The epistemological premise of the lifeworld and milieu research of SINUS-Institut is the conviction that a reconstruction of social reality (which can’t be measured objectively) can only succeed by recording people’s everyday consciousness. The object of research is thus the lifeworld, i.e. the total subjective reality of an individual. This includes all significant areas of everyday experience (work, family, leisure, consumption, media etc.) crucial to the development and change of attitudes, values, cultural preferences and esthetic inclinations. Desires, fears, longings and dreams also play a part here.
The milieu target group model of SINUS is based on the lifeworld analysis of our society. The key result of this research is the delineation and description of social milieus, each with characteristic attitudes and life orientations. The Sinus-Milieus group together people who have similar views of life and lifestyles, i.e. similar value priorities, social situations and lifestyles. In other words, they take a holistic view of the individual and the reference system of his or her living environment.
Methodologically, this is implemented by SINUS through recourse to survey methods borrowed from ethnology, such as the narrative interview. This is because the areas of experience and lived everyday contexts of importance to an individual, along with his or her attitudes, values and desires, are most likely to become transparent in an open interview situation, in which the interviewees can present without outside influence what is important in their lives and what concerns them only marginally or not at all. The supreme methodological discipline of Sinus Lifeworld and Milieu Research is therefore the non-directive exploration of lifeworlds, in which the interviewees can report in their own language about all aspects of life that are relevant from their point of view.
We have used the lifeworld method of analysis in various studies on the public’s perception of political problems. It has allowed us to work out the contrast between the publicly formed climate of opinion and personal opinions. We have thus been able to demonstrate that the structures of meaning for political reality, as produced by the processes of public (media) opinion formation (which politicians sometimes take for reality par excellence), rarely correspond to those of people’s everyday reality. In other words, a change of scenery in the living room is commonly perceived as a big change to everyday life but not so a change of government.