Transformation of Contemporary Societies

Research projects

A number of research projects were of particular importance to the Transformation of Contemporary Societies in 2012/2013. The Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research, for which funding was acquired in 2010 by Prof. Tobias Debiel (Institute of Political Science) together with Prof. Dirk Messner (German Development Institute in Bonn) and Prof. Claus Leggewie (Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, KWI Essen), researches the possibilities and limits of global cooperation. Establishing the Centre under the BMBF’s “Freedom for Research in the Humanities” programme has been a great success and will help to shape the UDE research profile in the coming years. Working as part of a global and transdisciplinary network, international guest scholars and scientific staff investigate the possibilities and limitations of global cooperation in dealing with urgent issues relating to transformation, such as migration, resource distribution or human-driven climate change. An important goal of the Centre is to develop concrete solutions in close dialogue with practitioners in the respective fields.

An initiative for a DFG PAK package proposal on the topic of “Cross-Border Labour Markets” has emerged out of the Main Research Area. Its focus is on the issue of institutional influences on the transnationalisation of work, be it in the form of cross-border mobility of labour, the transnationalisation of production locations and workplaces, or the transnational mobility of occupations. Three DFG research projects have been approved within this framework, and further projects are in preparation. Prof. Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer is researching “Techniques and Practices of Transnational Cooperation within the Software Engineering Sector” and considering the interaction of technically pre-structured cooperative processes in transnational teams and the working practices of those involved. Prof. Karen Shire’s project on “Cross-Border Temporary Staffing” investigates the formation of transnational markets of loan workers from a comparative perspective between East Asia and Europe. With the aid of “Modelling of dyadic decision-making processes of spatial mobility and its consequences”, Prof. Petra Stein is researching how decisions about a change of work location are made in a partnership. The research area of “Cross-Border Labour Markets” is to be extended further in the future with other DFG project ­proposals, the development of which is being supported by the Main Research Area.

Since the Main Research Area was founded, the DFG Research Training Group “Risk and East Asia”, which is based at the Institute of East Asian Studies (IN-EAST), has been providing important perspectives for its work. The (post)doctoral ­students in the group study the transformation of society in Japan and China from a risk analysis perspective. In their projects they ask how strategies, such as markets playing a stronger role, individualisation or decentralisation, are used to deal with transformation and its risks. In addition to presenting their findings at high-level conferences and in the journals for the relative disciplines, the participating researchers have also secured funding from the DFG, the BMBF, the British Economic and Social Research Council, and the Abe Program of the US Social Science Research Council. Given the very good evaluation of the Research Training Group, the DFG approved an application for extension at the end of 2013, so that “Risk and East Asia” can continue its work until 2018.

A further success of IN-EAST, together with a broad interdisciplinary and cross-faculty network of researchers from the Main Research Areas of Urban Systems and Transformation of Contemporary Societies, the Center for Automotive Research, the Center for Automotive Management and the Essen Laboratory for Experimental Economics, is the acquisition of funding for a School of Advanced Studies. Launched in November 2013 and to be funded for an initial four years by the BMBF, the School is concerned with innovation in East Asia. The research centres on the closely interwoven fields of electric mobility and urban systems.

Its research projects will be based on the assumption that innovations are not solely technological, but in their creation and dissemination depend on their institutional setting. On this basis, the peculiarities of innovation processes in East Asia will be analysed and compared. At the same time, the School is an innovation in itself, as it takes a concept tested in the natural sciences involving research in small groups and transfers it to regional studies and social sciences. In these groups, doctoral students will work together with post-doctoral students or junior professors. The “Governance in China” competence network sponsored by the BMBF is another research project in the Main Research Area to build on the long-standing Asia expertise of the UDE.

The focus here is on the important issue of how authoritarian systems continue to exist in times of international markets and global communication. This collaboration of China researchers within political sciences at five German universities is investigating the ability of the Chinese political system to adapt and innovate. Three subprojects concentrate on various aspects of governance in China’s transformation process. Duisburg’s subproject under the leadership of Prof. Thomas Heberer (in cooperation with the University of Tübingen) looks at who is involved and how at local level. Local cadres are a crucially important part of the political process and influence how central policies are implemented. They play an important role in policy experiments, policy innovation and policy variation and are therefore a central mechanism of Chinese politics, both in testing new policies (innovation) and promoting the advantages of particular locations and strengthening local features (variation). This project was extended at the end of 2013 for two further years until 2016.

The Main Research Area was also successful in 2013 in securing project funding for the Mercator Research Center Ruhr (MERCUR) by Stiftung Mercator. Prof. Fabian Kessl (UDE) and Prof. Axel Groenemeyer (TU Dortmund University) are both receiving sponsorship. Their project has been running since February 2013 under the title of “Alternative Formen der Armutsbekämpfung: die neue Mitleidsökonomie. Bestandsaufnahme und Exploration”. They analyse institutions such as the “Tafeln” (literally ‘tables’, food assistance centre), which rely primarily on voluntary work and ­private donations, and investigate the potential of these institutions to complement the work of the classic welfare state. In a project with Prof. Christine Wimbauer research is also being carried out within the MERCUR programme on how couples negotiate and decide with each other and with the employer on parenting leave for the father. The project (“Väter in Elternzeit. Aushandlungs- und Entscheidungsprozesse zwischen Paarbeziehung und Betrieb”) will be launched at the beginning of 2014. Finally, Prof. Andreas Blätte, together with colleagues from the Ruhr University Bochum, has secured funding for the MERCUR project “Arenen der politischen Interessenvermittlung in Deutschland”. The project will use a text corpus he and his team compiled from a large number of plenary debates and the necessary technical and methodological infrastructure for its evaluation, PolMine. It was developed with the support of resources from the Main Research Area. Its purpose in this project is to analyse the strategies and success of interest groups in social fields, the environment and migration.