Breaking Confines: Interdisciplinary Model-Building for a Complex World

ZiF Cooperation Group

March 2018 – December 2020

Convenors: Martin Carrier (Bielefeld), Armin Gölzhäuser (Bielefeld)

Model-building is a methodological centerpiece for addressing the challenges of a complex world. The Breaking Confines (BreaCon) cooperation group is intended to deal with modeling practices by interdisciplinary reflection and exchange. Its participants come from physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, the social sciences, history, and philosophy. They join forces in combining model-building as a central epistemic activity with studies on and analysis of model-building. The envisaged cooperative research process is essentially interdisciplinary in that the migration of models across disciplinary boundaries is pursued. Problems from different fields are supposed to be tackled by comparing, adjusting, elaborating and redesigning modeling approaches and techniques. At the same time, methodological characteristics of these endeavors are scrutinized by an interdisciplinary collaboration of the involved scientists with philosophers and historians of science. Such reciprocal disciplinary fertilization offers the prospect of enhancing research in substantive and methodological respect. The cooperation group is organized into three research fields that focus on distinctive aspects of model-building. These fields deal with how macroscopic properties are related to micro-level interactions, how diversity and heterogeneity is to be taken care of in model-building, and what are promising ways of using models for heuristic purposes. The cooperation group is intended to perform a conceptual and social experiment on reciprocal interdisciplinary interaction and the fertilization through methodological analysis. Setting up such an interdisciplinary backbone running through and interconnecting various fields of the natural and social sciences is intended to provide a proof of concept that doing research jointly across disciplinary boundaries is beneficial to the fields involved.

Understanding Southern Welfare

ZiF Research Group

March – July 2018

Convenors: Ulrike Davy (Bielefeld), Lutz Leisering (Bielefeld)

The twentieth century was a century of expanding social policy and the rise of the ‘welfare state’.

During that century, Western nation states turned into ‘democratic welfare capitalism’ (T.H. Marshall), with social expenditures reaching 20-35% of GDP, and coverage of the population by social security provisions verging towards 100%. In the twenty-first century, the countries of the global South play an increasingly important role in terms of population growth, their share in the global economy, and potential or real global political power. Which route have Southern countries been taking regarding the ‘social’ side of society?

Since the 1990s, economic liberalization and dramatic growth rates in some Southern countries have been at the forefront of public debates. But it has often gone unnoticed that social policies have been expanding in the global South at the same time. Research on social policy in the global South still is at an early stage. While there is a plethora of reports and studies on the implementation and the outcomes of welfare programmes, the Research Group seeks to advance this field of research by investigating in-depth the ideational and historical foundations of social policies, which are neglected in the dominant approaches from welfare economics and political economy. The Research Group aims at ‘understanding’ Southern welfare, inquiring into the perceptions, beliefs and ideas of domestic actors, rather than imposing preconceived categories.

The Group focuses on Brazil, India, China and South Africa since the 1940s (for Brazil since the 1930s). These countries have been among the pioneers in the recent expansion of welfare policies, which started in the 1990s. The four countries accentuate the relationship between social policy and economic growth.

The Fellows of the Research Group come from the countries under investigation or have roots in them. The Fellows represent a variety of disciplines, including law, sociology, social policy research, global and comparative history and development economics.

While family and kin, subsistence production and informal economic activity continue to be important avenues of welfare production in the South, the Research Group focuses on the growing area of state-led welfare production. Some Fellows look into social rights and values, investigating the range of ideas of the social that crystallize in processes of constitution-making, constitutions, adjudication and major statutory law. Other Fellows focus on social security, including social insurance, social assistance, child benefit and health services.

Please direct any inquiries about the Research Group Understanding Southern Welfare. Ideational and historical foundations of social policies in Brazil, India, China and South Africa to Lorena Ossio.

Tel. +49 521 106-12835

In Search of the Global Labour Market

ZiF Research Group

October 2017 – July 2018

Convenors: Ursula Mense-Petermann (Bielefeld), Thomas Welskopp (Bielefeld), Anna Zaharieva (Bielefeld)

Globalisation is on everybody’s lips. Like few others this catchword epitomises the dynamic changes of present times, not least with regard to labour markets. Never before have such a large number of people emigrated in the hope of better working and living conditions. Never before were so many flight miles spent on business travel. For the highly qualified elites globalisation appears as a cornucopia of opportunities. In less privileged sectors of the labour market, above all in industry, employers refer to the ‘pressure of globalisation’ to justify the lowering of standards and wages or the shifting of jobs abroad.

Employee organisations such as trade unions, but also populist movements, demonise ‘global labour markets’ as a threat resulting in a downward spiral for working conditions and substantially menacing Western welfare states and democracies. According to this reading, immigration of any kind, refugees included, is threatening to push aside a low-qualified domestic workforce from the national labour markets.

There is, however, little verifiable empirical knowledge about the consequences of globalisation for labour markets. Thus, it is unclear both what the catchword ‘global labour markets’ means specifically and how to tackle the phenomenon in research and politics. Many studies in the Social Sciences and Economics have dwelled on particular aspects of manifestations and processes involved in globalisation, but without focussing on ‘global labour markets’ themselves. This is the starting point of the ZiF Research Group “In Search of the Global Labour Market”.

The group is concerned with questions such as: What can be conceived of as ‘global labour markets’ from a theoretical perspective, and what exactly is the ‘commodity’ traded here? Which terminology and concepts, methodologies and empirical approaches are suitable for identifying and describing ‘global labour markets’ in an analytically profound manner? What do the existing empirical findings reveal about ‘global labour markets’ – in a present-minded as well as in a (long-term) historical perspective, provided they can be regarded as ‘global’ and/or functioning ‘labour markets’ in the first place? Which role is played by migration and the growing mobility of the workforce for the transformation of national labour markets towards a single ‘global market’? How is this transformation influenced by existing institutions, international intermediaries and social networks?

To pursue these questions the ZiF Research Group assembles renowned scholars and younger academics from Economics, Sociology, History, Political Science, Social Policy, Industrial Relations, Management Studies and Migration Studies.

Please direct any inquiries about the Research Group In Search of the Global Labour Market – Actors, Structures and Policies to Annika Andresen.


50 Jahre Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung

1968 – 2018

Am Anfang war das ZiF: Vor 50 Jahren wurde das Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung als Keimzelle der neuen Universität gegründet. Der Soziologe Helmut Schelsky, Gründervater des ZiF und der Universität, brachte damit etwas Neues in die deutsche und die europäische Universitätslandschaft: das erste Institute for Advanced Study. Schelsky hatte sich dazu von den Instituten in Princeton und Stanford inspirieren lassen, mit Erfolg: Heute blickt das ZiF auf 50 Jahre Erfahrung in der Organisation und Begleitung internationaler fächerübergreifender Forschung auf höchstem Niveau zurück.

In den ersten Jahren war das ZiF im Schloss Rheda untergebracht, 1973 bezog es den eigens dafür errichteten Campus oberhalb der Universität am Hang des Teutoburger Waldes. Dort befinden sich neben den Veranstaltungsräumen und Büros die Wohnungen der Fellows, die am ZiF gemeinsam an interdisziplinären Forschungsfragen arbeiten. Viele Forschungsprojekte, die am ZiF stattgefunden haben, haben der Wissenschaft wichtige Impulse gegeben und neue Arbeitsfelder eröffnet.

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