Transformation of Contemporary Societies


The majority of work taking place in the main research area falls into the following three categories.

Transnational labour markets in the context of building social and political order in an increasingly borderless world

Nation states increasingly have labour markets with borders that no longer correspond to their own. Labour is consequently taking place in changing contexts, which is creating new challenges for participants in the labour market as well as for governments, trade unions and employers’ associations. How can labour be organized under such circumstances? How is work perceived? And what is the basis of  “good work”? 

Further research is to be conducted within the main research area on a project cluster in which a number of individual projects are already receiving funding as part of a DFG package proposal on the theme of “Cross-Border Labour Markets”. The existing projects are by Prof. Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer (“Techniques and Practices of Transnational Cooperation within the Software Engineering Sector”), Prof. Karen Shire (“Cross-Border Temporary Staffing”), Prof. Petra Stein (“Modelling of dyadic decision-making processes of spatial mobility and its consequences”) and Prof. Thomas Haipeter (“Interest Representation on National and Transnational Levels of Action: Restructuring of Companies and the Problem of Articulation”). The question central to these projects and forthcoming work in this area concerns institutional influences on the transnationalization of labour, whether it takes the form of cross-border workforce mobility, the transnationalization of production sites and workplaces, or transnational work activities. 

Dr. Birgit Apitzsch (Institute of Sociology) is working with colleagues from the Technical University Dortmund (TU Dortmund) within a MERCUR-funded project on “Collective Individualization – Individual Collectivization”, in which they explore and compare negotiation of working conditions across industry among highly qualified sole traders and the role and influence of different intermediaries (e.g. agencies, professional associations, trade unions).

Political and social governance within and beyond national borders 

Governance in general describes how complex organizations and especially state structures are managed. Global governance is the management of structural allocation mechanisms between states or by individual states that account for the entire world or a large part of it. Transnational governance goes beyond global governance and refers to governance beyond the boundaries of the national state, also on a small scale. What forms of efficient governance are possible between the differing priorities of nation states and globalization? What are the structures in building order that allow governance to (still) take place? And what room for manoeuvre do social and economic actors have in the “new” governance structures? The projects outlined below attempt to elucidate these questions from diverse perspectives.

PD Dr. Daniel Lambach (Institute of Political Science) submitted a successful proposal to the DFG for his project “Nonviolent Resistance and Democratic Consolidation”. In the project, he explores the renewed public and academic interest of recent years in non-violent resistance to authoritarian regimes. While current studies confirm the effectiveness of this strategy in achieving political change, the long-term effects of non-violent resistance on the consolidation of a democracy have not yet been investigated. 

Members of the main research area working in global and transnational governance also succeeded in gaining the support of MERCUR in 2104/2015. It is funding a cooperation project by Dr. Cornelia Ulbert (Institute for Development and Peace, INEF) with the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) under the title of “Political authority and transnational governance arrangements: Regulation through public and private labor, social and environmental standards in the Asian textile and garment industry”. The object of their collaboration is to survey governance arrangements and standards based on “private authority” that either exploit the absence of legal norms regulating labour, social and environmental protection or are a substitute for them, and to analyze the interaction between norm-setting at public and private level. 

Prof. Andreas Blätte (Institute of Political Science) is currently working with colleagues from the RUB on a joint MERCUR project investigating arenas of political interest representation in Germany (“Arenen der politischen Interessenvermittlung in Deutschland”). In both this project and his project “Plenary Protocols as public language resource of democracy”, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the CLARIN-D consortium, a text corpus compiled by Prof. Blätte and his team from numerous plenary debates is used, with the PolMine Plenary Protocol Corpus providing the necessary technical and methodological infrastructure for analysis.

Transformation of risk and welfare in constantly changing contexts 

Processes of global change, such as deindustrialization, tertiarization, demographic, climate and political change, create new challenges for the welfare of people and societies. With them they bring changes in the risk structures for individual, economic, social and political actors. How do these actors deal with the new challenges? What influences the differing development of risk and welfare for different actors? And how do the degree of complexity of risks and the consequences thereof develop for individuals and collective actors?

The theme development workshop funded by the main research area on “Insuring and protecting against personal risks: interaction between individuals, family, the market, social groups and the state in different regions and eras” has already produced its first external funding success in this area. “The Management and Perceptions of Big Risks” is a project funded by the Funk-Stiftung in which the different perspectives of empirical political science (Prof. Achim Goerres), financial mathematics (Prof. Rüdiger Kiesel) and practical philosophy (Prof. Andreas Niederberger) are applied in exploring how decision-makers and the public in the 21st century deal with big risks like climate or demographic change and state deficits.

Other Activities

Prof. Carsten Ullrich and Dr. Daniela Schiek (Institute of Social Work and Social Policy) were successful in acquiring DFG funding for the “Online focus groups via message boards as qualitative inquiry” project, which explores the methodological possibilities of using focus groups in web forums for social research purposes. In their study, they apply an experimental design in investigating and comparing various forms of forum discussion (focus groups in web forums) with regard to their methodological relevance.

Prof. Andreas Niederberger (Philosophy) and Prof. Volker Michael Heins (Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen) successfully gained MERCUR funding for their project “Ethics of immigration”. Working with colleagues from TU Dortmund University and the RUB, they are attempting to develop a more precise understanding of the right to the international freedom of movement. They are examining whether different reasons for migration reinforce or limit the right of immigration, what demands and obligations can be derived from the motives behind immigration, and to what extent it is morally acceptable to exclude migrants.

Prof. Benjamin Scheller (Historical Institute) is working with Prof. Frank Becker (Historical Institute), Prof. Barbara Buchenau (Department of Anglophone Studies), Prof. Gabriele Genge (Institute of Art and Art History) and Prof. Patricia Plummer (Department of Anglophone Studies) in the MERCUR project “Ambiguity and social order” to investigate ambiguity and the possible conditions for tolerance towards it. The interdisciplinary project between history, literature, cultural science and art history thus brings together complementary perspectives on and approaches to cultural ambiguity.

Early Career Research and Doctoral Programmes

A doctoral research programme funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation was awarded to the UDE through the interdisciplinary research group “Media Representations of Work” (“Mediale Diskursivierungen von Arbeit”), which is led by Prof. Christoph Bieber (Institute of Political Science) with Dr. Thomas Ernst (Institute of German Studies), Prof. Rolf Parr (Institute of German Studies) and other colleagues from the University. Research in the doctoral group centres on the representation of work in various kinds of special discourse in the media, including film, tv, press, radio, digital, literature, theatre and music, and how knowledge imparted in this process is received, processed and brought together to create other new and complex work. A theme development workshop funded by the main research area was held on 2 and 3 March 2015, specifically targeting young researchers wishing to work in this field.

What action can be taken to manage contingency, and what do people think about how present thought and action relate to their uncertain (or supposedly certain) future? The historical dimension of these extremely topical questions is the subject of a group of historians led by Prof. Stefan Brakensiek and Prof. Benjamin Scheller at the UDE. In the DFG Research Training Group “Precaution, prevision, prediction: managing contingency”, the historians challenge and expand theoretical thinking based on a fundamentally different approach to contingency as one of the characteristics of the modern age. 

Two programmes to support early career researchers are running at the Institute of East Asian Studies (IN-EAST). The BMBF-funded “IN-EAST School of Advanced Studies” analyzes the ongoing process of technical innovation in East Asia, with a particular focus on its support and acceptance in society. The research projects of the IN-EAST School of Advanced Studies begin from the basic assumption that innovations are not purely technological and must be embedded in certain institutions if they are to evolve and spread. Taking this as their basis, the researchers analyze and compare the peculiarities of innovation processes in East Asia. Another project hosted by IN-EAST and already in its second funding period is the DFG Research Training Group 1613 “Risk and East Asia”. The various doctoral projects of the participating members correspond to the four major processes of current social transformation – marketization, individualization, decentralization, and transnationalization – and make it possible to draw conclusions as to the universality and specificity of institutional change in East Asia. 

Early career researchers from several disciplines and funded by the “Transformation of Contemporary Societies” main research area have been working for over two years on the practice of legitimacy in society and governance in a colloquium series titled “Herausforderung Legitimität. Gesellschaft und Regieren unter veränderten Bedingungen”. The resulting peer-reviewed collection of papers, “Legitimitätspraxis. Politikwissenschaftliche und soziologische Perspektiven”, edited by Dr. Matthias Lemke, Dr. Oliver Schwarz, Dr. Toralf Stark and Dr. Kristina Weissenbach, was published in the summer of 2015 by Springer VS Verlag. The volume maps the complexity and multidimensionality of the concept of legitimacy and the interdisciplinary exchange on the subject within the colloquium series. It delivers an insight into the multifaceted dialogue between analyses of legitimacy in different disciplines, contexts, subjects, research logics and methodologies. The articles focus on issues relating to the discursive constitution of legitimacy as well as complex legitimation processes in social and political structures. They also consider diverse interactions between political organizations, institutionalized regulatory systems and individual actors.