Wolfgang Zapf

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Wolfgang Zapf (born April 25, 1937 in Frankfurt am Main ; † April 26, 2018 in Berlin ) was a German sociologist .


Zapf attended elementary school and secondary school in Frankfurt am Main . He graduated from high school in 1957.

From 1957 to 1961 he studied sociology and economics in Frankfurt , Hamburg and Cologne . He received a scholarship from the Cusanuswerk and completed internships in market research and industry during his studies . He completed his studies in Frankfurt in 1961 with a diploma in sociology.


1962 to 1966 he was Ralf Dahrendorf's assistant at the sociological seminar at the University of Tübingen . In 1963 he received his doctorate as Dr. phil. in Tübingen with a thesis on the “changes in the German elite” (Munich: Piper, 1965, 21966). Research into the elite was a very topical field in those years and was intensively cultivated by Dahrendorf. From 1966 to 1967 he was von Dahrendorf's research assistant at the University of Konstanz . In 1967 he completed his habilitation there with a thesis on "Materials for the Analysis of Social Change", which is only available as hectography .

In 1968 he was a German Kennedy Fellow at Harvard University . From 1968 to 1972 Zapf was a full professor of sociology at the University of Frankfurt. In 1972 he moved to the University of Mannheim , where he taught until 1987.

In the early 1970s he organized the SPES project (“Social Policy Decision-Making and Indicator System”) together with economists from the University of Frankfurt. In 1979, the project led to the Collaborative Research Center 3 “Microanalytical Basics of Social Policy” in Frankfurt / Mannheim.

In September 1987, Zapf was appointed Scientific Director (President) of the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB), which he held until August 31, 1994. In addition, he was also director of the “Department of Social Structure and Social Reporting”, which he retained until his retirement in 2002. In addition to his functions at the WZB, Zapf continued his teaching activities from 1988 to 2002 as Professor of Sociology at the Free University of Berlin . He also taught at various other European and American universities: in 1980 he was Visiting Professor for Comparative European Studies at Stanford University . In 1976, 1981 and 1986 he was visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) in Vienna. In 1986 he was a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Honorary positions

University of Frankfurt and Mannheim

From 1969 to 1970 Zapf was a member of the Senate of the University of Frankfurt. 1974 to 1975 and 1982 to 1983 he was dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Mannheim. From 1973 to 1975 he was director of the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Mannheim.

Collaborative Research Center 3

In 1979, 1981 and from 1985 to 1987 he acted as spokesman for the Collaborative Research Center 3 “Microanalytical Foundations of Social Policy” in Frankfurt / Mannheim, and in 1980 and from 1982 to 1984 as deputy spokesman.

German Society for Sociology (DGS)

From 1967 to 1974, 1983 to 1984 he was a board member and from 1987 to 1990 chairman of the German Society for Sociology ; from 1973 to 1976 Zapf was chairman of the "Social Indicators Section" of the DGS.

German Research Foundation (DFG)

From 1973 to 1975 he was head of the social sciences planning group at the German Research Foundation. From 1976 to 1985 he was a member of the DFG Senate Commission for Empirical Social Research.

Center for Social Indicators in the SSRC

From 1972 to 1977, Zapf was a member of the Steering Committee of the Center for Social Indicators of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in Washington, DC

International Society for Quality of Life Studies (ISQOLS)

Zapf was also a member of ISQOLS.

GESIS - Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences

From 1993 to 1999, Zapf was chairman of the GESIS board of trustees .

Editor and Advisory Board

From 1987 to 1990, Zapf was co-editor of the Zeitschrift für Soziologie , was a member of the Advisory Board of Social Indicators Research and an expert reviewer for the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation .

Scientific importance

The focus of Zapf's work - in chronological terms of its processing - lies in the field of elite research , social modernization and, closely related to this, the theories of social change , social reporting and social indicator research .

Zapf's first publications deal with elite research, in particular with the long-term historical change of the German elite. In connection with this, his interest in the long-term processes of social change on the macro level developed, which he addressed in his habilitation. Obviously he came into contact with modernization research, which was in vogue in the USA in the 1960s. This resulted in his first work on modernization theory and the anthology "Theories of Social Change". The empirical elaboration should take place on the one hand in the historical-comparative data collection on the development of Western European societies; To this end, he and Peter Flora applied for the HIWED project (Historical Indicators of Western European Democracies). On the other hand, there was the implementation of social indicator research, whose origins also lie in the USA in the 1960s, in Germany. The SPES project (Social Policy Decision-Making and Indicator System for the Federal Republic of Germany) was intended to develop a system of social macro-indicators. The main products of this work were the "Sociological Almanac" (editors: Eike Ballerstedt and Wolfgang Glatzer) and the anthology "Living Conditions in the Federal Republic" (1977, 21978), which the latter book applied the instrument of social indicators to the Federal Republic. The core of the volume is a so-called “social indicator table” with several hundred indicators that have been quantified. A historically longer-term view of the social development in Germany since the 19th century was given in the work "Change in Living Conditions in Germany" (1982).

Zapf's assistants Johann Handl, Karl Ulrich Mayer and Walter Müller broke new ground within sociology with regard to mass data analysis in the SPES project by evaluating the additional survey for the 1971 microcensus; the publication “Class Situation and Social Structure” is the first class analysis for Germany to be created with microdata.

It soon became apparent that macro-indicators alone could not capture many social issues, as the main source of the indicators was official statistics, which in particular do not conduct research on opinion and attitudes. Analogous to the American situation, efforts were made to develop a social survey that collects subjective and objective facts that could be related to one another: this instrument was the “welfare survey”. The central publication - based on evaluations of this survey - was "Quality of life in the Federal Republic: Objective living conditions and subjective well-being" (1984). Many other publications that used this data source followed, except for today's “data report”. The central theoretical concept of this work was welfare and quality of life research based on the US model. The development of panel studies in the 1980s, such as the German socio-economic panel , offered the opportunity to integrate elements of the welfare survey into this panel study and thus to map quality of life in a longitudinal section.

With these data sources, a solid basis for a variety of "data compilations", social structure and welfare analyzes was created. Zapf's move to the Berlin Science Center in 1987 and the collapse of the GDR opened up a new field of research. First, by extending the welfare survey to Eastern Germany, a data basis for socio-scientific transformation research could be created. In the course of the last two decades, however, the separate analysis and comparison of East and West became increasingly irrelevant.

Zapf's theoretical background remained modernization theory and he is considered the most prominent representative of " modernization research " in German sociology. He sees the core of the modernization in the "increase in the overall societal adaptation and control capacities, ie as a positive balance of increasing resources and increasing loads". In the course of time, concepts of social control, social planning and social innovation in societies have become central to him . The collapse of the socialist economic system gave him the opportunity to expand his theoretical ideas, e.g. B. through the concept of "catch-up modernization".

Representatives of more recent concepts in modernization research are more critical of modernization theory in the narrower sense, which Zapf described as "an American invention of the 1950s". This new version of the modernization theory is less ethnocentric and path-dependent and is also sensitive to the failures and downsides (e.g. environmental threats, armaments competitions, external economic effects of the western industrialized countries). With Rucht, social modernization is “a varied and by no means linear process, characterized by non-simultaneous processes, setbacks and contradicting partial developments”. The underlying “model of a modern society” can be achieved on a limited number of “different development paths”.

Zapf was successful in promoting and placing young sociologists: his former students and staff include Karl Ulrich Mayer , Walter Müller , Peter Flora , Johann Handl , Jens Alber , Wolfgang Glatzer , Heinz-Herbert Noll , Jürgen Kohl , Roland Habich , Franz Rothenbacher and many others.


Zapf married Dr. Katrin Zapf, née Raschig. Two children were born in the marriage. The wife Katrin Zapf is also a sociologist and specialized in - and taught at the University of Mannheim - urban sociology .


  • (together with Joachim Bergmann) (1965), communication in an industrial company . Frankfurt: European publishing company.
  • (1965, 2nd ed. 1966), Changes in the German Elite . Munich: Piper. (Dissertation).
  • (Ed. And co-author) (1965), Contributions to the analysis of the German upper class . Munich: Piper.
  • (Ed.) (1969, 4th ed. 1979), Theories of Social Change . Königstein / Ts .: Verlagsgruppe Athenäum, Hain, Scriptor, Hanstein. (New Scientific Library, Vol. 31: Sociology).
  • (Ed.) (1974, 1975), Social Indicators: Concepts and Research Approaches . Vol. 1 and 2, Frankfurt: Herder & Herder, 1974. Vol. 3, Frankfurt: Campus, 1975.
  • (Ed.) (1976), Sociopolitical Target Systems . Social Indicators, Vol. 4. Frankfurt: Campus.
  • (1976), Social Reporting: Opportunities and Problems . Göttingen: Verlag Otto Schwartz & Co. (Commission for Economic and Social Change, Vol. 125).
  • (together with Hans Jürgen Krupp) (1977), Social Policy and Social Reporting . Frankfurt and New York: Campus.
  • (Ed. And co-author) (1977), Problems of Modernization Policy . Meisenheim am Glan: Verlag Anton Hain. (Mannheimer social science studies, vol. 14).
  • (Ed. And co-author) (1977, 2nd edition 1978), Living Conditions in the Federal Republic . Frankfurt and New York: Campus.
  • (Ed. Together with Erich Wiegand) (1982), Change in living conditions in Germany . Frankfurt: Campus.
  • (together with Wolfgang Glatzer and others) (1984), Quality of Life in the Federal Republic: Objective living conditions and subjective well-being . Frankfurt and New York: Campus.
  • (Ed. And co-author) (1987), German Social Report. In: Social Indicators Research , vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 5-171.
  • (together with others) (1987), Individualization and Security: Studies on Quality of Life in the Federal Republic of Germany . Munich: Beck. (Perspectives and Orientations, Vol. 4).
  • (1987), Articles on Modernization Research and Modernization Theory . Mannheim: Hectograph, 1987.
  • (1994), Modernization, Welfare Development and Transformation: Sociological Essays 1987–1994 . Berlin: Sigma.
  • (Ed. Together with Meinolf Dierkes, co-author) (1994), Institutional Comparison and Institutional Dynamics . WZB yearbook 1994. Berlin: Sigma.
  • (Ed. Together with Hansgert Peisert) (1994), Society, Democracy and Life Chances: Festschrift for Ralf Dahrendorf . Stuttgart: German publishing house.
  • (Ed.) (1996), Changing situations: social reporting in longitudinal section . Frankfurt and New York: Campus-Verlag, 1996.
  • (Ed. And co-author together with Roland Habich) (1996, 2nd edition 1997), welfare development in a united Germany: social structure, social change and quality of life . Berlin: Sigma.
  • (Ed. With Bernhard Schäfers) (1998, 2nd edition 2001), concise dictionary on German society . Opladen: Leske and Budrich.
  • (Wolfgang Glatzer, Ed.) (2002), Social Change and Long-Term Social Observation . [Festschrift for Wolfgang Zapf]. Opladen: Leske and Budrich.


  • Ballerstedt, Eike and Wolfgang Glatzer (1st edition 1974, 3rd edition 1979), Sociological Almanach: Handbook of social data and indicators . Frankfurt and New York: Campus. (Social policy decision-making and indicator system for the Federal Republic of Germany (SPES), vol. 5).
  • Glatzer, Wolfgang (2012), Wolfgang Zapf - Pioneer of Social Indicators- and Quality of Life-Research. In: Applied Research in Quality of Life: The Official Journal of the International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies Vol. 7 (No. 4), pp. 453–457.
  • Handl, Johann, Karl Ulrich Mayer and Walter Müller (1977), Class Positions and Social Structure: Empirical Studies for the Federal Republic of Germany . Frankfurt and New York: Campus. (Social policy decision-making and indicator system for the Federal Republic of Germany (SPES), Vol. 9).
  • Mayer, Karl Ulrich (May 16, 2018), Wolfgang Zapf: An obituary [1]
  • Neidhardt, Friedhelm (2018), obituary for Wolfgang Zapf (1937–2018). Inː Berliner Journal für Soziologie Vol. 28, pp. 529-531.
  • Rucht, Dieter (1994), Modernization and New Social Movements: Germany, France and the USA in Comparison . Frankfurt and New York: Campus, p. 60.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Berlin Social Science Center: Mourning Wolfgang Zapf , article from May 2, 2018, accessed on May 3, 2018.
  2. Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Zapf at: Berlin Science Center for Social Research. Archived from the original on January 13, 2014 ; accessed on January 13, 2014 .
  3. Handl et al. 1977.
  4. Zapf 2003: 430.
  5. Zapf 1991: 32.
  6. Rucht 1994: 60.