Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Streeck


Current Projects

Research Interests

My research is located at the intersection between political science and political economy, on the one hand, and sociology, especially economic sociology, on the other. My interest is and has always been the tension between a democratic polity and a capitalist economy, as reflected in the constitution of the modern welfare state and in the regulation of labor relations and the employment relationship through trade unions and employer associations. My very first publication (1972) was about the organization of collective labor relations in Germany. After my first stay in the United States (1972-74), I returned to this subject in my doctoral dissertation in sociology at the University of Frankfurt, entitled “Organizational Problems of Trade Unions in Democratic Welfare States” (1981a). In subsequent years I collaborated closely with Philippe Schmitter on theoretical and empirical research on corporatist interest associations and corporatist interest politics. The results have been published primarily in political science journals and anthologies (1982; 1983; Streeck and Schmitter 1985). My work has also contributed to the study of industrial relations (1981b; 1984a), especially after I was appointed professor in sociology and industrial relations at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (see for example Hyman and Streeck 1988; Rogers and Streeck 1995).
Through my participation in the “corporatism debate,” I have learned that the themes that interest me are best explored in explicit or implicit comparison between different national systems. While the ambitious cross-national comparative research project on trade and employer associations that Schmitter and I started at the end of the 1970s was never completed, it did become highly influential and stimulated a wave of further investigations. Parallel to my work on associations and their role in the “governance” of economic sectors and national economies (Hollingsworth et al. 1994), I became interested in the relationship between national institutions and national modes of production, not least as a result of my participation in the first MIT automobile project (Katz and Streeck 1984; Streeck 1989). In collaboration with Arndt Sorge I developed the concept of “diversified quality production,” which designates a “style” of operation of the economy that might allow societies with high wages and a relatively egalitarian wage structure to survive in competitive world markets (Sorge and Streeck 1988; Streeck 1991). My research at the time and the resulting publications contributed to the emergence of a literature on “varieties of capitalism” (Crouch and Streeck 1997). In this regard, I was and continue to be interested primarily in the fate of the “German model” (1984b; 1997). This became the subject of my joint work with Kozo Yamamura on Germany and Japan and their adjustment problems in the process of the liberalization of the world economy (Streeck and Yamamura 2001; Yamamura and Streeck 2003).
I would also like to mention my longstanding interest in questions of European integration. The point of departure for this was again my collaboration with Philippe Schmitter, who was one of the first to work on the subject, as well as a seminar I co-taught at Madison with another pioneer of European integration research and theory, Leon Lindberg. Together with Schmitter I tried to understand the dynamics of European integration by studying the evolution of the European-level system of interest associations (Streeck and Schmitter 1991). From here I later worked on the development, or non-development, of a European social policy; on industrial relations at the European level; and on the so-called “European social model” (1995a; b; 2000; 2001; Streeck and Vitols 1995). Later I turned to more general questions of internationalization and “globalization” and their consequences for the social embedding of markets (1998).
Some of my work is of a more “applied” nature and was written to influence policy and the political discussion in Germany. This is true in particular of my publications during and shortly after my time as a member of the Arbeitsgruppe Benchmarking (the Benchmarking Working Group) of the Bündnis für Arbeit (Alliance for Jobs), following the change of government in 1998 (see “Publications,” “Contributions to Current Debates on German Politics and Industrial Relations”). When the Alliance fell apart (2003a; 2005a) I returned to more academic pursuits. This involved in particular a collaborative project with Kathleen Thelen, the first product of which is a collective volume on institutional change including a joint introduction (Streeck and Thelen 2005). In addition I began to explore various theoretical issues related to the complementarity of institutions, especially from the perspective of the systemic equilibrium and the partial changeability of national economic systems (Crouch at al. 2005; Streeck 2004).
In recent years I have paid renewed attention to my original discipline, sociology. This is related not least to my contribution to the second edition of the “Handbook of Economic Sociology” (ed. Smelser and Swedberg), in which I summarize the results of my longstanding preoccupation with the sociology of the employment relationship (2005b). Simultaneous work on a handbook article on “Theories and Practices of Neocorporatism” (Streeck and Kenworthy 2005) had a similar effect. I regard sociology as the one social science that commands the necessary (action-) theoretical toolkit to avoid the lacunae of the so-called “rational choice approach,” which has unfortunately been imported from microeconomics into political science in particular (2003b). At the same time, I remain unsatisfied with a “passive” sociological theory that allows no place for collective action and thus for politics, and in which social structures form only behind the backs of the individuals acting in them. In my theoretical perspective political institutions occupy a prominent place as indispensable tools for collective action and decision-making. This view dominates the Festschrift for Philippe Schmitter that I co-edited with Colin Crouch (Crouch and Streeck 2006), and it was particularly evident in my contribution to that volume, in which I reconstruct the history of the debate on neo-corporatism in the context of political developments since the end of the 1960s (Streeck 2006a). Together with my co-director at the MPIfG, Jens Beckert, I have drawn up a research program for the Institute under which political economy and economic sociology can learn from one another and in which my own reserach interests can further develop (Beckert and Streeck 2008).
From January to July, 2007, and then again from September, 2009, to January, 2010, I was a Visiting Fellow at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York. During my first stay I started to work on a book manuscript that was to summarize and synthesize the results of my various research efforts since the mid-1990s (see in particular 1997; 2003a; 2005a; 2006b). In the meantime the book has appeared under the title, "Re-Forming Capitalism: Institutional Change in the German Political Economy" (Oxford University Press, 2009a). My current research follows up on the central themes of the book and builds on its conclusions. Especially when writing the final chapters I convinced myself that a historical-institutionalist theory of modern capitalism as a social and not just an economic system is not only urgently required but may also in fact be achievable (see my project, "The Commonalities of Capitalism"). Empirically I am particularly interested in the endemic financial problems of the modern interventionist state, which as recent events have suggested may be indispensable as lender as well as spender of last resort (2007a). Equally intriguing I find the tension between continuously increasing pressures for more flexibility in work and employment on the one hand and the needs for stability inherent in the social lifeworld (2008b, c). In this context belongs my recent foray in the political economy of fertility (2009b). I have also become involved in discussions on the relationship between theory and practice in the social sciences, including the limits and possibilities of social science giving advice to political decision-makers (2008a). Last but by no means least I am continuing my collaboration with Kathleen Thelen in a jointly organized international working group on institutional change, which will meet regularly to discuss current developments in theory and empirical research (2009c).


Diagram representing the development of my
research interests



Beckert, Jens und Wolfgang Streeck, 2008: Economic Sociology and Political Economy: A Programmatic Perspective (mit Jens Beckert). MPIfG Working Paper 08/4. Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung Köln.
Crouch, Colin, Robert Boyer, Wolfgang Streeck, Bruno Amable, Peter A. Hall and Gregory Jackson, 2005: Dialogue on Institutional Complementarity and Political Economy. In: Socio-Economic Review 3, 2, 359-382.
Crouch, Colin and Wolfgang Streeck (eds.), 1997: Political Economy of Modern Capitalism: Mapping Convergence and Diversity. London: Sage.
Crouch, Colin and Wolfgang Streeck (eds.), 2006: The Diversity of Democracy: Corporatism, Social Order and Political Conflict. London: Edward Elgar.
Hollingsworth, J. Rogers , Philippe C. Schmitter and Wolfgang Streeck (eds.), 1994: Governing Capitalist Economies: Performance and Control of Economic Sectors. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hyman, Richard and Wolfgang Streeck (eds.), 1988: New Technology and Industrial Relations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Katz, Harry and Wolfgang Streeck, 1984: Labour Relations and Employment Adjustments. In: Altshuler, Alan et al. (eds.), The Future of the Automobile: The Report of MIT´s International Program. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 199-221.
Rogers, Joel and Wolfgang Streeck (eds.), 1995: Works Councils: Consultation, Representation, Cooperation in Industrial Relations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Schmitter, Philippe C. and Wolfgang Streeck, 1999: The Organization of Business Interests: Studying the Associative Action of Business in Advanced Industrial Societies. Köln: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
Sorge, Arndt and Wolfgang Streeck, 1988: Industrial Relations and Technical Change: The Case for an Extended Perspective. In: Hyman, Richard and Wolfgang Streeck (eds.), New Technology and Industrial Relations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 19-47.
Streeck, Wolfgang, 1972: Das Dilemma der Organisation: Tarifverbände zwischen Interessenvertretung und Stabilitätspolitik. In: Meissner, Werner and Lutz Unterseher (eds.), Verteilungskampf und Stabilitätspolitik. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 130-167.
Id., 1981a: Gewerkschaftliche Organisationsprobleme in der sozialstaatlichen Demokratie. Königstein/Ts: Athenäum.
Id., 1981b: Qualitative Demands and the Neo-Corporatist Manageability of Industrial Relations in West Germany at the Beginning of the Eighties. In: British Journal of Industrial Relations Vol. 14, 149-169.
Id., 1982: Organizational Consequences of Corporatist Cooperation in West German Labor Unions: A Case Study. In: Lehmbruch, Gerhard and Philippe C. Schmitter (eds.), Patterns of Corporatist Policy-Making. Beverly Hills and London: Sage, 29-81.
Id., 1983: Between  Pluralism and Corporatism: German Business Associations and the State. In: Journal of Public Policy Vol. 3, 265-284.
Id., 1984a: Industrial Relations in West Germany: The Case of the Car Industry. London and New York: Sage and St. Martin's Press.
Id., 1984b: Neo-Corporatist Industrial Relations and the Economic Crisis in West Germany. In: Goldthorpe, John H. (eds.), Order and Conflict in Contemporary Capitalism: Studies in the Political Economy of West European Nations. Oxford: Claredon Press, 291-314.
Id., 1989: Successful Adjustment to Turbulent Markets: The Automobile Industry. In: Katzenstein, Peter J. (ed.), Industry and Poltics in West Germany: Toward the Third Republic. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 113-156.
Id., 1991: On the Institutional Conditions of Diversified Quality Production. In: Matzner, Egon and Wolfgang Streeck (eds.), Beyond Keynesianism. The Socio-Economics of Production and Employment. London: Edward Elgar, 21-61.
Id., 1995a: From Market-Making to State-Building? Reflections on the Political Economy of European Social Policy. In: Leibfried, Stephan and Paul Pierson (eds.), European Social Policy: Between Fragmentation and Integration. Washington D. C.: The Brookings Insdtitution, 389-431.
Id., 1995b: Neo-Voluntarism: A New European Social Policy Regime? In: European Law Journal Vol. 1, No. 1, 31-59.
Id., 1997: German Capitalism: Does It Exist? Can It Survive? In: New Political Economy Vol. 2, No. 2, 237-256.
Id. (ed.), 1998: Internationale Wirtschaft, nationale Demokratie: Herausforderungen für die Demokratietheorie. Frankfurt am Main and New York: Campus.
Id., 2000: Competitive Solidarity: Rethinking the "European Social Model". In: Hinrichs, Karl, Herbert Kitschelt and Helmut Wiesenthal (eds.), Kontingenz und Krise: Institutionenpolitik in kapitalistischen und postsozialistischen Gesellschaften. Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 245-261.
Id., 2001: International Competition, Supranational Integration, National Solidarity: The Emerging Constitution of "Social Europe". In: Kohli, Martin and Mojca Novak (eds.), Will Europe Work? Integration, Employment and the Social Order. London: Routledge, 21-34.
Id., 2003a: No Longer the Century of Corporatism: Das Ende des "Bündnisses für Arbeit". MPIfG Working Paper 03/04. Köln: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
Id., 2003b: Social Science and Moral Dialogue. Critical Forum: Toward a New Socio-Economic Paradigm. In: Socio-Economic Review Vol. 1, No. 1, 126-129.
Id., 2004: Taking Uncertainty Seriously: Complementarity As a Moving Target. In: Workshops: Proceedings of OeNB Workshops Vol. 1, No. 1, 101-115.
Id., 2005a: From State Weakness as Strength to State Weakness as Weakness: Welfare Corporatism and the Private Use of the Public Interest. In: Green, Simon and Willie Paterson (eds.), Governance in Contemporary Germany: The Semisovereign State Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Id., 2005b: Labor Markets and Trade Unions. In: Smelser, Neil and Richard Swedberg (eds.), Handbook of Economic Sociology. New York: Russell Sage, 254-283.
Id., 2006a: The Study of Interest Groups: Before ‘The Century’ and After. In: Crouch, Colin and Wolfgang Streeck, eds.: The Diversity of Democracy: Corporatism, Social Order and Political Conflict. London: Edward Elgar, 3-45.
Id., 2006b: Nach dem Korporatismus: Neue Eliten, neue Konflikte. In: Herfried Münkler, Grit Straßenberger and Matthias Bohlender (eds.), Deutschlands Eliten im Wandel. Frankfurt and New York: Campus, 149-175.
Id., 2007a: Endgame? The Fiscal Crisis of the German State. MPIfG Discussion Paper 07/7, Köln: Max Planck Institute for the Studiy of Societies.
Id., 2008a: Von der gesteuerten Demokratie zum selbststeuernden Kapitalismus: Die Sozialwissenschaften in der Liberalisierung. MPIfG Working Paper 08/7, Köln: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
Id., 2008b: Flexible Markets, Stable Societies? MPIfG Working Paper 08/6, Köln: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
Id., 2008c: Industrial Relations Today: Reining in Flexibility. MPIfG Working Paper 08/3, Köln: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
Id., 2009a: Re-Forming Capitalism: Institutional Change in the German Political Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Id., 2009b: Flexible Employment, Flexible Families, and the Socialization of Reproduction. MPIfG Working Paper 09/13, Köln: Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung.
Id., 2009c: Institutions in History: Bringing Capitalism Back. MPIfG Discussion Paper 09/8, Köln: Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung.
Id., 2009d: Man weiß es nicht genau: Vom Nutzen der Sozialwissenschaften für die Politik. MPIfG Working Paper 09/11, Köln: Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung.
Streeck, Wolfgang and Lane Kenworthy, 2005: Theories and Practices of Neo-Corporatism. In: Janoski, Thomas et al. (eds.), A Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies and Globalization. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Streeck, Wolfgang and Philippe C. Schmitter (eds.), 1985: Private Interest Government: Beyond Market and State. London: Sage.
Streeck, Wolfgang and Philippe C. Schmitter, 1991: From National Corporatism to Transnational Pluralism: Organized Interests in the Single European Market. In: Politics and Society Vol. 19, No. 2, 133-164.
Streeck, Wolfgang and Kathleen Thelen (eds.), 2005: Beyond Continuity: Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Streeck, Wolfgang and Sigurt Vitols, 1995: The European Community: Between Consultation and Voluntary Information. In: Rogers, Joel and Wolfgang Streeck (eds.), Works Councils: Consultation, Representation, Cooperation in Industrial Relations. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 243-281.
Streeck, Wolfgang and Kozo Yamamura (eds.), 2001: The Origins of Nonliberal Capitalism: Germany and Japan. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
Yamamura, Kozo and Wolfgang Streeck (eds.), 2003: The End of Diversity? Prospects for German and Japanese Capitalism. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Streeck - Research | [Last update 23.02.2011]