Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

Social Disadvantage in Rural Peripheries in Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic


Walking frame at a rural bus stop (c) Thünen-Institut/Johanna Fick
Social disadvantage or successful coping? The German-Czech research project will consider such questions. (© Thünen-Institut/Johanna Fick)

Social disadvantage in rural peripheries in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic: opportunity structures and individual agency in a comparative perspective

Processes of social disadvantage are often considered as urban problems, but such phenomena are also prevalent in rural areas. In the project we analyse patterns of social disadvantage and options for action.

Background and Objective

Rural regions have recently (once again) moved into the focus of political and media discourse – not only in Germany, but also in other European countries and in the USA. The debate focuses on the notion that rural areas are particularly affected by social disadvantage, a lack of infrastructure as well as structural economic and demographic problems. Such topics have also been on the scientific agenda for quite a while long time. In Germany, they are primarily associated with the concept of peripheralisation, i.e. with a dynamic and multidimensional understanding of the disadvantages of certain rural areas. 

While the structural problems of rural peripheries as well as the discourses on them are well analysed, the question of the coping strategies of disadvantaged social groups has not yet been answered empirically. In the project we are particularly interested in whether and how the presence or lack of certain public and private services (e.g. public authorities or doctors’ surgeries) in the local and regional environment impact on the daily lives of these social groups. We also want to know in more detail what role people’s social networks play in cushioning or reinforcing social disadvantage. In addition, we investigate how processes and structures of social and spatial inequality interact precisely and how they influence the possibilities of individual actors to act and to cope with their situation.


In this project we analyse the interactions between social disadvantage, local and regional opportunity structures – such as public and private services of general interest, but also jobs or local associations – and individual scope for action. We are interested in the effects of processes at the societal macro level on patterns of social and spatial inequality. The meso-level includes local and regional opportunity structures as well as people’s social networks. At the micro level, we examine the individual agency's scope for action and how it deals with the structural conditions of the spatial environment.

A descriptive quantitative analysis of the spatial patterns of social disadvantage in East Germany and the Czech Republic is followed by in-depth regional case studies and qualitative interviews with representatives of disadvantaged social groups. In the last part of the project, the quantitative and qualitative results will be related (triangulated) and comparative analyses will be carried out both between the case study regions and between eastern Germany and the Czech Republic.

Data and Methods

In the project we first conduct small-scale statistical secondary analyses of all rural areas. Their aim is to identify rural peripheries in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic, to analyse the availability and accessibility of local and regional opportunity structures and to investigate current regional dynamics in socio-economic terms. For this purpose we use data from official regional statistics as well as the Thünen Accessibility Model.

Building on this, two different rural peripheries in eastern Germany and the Czech Republic will be examined in more detail with regard to the interrelations between social disadvantage, opportunity structures and the individual’s opportunities to act (agency). This is done via a mixed-method design that combines expert interviews with regional stakeholders and qualitative problem-centred interviews with members of socially disadvantaged groups. The problem-centred interviews also examine people’s social networks and individual time-space activity patterns. Re-interviews will finally serve to interpret these time-space data and the interrelations between local and regional opportunity structures, social networks and individual’s opportunities to act.

Preliminary Results

The project contributes to the sociological debate on the role of neighbourhood effects on social action and, in doing so, to the issue of the interdependencies between social and spatial disadvantage. Empirically, the relevance of local and regional opportunity structures in rural peripheries for individual behaviour and societal inclusion of socially disadvantaged groups. By way of comparing the situation in two different European countries, the research results are continuously reflected and tested for their validity.


Download (Poster)

[Translate to English:] Poster zum Projekt
Poster (© Thünen-Institut)


Poster presented at the international conference EURORURAL '18, September 3rd-6th, 2018, Mendel University, Brno, Czech Republic.

Poster (pdf, limited accessibility) 1067 kb


Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners

Funding Body

  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
    (national, öffentlich)


8.2018 - 8.2021

More Information

Projekt type:
Project status: ongoing

Publications to the project

hits: 1

  1. Klärner A, Knabe A (2019) Social networks and coping with poverty in rural areas. Sociologia Ruralis 59(3):447-473, DOI:10.1111/soru.12250