Aporias of Perfection in Accelerated Societies

Current Cultural Transformation of Self images, Relationship Structures and Body Practices

2012 to 04/2018 / Project Heads: Prof. Dr. Vera King, Prof. Dr. Benigna Gerisch, Prof. Dr. Hartmut Rosa


A transdiscplinary project funded by the VolkswagenStiftung in association with the initiative “Schlüsselthemen in Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft” [“Key Issues for Research and Society”].
Funding period: 01.12.2012–31.03.2018


Das Projekt wird durch die VolkswagenStiftung gefördert im Rahmen der Förderinitiative »Schlüsselthemen in Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft«
Bewilligungszeitraum: 01.12.2012 – 31.03.2018

Research Objective

The projects pivotal starting point is the indication that modern Western societies are based on a dynamical reproduction, as defined by permanent growth and innovation. Within the course of these dynamical processes new modes of increasement in effectivity emerge creating a fundamental change. Thus, dynamical growth not only implicates the acceleration of social processes in particluar but requires the constant optimization of social practices in a wide range of social environments. The various, partly inherent diverging logics of optimization within the different subdomains must in turn be integrated on an individual level in terms of perfection.

Whereas demands of optimization in various fields of social practices result from rationalization and an operative acceleration and in particular strive for a quantitative increase in single parameters of lebensführung [lifestyle], it is believed that tendencies of perfection determine the lebensführung in its entireness. In this respect we assume that the political, technological and economical alterations occuring since the events around 1990 have accelerated modern society even more, provoking new demands of perfection and paradoxies for the individual lebensführung that challenge integrative capabilities hitherto.

Hence the project is based on and guided by the assumption that a specific relation between acceleration, optimization and perfection is given and yet to be analyzed on different social levels. Relating to the supposition that the demands for a perfectionisitic lebensführung bring forward biographical patterns and coping strategies, which, despite their indispensability for social functioning, tend to undermine the ressources regarding social relationships and psychic capacities, we especially aim at analyzing the counterproductive results created by these demands of perfection. From this perspective it seems very likely to suppose relevant connections between (aporias of) perfection and those phenomena and diagnoses that can be seen as typical pathologies for contemporary Western societies According to our hypothesis phenomena of exhaustion and excessive demands as well as pathological parabolic forms of (in particular body-manipulating) self optimization can be seen as socially compounded developments and/or intensified symptomatic coping strategies. These practices, we assume, become strikingly visible within those aporias of perfection. Therefore the projects’ intention is to compare groups of 25 to 40 year old women and men in respect to similarities and differences regarding ordinary biographical patterns of optimization and perfection as well as coping strategies or overstraining scenarios in clinical groups.

Thus all subprojects concentrate on questions of how constant increase in social dynamics and competitive structures of acknowledgment transform into coercions of perfection for the individuals. Each project will focus on the ways in which these indications have an effect on relationships, concepts of the self and self-orientated body images. For that purpose a threefold, several social levels mediating and at the same time multidisciplinary approach was created that combines different qualitative and quantitative methods.


The first subproject (Rosa) aims at developing a matrix from the macrosociological perspective allowing conclusions of time-related social structures. This typology will be further specified in the second project (King) by applying microanalytic-orientated analysis of biographies including generational aspects of socialization as well as psychological patterns of processing/coping. Finally the third project (Gerisch) will focus on the psychological/psychodynamic consequences of these dynamics, in particular centering on the tipping point from self-optimization to self-destruction.


Overall the innovative surplus of this threefold research design is the possibility to explore the not yet answered social theoretical questions regarding the complex interplay of social and individual factors in the context of the outlined cultural changes. Such findings are crucial to socialization theory and developmental research as well as to clinical, diagnostical and preventive fields and above all highly relevant for a sociological perspective.

Project team

Prof. Dr. Vera King (Universität Hamburg, Socialisation Studies), spokesperson
Prof. Dr. Benigna Gerisch (IPU Berlin, Clinical Psychology and Psychoanalysis)
Prof. Dr. Hartmut Rosa (Universität Jena, General Sociology)

Research assistants
Dr. Diana Lindner (Jena)
Julia Schreiber (Hamburg)
Nieles Uhlendorf (Hamburg)
Christiane Beerbom (Berlin)
Benedikt Salfeld (Berlin)

Doctoral candidate
Katarina Busch (Hamburg)

Student assistants
Luis Saß (Berlin)
Theresa Vos (Berlin)
Maria Wetzig (Hamburg)


Dipl.-Psych. Christiane Beerbom (Koordination und Durchführung)
IPU Berlin
Stromstr. 3 – Raum 3.08
10555 Berlin
Tel.: +49 30 300 117-743
E-Mail: christiane.beerbom(at)ipu-berlin.de

Benedikt Salfeld-Nebgen M. A. (Koordination und Durchführung)
IPU Berlin
Stromstr. 3 – Raum 3.08
10555 Berlin
Tel.: +49 30 300 117-744
E-Mail: benedikt.salfeld(at)ipu-berlin.de

Luis Saß
Studentischer Mitarbeiter
Studiengang Master of Arts (MA) Psychologie

Theresa Vos M.A. (Koordination und Durchführung)
IPU Berlin
Stromstr. 3 – Raum 3.08
10555 Berlin
Tel.: +49 30 300 117-744
E-Mail: theresa.vos(at)ipu-berlin.de

Universität Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Vera King (Projektsprecherin)
Fakultät für Erziehungswissenschaft, Psychologie und Bewegungswissenschaft
Fachbereich: Erziehungswissenschaften
E-Mail: Vera.King(at)uni-hamburg.de

Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

Prof. Dr. Hartmut Rosa (Projektleitung)
Institut für Soziologie
Fachbereich: Allgemeine und theoretische Soziologie
E-Mail: hartmut.rosa(at)uni-jena.de

Dr. Diana Lindner (Durchführung und Koordination)
Institut für Soziologie
Fachbereich: Allgemeine und theoretische Soziologie
E-Mail: diana.lindner(at)uni-jena.de


  • King, V. u. Gerisch, B. (2015): Editorial – Perfektionierung und Destruktivität – Eine Einführung. In: King, V.; Gerisch, B. (Hrsg.) (2015): Psychosozial: Schwerpunktthema: Perfektionierung und Destruktivität. 38. Jhg., Nr. 141, Heft III, S. 5 – 11.
  • Schreiber, J.; Uhlendorf, N.; Lindner, D.; Gerisch, B.; King, V.; Rosa, H. (2015): Optimierung zwischen Zwang und Zustimmung – Institutionelle Anforderungen und psychische Bewältigung im Berufsleben. In: King, V.; Gerisch, B. (Hrsg.) (2015): Psychosozial: Schwerpunktthema: Perfektionierung und Destruktivität. 38. Jhg., Nr. 141, Heft III, S. 27 - 42.
  • Beerbom, Ch.; Busch, K.; Salfeld-Nebgen, B.; Gerisch, B.; King, V. (2015): Körperoptimierung im Kontext zeitgenössischer Muster der Lebensführung – Exemplarische Analyse psychischer und biografischer Bedeutungen schönheitschirurgischer Eingriffe. In: King, V.; Gerisch, B. (Hrsg.) (2015): Psychosozial: Schwerpunktthema: Perfektionierung und Destruktivität. 38. Jhg., Nr. 141, Heft III, S. 43 - 56.
  • Salfeld-Nebgen, B.; Gerisch, B.; Beerbom, Ch.; King, V.; Lindner, D.; Rosa, H. (2016): Bagatellisierung als Idealtypus – Über ein Muster der Lebensführung in Zeiten der Perfektionierung. In: Psychoanalyse im Widerspruch 28. Jahrgang, Nr. 55: 9 – 30.
  • Uhlendorf, N.; Schreiber, J.; King, V.; Gerisch, B.; Rosa, H.; Busch, K. (2016): ‚Immer so dieses Gefühl, nicht gut genug zu sein’: Optimierung und Leiden. In: Psychoanalyse im Widerspruch 28. Jahrgang, Nr. 55: 31 - 50