Due to the fact that the history of an academic institution is written first and foremost by its chair members, the following overview focuses on their activities. The chairs of the Institute of Sociology have been or are held by: Peter Heintz, Hans-Joachim Hoffmann-Nowotny, Volker Bornschier, Hans Geser, Marlis Buchmann, Kurt Imhof, Marc Szydlik, Jörg Rössel, Eldad Davidov and Katja Rost. Their summarized biographies are followed by brief introductions to the lecturers of the institute.
The Institute of Sociology (SUZ) was founded in 1966 with one academic chair held by Peter Heintz, a sociologist, who had previously collaborated with René König. Peter Heintz (1920-1983) was - with König and Adorno - one of the members of the generation of sociologists which was greatly interested in the causative conditions of authoritarian tendencies and repressive power structures. This became manifested in his great interest in developmental sociology, social stratification and its consequent tensions. Peter Heintz was committed to establish the theoretical basis of a "sociology of the world society", and to research into the social realities also of Switzerland. In this manner, the development of a preferably general and explanatory sociological theory should be linked to methodologically strict empirical analyses. Peter Heintz was also influenced by the intention of Simmel, that the universal laws of a society express themselves in the individual areas of social life.
Hans-Joachim Hoffmann-Nowotny (1934–2004) joined the institute in 1966. He was appointed as associate professor in 1974, and promoted to full professor in 1975. Following the demise of Peter Heintz in 1983, he directed the institute for a period of almost 15 years. Between 1996 and 2002, he also served as the president of the board of the "World Society Foundation", which had been founded by Peter Heintz. His research interests were directed towards the processes of structural and cultural change in present-day society. In particular, investigation of the phenomena of international migration, the emergence of minorities, and changes in the practices of marriages and families, ways of life and lifestyles in the light of the development towards a world society. Hans-Joachim Hoffmann-Nowotny focused his research on the analysis of international systems, concerning himself with questions on the issues of migration and the sociology of minorities. He expanded this topic and, above all, established a micro-sociological perspective based on the analysis of individuals as part of the fields of sociodemography and family research.
Volker Bornschier – appointed as a lecturer in 1976, assistant professor in 1981, associate professor in 1988, and full professor in 1994 – contributed after Peter Heintz to firmly establish the world society as a specific research topic of the institute. From 1983 to 1996, as the president of the World Society Foundation, he shaped the international coordination and promotion of research subsidized by this foundation and serves since 2005 as its vice-president. He focuses his research on structure and change in modern societies, with special regard to their integration into the world system, technological change, organization of individual institutions, such as state and educational systems, and the role of transnational and supranational protagonists in politics, economics and society. His research is geared to his theory of conflictive evolution, and integrates specific fields of sociology: world society, the changing western society, institutional order and social inequality, conflict, violence, crime, comparative economic sociology, and political economics.
Hans Geser habilitated in Zurich, like Hoffmann-Nowotny and Bornschier. He was called to the University of Zurich in 1986, after holding a professorship of sociology in Heidelberg since 1983. His primary research interests are areas of the comparative sociology of organizations and communities. His set goal is to gain insight into the anatomy and developmental processes of society's institutions by mean of wide-ranging comparative investigations and by detecting the general in the particular, with special emphasis on information and communication technology. The appointment of Hans Geser has enabled the institute to extend its analysis of the interorganizational system in the direction of mesosociologically designed research into political organizations. The main focus is placed on the analysis of trade unions, political parties, communities and small states. Hans Geser's chair also covers areas of sociological system theory and interactionism, the latter is manifested in intensive research into new communication technologies.
Marlis Buchmann, who also habilitated in Zurich, held a professorship for sociology at the ETH (Federal Institute of Technology) between 1990 and 2005. In 1994, she was appointed professor of Sociology at the University of Zurich. Between 1994 and 2005 she held a double professorship of sociology at the ETH and the University of Zurich. Since 2004 she has also been the executive director of the "Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development" at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on: life course, social stratification and mobility, education, labor, labor market and social change. Her academic biography is distinguished by her research activities abroad, and her guest professorships at several elite U.S. universities. Marlis Buchmann's career is devoted to research in social stratification and mobility including inequalities in the international social stratification system. Her research activities are also based on micro data, and increasing attention is being given to cultural structures and processes. The main themes are issues of educational sociology, labor and labor market research, and life course (with special emphasis on childhood, adolescence and young adulthood).
Kurt Imhof, born in 1956, has been a full professor of sociology and media research at the University of Zurich since 2000. His research activities focus on phenomena of social change, particularly on communication sociology. Together with four of his research colleagues, he founded the Center for Research on the Public Sphere and Society (foeg) in 1997 in order to expand the research activities in his areas of interest. The foeg runs a large number of projects in three research fields, which all share the goal of analyzing long-term social changes in modern society with reference to interest and conflict structures in public communication. Since May 2005, Kurt Imhof has been a co-director of the Swiss participation in the "Ludwig-Boltzmann Institute for European History and Public Spheres", and since September 2005 he has also been directing the "Democracy in the Media Society" project as a part of the NCCR's "Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century".
Marc Szydlik has been a full professor at the University of Zurich since 2004. Before that, he worked at the German Institute for Economic Research, at the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development and Education, at the Free University of Berlin and at the University of Erfurt. He was a visiting scholar at Harvard, Columbia, Oxford, Stanford and Cambridge Universities. From 2005 until 2013, he was the director of the Institute of Sociology. Since 2005 he has been directing the research group AGES (LAbour, Generation, Stratification). Marc Szydlik mainly researches and teaches in the fields of social stratification and life course (focusing on adulthood). He is primarily concerned with family issues and labour markets, where, after an investigation of the match between education and job, he dealt with consequences of the flexibilisation of labour. His current research mainly focuses on all relevant aspects of intergenerational relations (such as contact, conflict, help, care, current financial transfers, inheritances), including international comparisons.
Jörg Rössel holds the newly created, fourth, full professorship at the Institute of Sociology. Prior to his activity at the University of Zurich, he was working as a research assistant at the Institute of Cultural Research at the University of Leipzig. After a one-year fellowship at Harvard University 2003/2004 he held (guest-)professorships at the International University of Bremen, the University of Erfurt and the University of Cologne. Jörg Rössel researches and teaches in the domains of sociological theory, social structure analysis, political sociology, cultural sociology and comparative historical sociology. Current research is focusing on the logic of sociological explanations, the comparative analysis of democratization processes, as well as the interrelations between social stratification and lifestyles. In future, his teaching will focus more on the area of sociological theories, and his research activities will pay greater attention to the phenomenon of altruism in the microtheory field and the horizontal differentiation of society in the macrotheory field. Jörg Rössel ist the director of the Institute of Sociology since August 2013.
Eldad Davidov is associate professor at the University of Zurich since 2009. He studied economics, sociology, and social sciences at Tel Aviv University and the University of Giessen, and he completed his postdoctoral studies (Habilitation) in 2008 at the University of Cologne . His methodological research focuses especially on the analysis of cross-cultural and longitudinal survey data using structural equation modeling. This research focus is presented and dealt with in his courses, as well as in various international summer schools such as those in Essex and Lugano . His substantive work concentrates on the study of basic human values and attitudes toward immigrants and other minorities, and their causes and consequences in a comparative perspective. Relations between sociodemographic characteristics, authoritarianism, national identity, attitudes toward immigrants, human values, and political orientation are central to his research as well as the explanations of how these relations vary across cultures. He is member of the committee “Cross National Comparisons” in the network ”Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences 2“ (2008-2011) which is financed by the European Science Foundation for the advancement of methodological innovation and application in the social sciences.
Katja Rost holds a professorship of sociology at the University of Zurich since 2012. She previously worked at the Universities of Leipzig, Bern, Zurich, Mannheim and Jena, at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and in private enterprises in Berlin and Munich. Katja Rost studied sociology and made her PhD and habilitation in economics. Katja Rost is researching and teaching mainly economic and political sociology with a particular focus on corporate governance, incentive systems, social norms and social responsibility, as shown for example in her study on the rise of manager salaries in publicly owned firms regarded from market, power and social norm view points. Her current research topic is the economic and political elite and multinational organisations. The role of these elites are being determined more closely from the perspective of social capital, the public outrage and the social responsibility. Multinational organisations are being examined from the sociological perspective of institutional theory, e.g. as organisations that are being confronted with complex environmental issues.
A lecturer is known as a "Privatdozent or PD" in German-speaking countries. A large number of lecturers are employed to complement the professors' theoretical and empirical work over a wide range of subjects.
Peter-Ulrich Merz-Benz (habilitation 1994) specializes in sociological theory and its history, and in the epistemological and methodological foundations of social sciences.
The five lecturers who have left the Institute of Sociology are Prof. Peter C. Meyer (habilitation 1996, Zurich University Winterthur), Prof. Manuel Eisner (habilitation 1997, University of Cambridge), Prof. Michael Nollert (habilitation 2002, University of Freiburg i. Ue.), Prof. Christian Suter (habilitation 1998, University of Neuenburg) and Prof. Gaetano Romano (habilitation 2001, University of Lucerne). Their teaching subjects were developmental sociology, health sociology, communication sociology, the sociology of conflict and crime, and economic sociology. François Höpflinger (habilitation 1987) continues Hoffmann-Nowotny's demographical research tradition, and has expanded the Swiss research on Ageing and Generations. Beat Fux (habilitation 2001) has provided important works on family sociology, demography, welfare and family policy, and the international comparison of welfare states.