Institute of East Asian Studies

The strongest motivation for individuals to build social institutions comes from the dangers but also the opportunities posed by risks and uncertainties. Understanding the dynamics of this situation and comparing different economic and social systems is the overriding concern of the research focus on “Risk and East Asia” at the UDE’s Institute of East Asian Studies. What are the risks driving social organisation? Threats posed by natural disasters are an obvious example, but triggers can also be found in contemporary economic, social and political developments. The strategic decisions of the Chinese government, for example, between the market and the state and between democratic and authoritative leadership are subject to a calculation of risk. Problems underlie issues of social security in all East Asian countries. Risk is an important part of international relations – both within the East Asian region (for example reactions to the North Korean threat or the recent flare up of tensions concerning the Senkoku Islands after a Chinese fishing boat had collided with a Japanese coast guard boat) as well as between East Asia and Europe. What are the preconditions for jointly averting global threats such as climate change? How can corporations prepare for the risks of entering foreign markets? The cultural dimension is also significant and must not be neglected, since risks and opportunities are experienced subjectively. Power and interests thus play a role in the perception, repression and treatment of risks, in other words risk management.

These are the topics analyzed by the Institute’s researchers in a large number of research projects, details of which are presented in its annual report. Their common theoretical basis is formed by the various institutional theories in the economic, sociological and political sciences. In the behavioural science projects, the researchers are increasingly applying methods of experimental economics when conducting experiments in Asia to explore the differences in people’s behaviour. The research programme is closely connected to the Research Training Group approved by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in May 2009.

DFG Research Training Group 1613

Risk and East Asia: An Anglo-German Research Programme

The Research Training Group’s (Speaker: Prof. Karen A. Shire PhD) objectives are three-fold:

  1. to contribute to socioscientific and comparative theories of institutional change by studying how the responsibilities for governing and protecting against social, political and economic risks are shifting from states to markets, from public to private bodies and from collectives to individuals,
  2. to study institutional change in a region of the world – East Asia – where institutional logics have played out historically in different ways, and
  3. to combine excellent training in research methodology and theory with good language and regional competencies.

The research programme is innovative because it takes a risk perspective on institutional change and ties together specific disciplinary research questions with a regional perspective in an intra- and interregional research design. The sub-themes of the research programme examine the impact of four “large processes” of contemporary transformations on shifting risks in specific cases of institutional dynamics: marketisation, individualisation, decentralisation, and transnationalisation.

The research training programme is an explicitly international collaboration with the UK Centre of Excellence – the White Rose East Asia Centre of the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield – in cooperation with major centres of social science research in East Asia, the Faculty of Sociology and Population Studies at Renmin University in Beijing and the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Tokyo in Japan. The disciplinary and methodological expertise of the German participants is complemented by the regional expertise of the British researchers; together they aim to achieve excellence in combining methodological and language training in social sciencebased regional studies.

The collaboration involves jointly developed training measures, planned at key milestones in the development and execution of doctoral research projects within a structured three-year doctoral curriculum. A key innovation of the training programme is the concept of joint mobility to East Asia, where an intensive course on research methods and implementation with scholars in East Asia is hosted by Renmin University and the University of Tokyo to prepare doctoral candidates for their own field work. This key innovation is aimed at improving the training for methodologically sound research in discipline-based East Asian regional studies, and at integrating doctoral fellows into the scientific community in East Asia at an early stage. The final year of the programme includes measures aimed at preparing doctoral fellows for a productive research career, part of which entails peer-reviewed publications in English.

The extent of the Tohuku earthquake in March 2011 in Japan, the tsunami and the ensuing meltdown in the Fukushima I reactors shocked scientists, scholars, and observers around the world. The relevance and timeliness of the research questions explored by the Research Training Group were sadly accentuated by this triple disaster. Various events and new research projects have since been set up to analyze the effects of the disaster and how society is dealing with it. The international Expert Workshop “Ready or Not? Assessing Recent Changes in Japan’s International Crisis Management Capabilities”, which had been planned long before the earthquake and which was organized by Dr. Kerstin Lukner and Dr. Alexandra Sakaki in Duisburg in the autumn of 2011, also included a session dedicated to the analysis of the crisis management strategies employed in response to the disaster. The workshop was financed by the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen and Halbach-Stiftung and attended by leading experts from Japan, the USA, and Europe, who discussed crisis and risk in Japanese foreign policy.

The Research Training Group also hosted another international workshop together with the German Institute for Japanese Studies in November 2011 in Tokyo to discuss new risks facing the world of work. Experts analyzed the political and social consequences of the unstable employment conditions now also becoming increasingly apparent in East Asia.

Max Weber Scholarship

The newly appointed Assistant Professor Kristin Surak PhD was awarded the prestigious Max Weber Scholarship by the European University Institute in Florence. During the scholarship in 2010–2011 in Florence, she was able to concentrate on her sociological research on migration, ethnicity, culture, and nationalism. Since autumn 2011, she has been conducting research within the Research Training Group on labour migration in East Asia.

Scientist in Residence

Each year the University of Duisburg-Essen offers the position of Scientist in Residence to an internationally respected scientist. In 2011, the University awarded the position to John Creighton Campbell, professor emeritus of the University of Michigan. In his research this eminent political scientist examines the political implications of demographic change in Japan. During his time at IN-EAST, Professor Campbell advised doctoral and postdoctoral students and helped them to develop their research questions and designs. In a keynote address on the award of the visiting professorship titled “Long-term Problems and Short-term Disasters: Politics and Social Policy in Post 3/11 Japan”, he and the well-known political scientist Gerald L. Curtis of Columbia University, New York, gave a joint lecture on the political and social implications of the triple disaster in Japan.