Climate change and digitalisation

A look at what concerns the participants of the Legacy Study – and why they also had to smell grapefruit and leather. An interview with Jutta Allmendinger.

Jutta Allmendinger
dpa

How are things now – and how should they be? The Legacy Study asks questions like these. It was organised by the weekly Die Zeit, the market research institute infas and the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). An interview with WZB President and sociologist Jutta Allmendinger. 

Ms. Allmendinger, for the Legacy Study you asked over 3,000 people between the ages of 14 and 80 about their future. How was the response? 

In order to find out about the future, we asked three questions about each area. What is the situation today? What should it be like? What will it be like in the future? This triangle of questions and a direct comparison between the answers revealed to us what people hope and expect of the future. Because all the participants answered very attentively and thoughtfully it is not easy to make a short summary of all the replies. But let me try: people advise coming generations to be well-informed, especially in the areas of digitalisation, health, climate protection and politics. They have a critical opinion of the hype about personal appearance. And they urge others to be much more open about new developments and not to question a solidarity-based redistribution of income. All these recommendations entail a great deal of self-criticism. People in Germany are therefore not as self-complacent and ponderous as is often said. 

And how do they actually imagine the future?

The participants express a lot of concern about it. In particular they are afraid of losing jobs, meeting places and a sense of community. They are also worried about the dominance of technology and the privatisation of our social state. However, these points are also formulated calmly and in a reasoned manner.

The film competition on the Legacy Study is a gift to us.

Jutta Allmendinger

During the interviews you also worked with new sensory measurements: the participants smelled grapefruit, roses, hay and leather, felt glass, sandpaper, cotton wool and corrugated cardboard. What did you aim to achieve by that – and what insights did you gain?

We wanted to prevent people giving hasty and unconsidered answers, perhaps to get rid of us again as fast as possible. We wanted participants who earnestly consider their legacy and equally seriously explain what developments they expect. That’s why we started with the fragrances and broke away from established forms of question.

Successfully?

Yes. The people got involved, immersed themselves in the subject and identified with the questions. The sensory stimuli were also important for us in terms of content. We discovered that people associate smells with the here and now, compare surfaces with their complete life course and see rhythms as representing the pace of their everyday working lives. Subsequent research will benefit from this a great deal. 

Students at German film academies have come up with ideas for 22 short films based on the findings of the Legacy Study. How do you feel about research being transformed into art?

That is an enormous gift to me and the whole team at the research centre, at Die Zeit and at infas. It opens our eyes and is simultaneously a wonderful preparation for the next survey, which we are planning for 2018. Of course, the films are a piece of culture, but for us they also constitute research on another methodological basis. In a nutshell, research and culture cannot be fully separated from one another. I find that fascinating.

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