actions towards the social structures and the actions of others, but at the same time also shape the structures themselves with their actions and offer orientation. So expectations and evaluations of actors in a situation should be constructed. According to Esser, this is done with the help of bridge hypotheses. Bridge hypotheses therefore represent simple (typical) assertions by actors (e.g. smoking is fatal; smoking is calming; smoking is expensive; whoever smokes is sexy, when I smoke, I'm cool). Esser later expanded the construct of the bridge hypothesis to include the frame / script model.

Frame / script model

This is where the internal selection that the actors use is recorded. It should be explained which frame actors choose in the corresponding situation. A frame can be selected either reflected rationally (rc) or automatically unreflected (as). This is what Esser calls the "frame selection model". It consists of three universal laws:

a) Actors evaluate their alternatives according to subjective interests and preferences (value expectation theory).

b) Then they determine the probability that certain consequences for an expectation will also occur. This also happens subjectively and is shaped by everyday knowledge.

c) Now the value of each possible alternative is to be multiplied by the associated probability. The result of this calculation indicates the respective benefit. The actor then chooses the alternative with the greatest benefit ( benefit maximization ) and acts accordingly. Esser assumes that we have learned the principle of utility maximization as a necessary selection for survival.

2. The logic of selection (micro-micro level)

The logic of selection explains how the actor's perception influences his or her action. Action theory is used to explain the action. Esser prefers the value expectation theory here.

There is no definitive commitment to a theory of action, since the falsification of such a theory proves to be difficult. So the collection of preferences independent of action creates problems, which is necessary for a review of the theory of action.

3. The logic of aggregation (micro-macro transition)

The aim here is to explain the effects of individual actions on macro-events. It is about typical patterns according to which social structures are transformed from the actions of individual actors. This aggregation step is not nomological and must be done using transformation hypotheses that must be tailored to the individual case. Transformation rules describe regularities in the development of social structures and explain them in this way. Since every actor orients himself to structures and at the same time shapes them with his own action, i.e. himself produces a frame for others, the actions of the actors can gradually aggregate and become a changed social structure and thus a collective phenomenon.


  • Greshoff, R. / Schimank, U .: Hartmut Esser . In: Kaesler, Dirk (Ed.): Current Theories of Sociology . Munich 2005, p. 231ff
  • Greshoff, R. / Schimank, U .: Integrative Social Theory? Esser - Luhmann - Weber . Wiesbaden 2006,

Fonts (selection)

  • Sociology. General principles , 2nd, revised edition, Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-593-34960-4 .
  • Sociology. Special basics in six volumes:
  • Language and integration. The social conditions and consequences of language acquisition by migrants , Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-593-38197-4

Web links

Wikibooks: Hartmut Esser  - learning and teaching materials

Individual evidence

  1. Member entry by Prof. Dr. Hartmut Esser (with photo) at the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina , accessed on July 5, 2016.
  2. cf. Greshoff, R. / Schimank, U .: Hartmut Esser. In: Kaesler, Dirk (Ed.): Current Theories of Sociology. Munich 2005, p. 231 ff.
  3. Bernhard Miebach: Sociological theory of action - An introduction . Ed .: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden 2014, ISBN 978-3-658-04487-9 , pp. 398 f .
  4. Jens Greve: Reductive Individualism - On the program and justification of a basic social-theoretical position . Ed .: G. Albert, S. Sigmund, M. Stachura. Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden 2015, ISBN 978-3-658-06557-7 , p. 74 f . / footnote 57 .