Much of the work taking place in the main research area of Transformation of Contemporary Societies falls into four, in some respects overlapping, thematic fields.

Transnational Labour Markets as Part of Social and Political Order-Building in an Increasingly Borderless World

Nation-states increasingly have labour markets with borders that no longer coincide with their own. As a consequence, the contexts in which work is performed are changing, which creates new challenges for the actors on the labour market, but also for governments, trade unions and employers’ associations. How can work be organised under such circumstances? How is work perceived? What are the conditions for “good work”?

An area of research that has long-term viability and an excellent disciplinary and institutional basis at the UDE and in Transformation of Contemporary Societies is “Cross-Border Labour Markets”. It benefits especially from the very strong tradition of comparative social and transnational labour and labour market research in the Faculty of Social Sciences – particularly in the Institute of Sociology and the Institute for Work, Skills and Training (IAQ), but also beyond. Based on the individual projects already funded by the DFG on cross-border labour markets of 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 their Consequences”) and Prof. Thomas Haipeter (“Interest Representation on National and Transnational Levels of Action: Restructuring of Companies and the Problem of Articulation”), further work on this project cluster is taking place under the Transformation of Contemporary Societies main research area. Central to the “Transnational Labor” initiative from a global perspective continues to be the question of institutional influences on the transnationalisation of labour, whether in the form of cross-border workforce mobility, transnationalisation of production sites and workplaces, or transnational mobility of work. The researchers who already hold individual grants are joined by colleagues from the Institute of Sociology, the Institute of Work, Skills and Training, and the Institute of East Asian Studies at the UDE and from Ruhr University Bochum (RUB).

Political and Social Governance Within and Beyond National Borders

Governance generally describes how complex organisations, in particular state structures, are managed. Global governance is the management of structural allocation mechanisms between states or by individual states that affect the entire world or a large part of it. Transnational governance conceptually goes beyond global governance and describes governance across the boundaries of the nation-state. What forms of efficient governance are possible given the differing priorities of nationstates and globalisation? What are the orderbuilding structures on which governance can (still) take place? What agency do social and economic actors have in the “new” governance structures? Governance research under Transformation of Contemporary Societies is characterised by interdisciplinary work and a clear comparative international perspective. In addition to the activities of the individual members, the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research is instrumental in building the research profile in this area (see page 178).

A number of projects are also working from different perspectives on the questions outlined above:

  • ‚Relations with Central Asia are an important element of the transforming transatlantic and geopolitical setting in which the EU currently finds itself. The EU Horizon 2020 project “Strengthening and energizing EU-Central Asia relations (SEnECA)”, funded by the European Commission, of political scientist Prof. Michael Kaeding sets out to strengthen relations between the EU and Central Asia by establishing a sustainable transdisciplinary research and stakeholder network in Europe and Central Asia. The goal of this consortium of think tanks, universities and NGOs in Europe and Central Asia is to connect researchers, political decision-makers and interest groups from some 41 European, Central Asian and other Asian countries by 2020.
  • ‚A DFG project, “The Demand Side of Clientelism”, conducted by Dr. Miquel Pellicer has been launched at the UDE in a collaboration between Transformation of Contemporary Societies and the Institute for Political Science. The project investigates individual reactions to policy offers in Tunisia and South Africa. The Transformation of Risk and Welfare in Constantly Changing Contexts Processes of global change like deindustrialisation, tertiarisation, 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 handle the new challenges? What determines how risks and welfare manifest for different actors? What happens to the complexity of risks and the resulting consequences for individuals and collective actors?


The Transformation of Risk and Welfare in Constantly Changing Contexts

Processes of global change like deindustrialisation, tertiarisation, 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 handle the new challenges? What determines how risks and welfare manifest for different actors? What happens to the complexity of risks and the resulting consequences for individuals and collective actors?


  • The Perception and Management of Neuralgic Societal Risk in the 21st Century” is a project funded by the Funk Foundation in Hamburg and led by Prof. Achim Goerres, Prof. Rüdiger Kiesel and Prof. Andreas Niederberger. In the project political scientists, financial mathematicians and philosophers explore how the public and decision-makers in the 21st century deal with big risks like climate or demographic change and state deficits. To what extent are climate change and an ageing society regarded as central risks and opportunities in modern societies and controlled by the market and politics? The Risk Lectures and workshops conducted within the project also facilitate connections with the work of other researchers.
  • ‚The DFG Research Training Group GRK 1613 “Risk and East Asia” explores from an institutional perspective how responsibility for risks in East Asia shifts between the market, politics and family. The group considers four subtopics in this area: marketisation, social organisations, interactions between central state and local levels, and transnationalisation.
  • ‚In the political science subproject of the BMBF’s MuRiStem project “Multiple Risks: Coping with Contingency in Stem Cell Research and Its Applications” (project leader Prof. Renate Martinsen), social discourses on the opportunities and risks of stem cell research and its applications are analysed by means of qualitative methods in order to derive practical implications for policymaking. The assumption is that the positive and negative future visions conveyed by these discourses take on a guiding role in the present and make it possible to predict how concrete decision-making in the different fields of stem cell research and practice will translate in communication processes in society. Involving social actors in political decision-making processes is a current attempt to broaden the social basis on which political decisions in sensitive policy areas are legitimised. There is growing contingency surrounding decisions which – as soon as they indicate a collectively binding process – become “political” risks and thus attributable to policymakers.

International Migration

International migration is a central phenomenon of the world at the beginning of the 21st century. Its causes in the source and destination country and its consequences on a cultural, social, economic and political level are an important part of creating social and political order. Comparative international analysis of these patterns from an interdisciplinary perspective is an important focus in the main research area. Who migrates, and why? What are the macro-level or meso-level factors that determine how individuals act and think? What are the consequences of flows of migrants for societies, for the economy, and for politics? Is there such a thing as “optimal” migration flows? To what extent is international migration the rule and not the exception by historical comparison? How do cultures change as a result of emigration and immigration? How does thinking change in a world of high migration flows?

The following are examples of central projects from this thematic field within the Transformation of Contemporary Societies main research area:

  • ‚In the MERCUR research project “The Ethics of Immigration”, Prof. Andreas Niederberger (Political Philosophy) and Prof. Volker Heins (Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen) work with colleagues from TU Dortmund and the RUB on developing a more precise and adequate understanding of a global right to the freedom of movement. In their work they examine whether different reasons for migration reinforce or limit the right of immigration, what demands and obligations can be derived from its motivations, and to what extent it is morally acceptable to exclude immigrants.
  • ‚In October 2016, Prof. Achim Goerres (Institute of Political Science) in cooperation with the University of Cologne began work on the DFG-funded project “Voting Behaviour of Migrant-Background Germans: The First Immigrant Election Study during the German Parliamentary Election of 2017”. The project sets out to conduct the first German study of voting behaviour among Germans with an immigrant background, i.e. among those who either migrated to Germany themselves or have at least one parent with their own experience of migration, for the German parliamentary election of 2017. The project is being funded by the German Research Foundation from October 2016 to September 2019.
  • ‚The junior research group “Migration and social policy: studies on governance, development and use of (local) social policy in the context of refugee migration”, hosted by the IAQ and funded through the Fördernetzwerk Interdisziplinäre Sozialpolitikforschung (FIS), the support network for interdisciplinary social policy research of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), has recently been launched to help explain how local authorities deal with the social needs of migrants (especially refugees), how migrants use the services of the welfare state and what they mean to them.

Junior Researchers and Doctoral Programmes

Prof. Christoph Bieber (Institute of Political Science), three colleagues from German Studies (Dr. Thomas Ernst, Prof. Rolf Parr and Prof. Alexandra Pontzen) and other colleagues from the UDE succeeded in securing a doctoral research group funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation through the interdisciplinary research group “Media Representations of Work”. The project is called “Work and its subjects. Media representations since 1960” and was launched in January 2016. Research in the doctoral group centres on how knowledge about work from various special discourses in media including film, tv, press, radio, digital media, literature, theatre and music is received, processed and used to create other new and complex concepts of “work”.

How can contingency be managed through action, and what do people think about the relationship between current thought and action on one side and their uncertain (or even believed-to-becertain) future on another? 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”. In their work, the historians are exploring, challenging and expanding theories that assume a fundamentally new relationship with contingency as one of the characteristics of the modern age.

There are currently two programmes supporting junior researchers at the Institute of East Asian Studies (IN-EAST). The BMBF-funded “IN-EAST School of Advanced Studies” analyses the ongoing process of technical innovation in East Asia, with a particular focus on support from and acceptance in society. The research projects of the IN-EAST School of Advanced Studies begin from the basic assumption that innovations are not solely technological, but must be embedded in institutions if they are to evolve and spread. Taking this as their basis, the researchers analyse and compare the special features 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 contemporary social transformation – marketisation, individualisation, decentralisation, and transnationalisation – and produce insights into the universality and specificity of institutional change in East Asia.

Since 2017 the UDE’s Institute of Sociology in the Faculty of Social Sciences has been an associated partner of the “International Max Planck Research School on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy (IMPRS-SPCE)”. The IMPRS-SPCE is a joint international doctoral programme in Economic Sociology and Political Economy of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG) and the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences of the University of Cologne. The main focus of research in the doctoral programme is on the social and political foundations of modern economies. Studies explore the complex relationships between economic and social action. Affiliated faculty members of the IMPRSSPCE from the UDE and the main research area Transformation of Contemporary Societies are Prof. Sigrid Quack and Prof. Karen Shire. Other connections exist with the research focus on transformation of welfare and risk, with the director of the MPIfG Prof. Jens Beckert holding the third Risk Lecture in the “Big Risks” Research Unit.

Thanks to the growing presence of Transformation of Contemporary Societies as an interdisciplinary network, the main research area in cooperation with representatives of the PSP Research Council, the new Institute of Social Economics (Prof. Till van Treeck) and the Institute of Work, Skills and Training (Prof. Ute Klammer) were able to support an application under the NRW Returning Experts Programme (NRW-Rückkehrerprogramm). Prof. Paul Marx (Political Economy and Political Sociology) from the University of Odense is the first social scientist to be accepted onto the programme and is set to begin his research in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the UDE in 2018.