Central to research at GCR21 is the core task of exploring and better understanding the possibilities of and obstacles to cross-border cooperation. Researchers from various disciplines and all regions of the world work at the Centre on developing a framework for contemporary cooperation research in which to explore new pathways in global governance for crisis management and to protect global public goods. GCR21 aims to become a hub for this emerging branch of research. Pressing transnational issues, among them climate change, global financial crises or acute crisis situations like that currently in Syria, illustrate the vital importance of global cooperation and thus also of cooperation research. Since it was founded in February 2012, the Centre for Global Cooperation Research has hosted 107 political scientists, sociologists, economists, historians, legal scholars, cultural scientists, philosophers and anthropologists from 30 countries and every continent.

The fellows’ projects make up the core of research activities at the Centre and are traditionally organised into four thematic research units as follows:

  • Research Unit 1 “The (Im-)Possibility of Cooperation” explores the question of whether and how cooperation can succeed on a global level. An integral part of all research in this multidisciplinary unit is to transfer findings at the micro level, for instance in experimental research on cooperation in small groups, to the significantly more complex macro level of international negotiations, for example on climate. In 2016 the focus was on the new actors in the global community. Alongside the issue of emerging powers and new donor countries, the existence of clubs and associations designed to achieve specific political goals played a prominent role. With research projects covering a wide range of current global issues, from peace-building through climate to economic policy, the research unit was able to establish an important basis for 2017, in which scenario planning was the foremost activity. The Centre’s third master class, on the theme of “Future Scenarios of Global Cooperation – Practices and Challenges”, took place in March 2017 and was the focal point in this context.
  • Research Unit 2 “Global Cultural Conflicts and Transcultural Cooperation” is concerned with the question of how cultural and religious beliefs and world views influence global cooperation. One of the goals in this research unit is to explore the cultural meanings underlying different narratives and practices of cooperation. Situations are explored in which global and transnational conflicts prove difficult to resolve because they are interpreted and experienced as being “cultural”. One of the central themes to be launched in 2015 and continued in 2016 was regional communitybuilding as a way to solve collective problems together. Exploring options and theories beyond the utilitarian paradigm, which dominated the research on regional integration, was also the focus of another long-term research interest, the gift paradigm. Forced migration was not only one of the areas for testing the potential of the gift paradigm but also a new thematic focus in the research unit. The theme was both highly relevant at the time and simultaneously delivered important insights at the interface between the work packages on transcultural learning communities. In 2017 the research unit concentrated on deepening the understanding of cultural pluralism and cultural self-assurance under globalisation. We continued in our efforts to understand the challenges of flight and migration, shifting the focus primarily to the growing strength of anti-immigration movements in the Global North. At the same time, we also explored other cases of antiglobalistic resistance. An important testing ground in this area were the global local conflicts surrounding major hydroelectric dam projects.
  • Research Unit 3 “Global Governance Revisited” takes a critical look at how the increasingly heterogeneous nature of political and professional cultures affects global governance. Special attention is paid here both to inclusion of non-western, such as Chinese or Indian, perspectives of world order, and to the implications of diversification of political and professional cultures, specifically for international negotiations (e.g. on climate policy). The latter was a priority in 2016 and focused on policy-making in international negotiation arenas. The research took an analytical approach by sequencing negotiation processes and considering legitimacy claims in negotiations. Another issue central to this research unit was authority and legitimacy in international institutions. It is clear that, on a global level, beyond the frame of reference of established state power and its legitimation qua law and established processes, equivalents must be found to secure and legitimise authority so that stable cooperation is possible in the long term and acknowledged as legitimate. Like in Research Unit 1, scenario planning played a central role here too in 2017, in this case in the project “Prospective Migration Policy – Scenario Building on Relations between West Africa and Europe”.
  • Research Unit 4 “Paradoxes and Perspectives of Democratisation” is increasingly concerned with the importance of narratives to successful cooperation. It explores what role narrative patterns and fictional elements play in describing, defining and negotiating problem issues in the context of global cooperation. In 2016 the research unit continued to uphold the close connection between conceptional and empirical research in its work. It intensified the existing methodological orientation on practice theory and narrative theory perspectives of research fields in global cooperation. In the research activities surrounding the theme of “Legitimation and Participation”, an empirical focus was on controversial legitimacy issues of democratic governance in different areas of politics. Here too, it became clear that the approach adopted so far, of taking political practices and narratives as the microfoundation, continued to be an effective means of analysis. The approach to legitimacy is therefore no longer functionalist, but processual, based on legitimacy claims of political actors that are negotiated discursively in practices. The role of images and other visual artefacts also emerged as an additional category for exploring processes of both legitimation and delegitimation. Among the questions addressed by GCR21 in 2017 was how political strategy development has changed and must change in order for the current crisis situation to be handled productively, also taking into account the narrative dimension of projecting future visions.

While the four research units still remain the organisational cornerstones of GCR21, it has become increasingly apparent in the work of recent years that exchange between the research units on research content and themes is growing, and similar key issues are explored from different perspectives. It therefore seemed to make sense to reformulate the research agenda beyond the research units to make the work at the Centre more accessible, as the website shows (