News

Here you can find the latest updates on the Collaborative Research Centre "Global Dynamics of Social Policy": summaries of current research results, references to our latest publications, outcomes of events and more news from the projects and their staff members.


The scientific advisory board met with the CRC 1342 board of directors to discuss the research projects that are being planned for the second funding phase.

Last Friday, the CRC 1342 Board met with the Scientific Advisory Board in a two-hour video conference. From the Advisory Board, Evelyne Huber (University of North Carolina), Kathleen Thelen (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Nicola Yeates (The Open University), Ben Ross Schneider (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Aaron Benavot (University of Albany-SUNY) and Lutz Leisering (Bielefeld University) participated in the meeting.

At the beginning, speaker Herbert Obinger reported on the progress of the work in the 15 projects and the current status of publications.

Evelyne Huber called the CRC "incredibly ambitious" and said that the Global Welfare State Information System (WeSIS) database "looked very promising". Especially in recent months, the number of publications by CRC members has increased significantly. For Aaron Benavot, "the productivity and output - even under the conditions of the pandemic with the associated restrictions - are very impressive".

Lutz Leisering noted that the publications of CRC 1342 members in peer-reviewed journals represent a great leap forward for the international visibility of German social policy research.

The CRC 1342 publishes a large proportion of its results in open access journals, its open access book series with Palgrave Macmillan and in its own open access publications. This publishing strategy produces "invaluable resources for scholars, students and the general public", said Nicola Yeates.

In the second part of the meeting, the advisory board members discussed the CRC 1342 proposal for the second funding phase (in the days before, they had read a summary of the proposal). With their questions, comments and constructive criticisms, the advisory boards gave valuable advice on research planning for the coming years.


Contact:
Prof. Dr. Herbert Obinger
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 5
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-58567
E-Mail: herbert.obinger@uni-bremen.de

In "Social Policy & Administration", 7 CRC 1342 projects have presented case studies of social policy dynamics in the Global South. Their synthesis shows: The concept of causal mechanisms is particularly well suited for analysing such dynamics.

Seven projects of CRC 1342's project area B have published a Special Regional Issue of "Social Policy and Administration": Causal mechanisms in the analysis of transnational social policy dynamics: Evidence from the global south. The main research question the authors address is: Which causal mechanisms can capture the transnational dynamics of social policy in the Global South?

In order to find answers to this question, the authors present in‐depth case studies of social policy dynamics in different countries and regions in the Global South as well as different fields. All articles focus on the interplay of national and transnational actors when it comes to social policy‐making. (The papers of this Special Issue are listed below.)

The key findings of the authors are:

  • Explanations of social policy‐making in the Global South will remain incomplete unless transnational factors are taken into account
  • However, this does not mean that national factors are no longer important. In social policy decision‐making, national institutional settings and actors are key
  • Mechanism‐based research can plausibly trace the interplay between transnational and national actors and its impact on shaping social policy outcomes. The articles identify a variety of causal mechanisms that can capture this interplay
  • The output of social policy‐making is complex and can often not be explained by a single mechanism. Examining the combination and possible interaction of several causal mechanisms can provide more in‐depth explanations 
  • The concept of causal mechanisms can also be applied in comparative analyses
  • Mechanisms can be traced inductively in one case and then be applied to another case.


---

Johanna Kuhlmann & Tobias ten Brink (2021). Causal mechanisms in the analysis of transnational social policy dynamics: Evidence from the global south. Social Policy and Administration. https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12725

Armin Müller (2021). Bureaucratic conflict between transnational actor coalitions: The diffusion of British national vocational qualifications to China. Social Policy and Administration. https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12689

Johanna Kuhlmann & Frank Nullmeier (2021). A mechanism‐based approach to the comparison of national pension systems in Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Social Policy and Administration. https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12691

Kressen Thyen & Roy Karadag (2021). Between affordable welfare and affordable food: Internationalized food subsidy reforms in Egypt and Tunisia. Social Policy and Administration. https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12710

Monika Ewa Kaminska, Ertila Druga, Liva Stupele & Ante Malinar (2021). Changing the healthcare financing paradigm: Domestic actors and international organizations in the agenda setting for diffusion of social health insurance in post‐communist Central and Eastern Europe. Social Policy and Administration (in press).

Gulnaz Isabekova & Heiko Pleines (2021). Integrating development aid into social policy: Lessons on cooperation and its challenges learned from the example of health care in Kyrgyzstan. Social Policy and Administration. https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12669

Anna Safuta (2021). When policy entrepreneurs fail: Explaining the failure of long‐term care reforms in Poland. Social Policy and Administration. https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12714

Jakob Henninger & Friederike Römer (2021). Choose your battles: How civil society organisations choose context‐specific goals and activities to fight for immigrant welfare rights in Malaysia and Argentina. Social Policy and Administration. https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12721


Contact:
Dr. Johanna Kuhlmann
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-58574
E-Mail: johanna.kuhlmann@uni-bremen.de

Prof. Dr. Tobias ten Brink
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Research IV and China Global Center
Campus Ring 1
28759 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 200-3382
E-Mail: t.tenbrink@jacobs-university.de

Dr. Alex Veit, Dr. Clement Chipenda
Dr. Alex Veit, Dr. Clement Chipenda
Clement Chipenda and Alex Veit analyse South Africa's food policy developments by looking at school feeding programmes and subsidies. Available as a new CRC 1342 working paper.

Their working paper offers a chronological analysis of South African food policy from the founding of South Africa as a semi-autonomous settler state to the democratic revolution.

Drawing on primary sources from archives and secondary literature, Chipenda and Veit compare two food security policies: school feeding programmes and food subsidies. In the period between the world wars, food scarcity and insecurity became an increasing problem, making food policy a fundamental part of the expanding welfare state. Free school meals were an important instrument from which all children benefited until the apartheid regime came to power in the late 1940s. The regime then excluded African children from the school meals.Contradictory at first sight, another food policy instrument remained in place under the apartheid regime from which all, including African populations, benefited and which was even expanded over the years: general food subsidies.

To explain these developments, Chipenda and Veit analyse the figuration of actors and their interdependencies:

  • the dominant, nationalist forces of the white political establishment, which denied responsibility for the welfare of the African population
  • the liberal, democratic, philanthropic and church groups that demanded food security for all population groups
  • industrialists, especially from the agricultural and extractive sectors, who stressed the importance of a healthy, numerous working population.


The dependence of South Africa's agricultural and extractive industries on cheap African labour, may have been the deciding factor, leading to central government regulation and subsidisation of the agricultural and food markets. But Chipenda and Veit point to the "peculiar figuration" of nationalist, capitalist, liberal, philanthropic forces that agreed to act together on food policy, albeit for different interests.

Read the full Working Paper: The trajectory of food security policies in South Africa, 1910-1994. The persistence of food subsidies


Contact:
Dr. Alex Veit
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-67471
E-Mail: veit@uni-bremen.de

Dr. Dennis Niemann
Dr. Dennis Niemann
How do international organisations influence the global dynamics of social policy? The fourth volume of the our series at Palgrave Macmillan addresses this question. In this interview co-editor Dennis Niemann explains some findings.

The aim of your book is to analyse the "architecture of arguments in global social governance". Put simply, you proceed in two steps: First, you map the field (which IOs are engaged in which social policy issues?), then you examine the discourse (which strategies do IOs use to try to make their ideas and concepts heard?). Let's start with the first part: About 100 years ago, the field was small; with the ILO, there was exactly one IO that dealt with social policy and that still exists today. How has the field expanded and differentiated since then?

Dennis Niemann: That's right, the general trend that there have been more and more international organisations since the end of the Second World War also applies to social policy. Surprisingly, there are some central actors that cover almost the entire spectrum of social policy. The OECD, the ILO and the World Bank pop up again and again and shape various areas. But UNESCO, the UN's educational, scientific and cultural organisation, is also active in many social policy fields. However, we also observed that the overall population of social policy IOs became more diverse over time. Not only the large, well-known IOs are involved, but also many other IOs, some of them regional, have appeared on the scene to cover social policy issues: e.g. ASEAN, African Union or Mercosur.

Over time, many IOs have added social policy issues to their portfolio or expanded their social policy portfolio to other fields. Why is that?

Dennis Niemann: There are two main reasons for this. On the one hand, the IOs were actively mandated by their member states to deal with certain social policy issues - even though historically they did not have much expertise in this area. For example, the OECD, whose thematic focus was on economic policy, was commissioned in the 1980s by some member states to develop an instrument to measure national educational performance. The result was PISA and today the OECD is a central IO in international education policy. In general, education policy is particularly densely populated with 30 active IOs. On the other hand, this thematic expansion was also due to internal organisational factors, i.e. the IOs proactively expanded their portfolio. This happened, for example, because it enabled them to better fulfil their actual core mission.

We also should not neglect the fact that certain policy fields were discursively expanded to include a social policy component. For example, the interpretation of water as a natural resource has expanded to include a social policy component: water and access to it is a social good.

Let's move on to the second part of your analysis, the discourses. In the social policy areas you can find a lot of active IOs. Do they cooperate or compete with each other?

Dennis Niemann: Both. Of course, the fundamental views of certain IOs on priorities in social policy are quite diverse and partly bipolar. While one side prefers economic efficiency, other IOs want to see social cohesion guaranteed first and foremost. These two perspectives are often difficult to reconcile. But it is not impossible. We see that pragmatic approaches are taken in numerous initiatives and that IOs from different "families" cooperate productively in specific projects. For example, the World Bank, OECD and ILO have developed a common approach in family policy since 2008. Something similar can be observed in areas of youth unemployment and the migration of health care workers.

You write that the tendency to cooperate has increased in the last 10 years or so. Why is that?

Dennis Niemann: Well, I think that all kinds of IOs are increasingly able to combine their programmatic points of view - perhaps due to the rather basic cooperation projects that have been started. We should not forget, however, that in social policy, different ideas often continue to compete; perhaps just no longer in fundamental opposition. The fact that certain values have become more universal and valid certainly also plays a role in increased cooperation. A catalyst for this were the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. They established certain normative reference points for IOs in social policy, which increasingly guide their arguments and actions. And a common basis of values makes cooperation much easier.

Some IOs are dominant in the social policy discourse. What factors cause an IO to dominate a field or at least to take an influential position?

Dennis Niemann: First and foremost, probably timing and resources. When IOs hit the zeitgeist, they enjoy an additional legitimacy that enables them to determine social policy discourses. IOs that also have the necessary resources to implement their programmatic guidelines can obviously have a more influential effect than IOs that lack these resources to generate outreach.

Finally, let's take a look at the future: The influence of IOs on social policy has increased in the past. Will this trend continue or even reverse in some areas?

Dennis Niemann: My crystal ball may be a little foggy on this, but in principle we have always seen an increase in the importance of IOs in social policy in the past. At the moment I can't think of many reasons that would cause a reversal of the trend. What I could imagine, however, and what is also emerging to some extent, is that individual IOs will lose significance and others, e.g. the big players, will become even bigger. Likewise, the discursive camp formation could become more pronounced again. In general, however, one should not ignore the social policy outcomes. As long as the IOs "deliver", i.e. can point out solutions to socio-political problems and help shape them, they will continue to be central actors in this field and will still present us with many exciting research tasks.

---

Read the full book (open access):
Kerstin Martens, Dennis Niemann, Alexandra Kaasch (eds.)(2021): International Organizations in Global Social Governance. Palgrave Macmillan. Cham


Contact:
Dr. Dennis Niemann
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-67473
E-Mail: dniemann@uni-bremen.de

Network of global economic competition on export-markets
Network of global economic competition on export-markets
Ivo Mossig, Hendrik Heuer, Michael Lischka and Fabian Besche-Truthe have developed two new indicators to better study the relationship between competition and social policy. The associated data sets comprise annual data on interdependence for 164 countrie

CRC 1342 members Ivo Mossig, Hendrik Heuer, Michael Lischka and Fabian Besche-Truthe have developed two indicators that capture economic competition between countries in a novel way. As a result, the link between economic competition and social policy developments can be analysed more precisely. The four authors have described in detail how the indicators are calculated in Volume 8 of the CRC 1342 Technical Paper Series: Measuring global competition in export markets and export sectors. In the following interview, Ivo Mossig explains briefly what it is all about.

In what ways is international competition a factor in the diffusion of social policy?

Ivo Mossig: Our Collaborative Research Centre aims to explain the dynamics of social policy not only based on the national constellation, but also on international interdependencies, including economic relationships. Competition is discussed - somewhat controversially - in two respects in this context: On the one hand, there is the efficiency thesis, according to which states regard social benefits as a burden in international competition. According to this theory, the consequence is a "race to the bottom": in order to achieve cost advantages, social standards and benefits are reduced. On the other hand, there is the compensation theory: small economies in particular are often active in highly specialised segments on the world market. And their overall economy depends very much on their world market integration because they do not have a large domestic market. As a buffer, e.g. to cushion unforeseen developments and shocks on the world markets, social systems are expanded. Despite these controversial theses, one thing is indisputable: competition, and especially economic competition, is a relevant factor for the development of social policy.

How do you operationalise this competition? How do you make it measurable?

Ivo Mossig: In the past, the degree of trade linkages served as an indicator, e.g. the size of trade flows between countries. If country A mainly exports coffee and country B computer monitors, then there is global trade integration, but country A and B are not necessarily in competition with each other, but complement each other.

That is why we have now come up with two new indicators: One indicator represents competition in export markets, for which we look at the importance of the individual sales markets for each of the countries, measured in terms of export volume. If two countries have proportionally similar sales markets, they meet as competitors on the sales markets. With a second indicator we measure competition between countries in export sectors. If the exports of two countries are distributed across similar sectors, then they are competitors on the world market in these sectors: if the export focus is on different goods and services, they are not.

Are there major differences between the two indicators?

Ivo Mossig: Definitely. In the technical paper we use Norway as an example to demonstrate the difference very clearly: In Norway's export markets, other Scandinavian countries are the main competitors because Norway exports a lot to EU countries, as do Finland and Denmark. If we look at the economic sectors, Norway's main competitors are, on the other hand, the United Arab Emirates or Colombia, because in these countries, as in Norway, oil is the predominant export product.

How large is your data set?

Ivo Mossig: The dataset ranges from 1962 to 2017/2018, with values for each year. And it covers not only the OECD world, but 164 countries. For each of these 57 years, we have a numerical value regarding competition in markets and export sectors for every possible country pair, so over 13,000 linkages per year and indicator. The next step is now to analyse whether this new data can be used to better capture the competition argument with regard to global dynamics of social policy development, i.e. whether we can contribute to sharpening the competition argument.

---

Read the full paper: Measuring global competition in export markets and export sectors


Contact:
Prof. Dr. Ivo Mossig
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 3
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 / 421 / 218 67410
E-Mail: mossig@uni-bremen.de

Book four of the series, edited by Kerstin Martens, Dennis Niemann and Alexandra Kaasch, examines the influence of International Organisations on the development of several social policy fields.

International organisations (IOs) are important political actors that affect the development of many social policy fields. The volume "International Organizations in Global Social Governance" enhances and systematises our understanding of the role IOs play in global social policy.

In 14 chapters, the authors shed light on the engagement of IOs in the social policy fields of labour, migration, family, education, as well as environment and health. They record which IOs are involved in the discourse in each field and which trends they set. The authors also examine the discourse within and between the IOs. This book thus makes a significant contribution to research on social policy and international relations, both in terms of theoretical substantiation and the empirical scope.

The book is based on an international workshop of the CRC 1342 project A05 "The Global Development, Diffusion and Transformation of Education Systems", which took place at the University of Bremen in May 2019.

---

Read the full book (open access):
International Organizations in Global Social Governance


Contact:
Prof. Dr. Kerstin Martens
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-67498
E-Mail: martensk@uni-bremen.de

Dr. Dennis Niemann
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-67473
E-Mail: dniemann@uni-bremen.de

Project B06 has published a special issue in "Global Social Policy": In 7 articles, B06 members and guest authors analyse the role of international actors in the introduction of social policy concepts in post-Soviet states.

The authors of this special issue examine how the transfer of social policy concepts - and subsequently learning - takes place at the national and local level in the post-Soviet region. They focus on the question of which international and national actors are involved in this process. They analyse the interaction between international organisations (IOs) and national governments, between IOs and national experts, and between IOs and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The four members of the CRC project B06, Andreas Heinrich, Heiko Pleines, Gulnaz Isabekova and Martin Brand, have contributed to this issue.

In his article "The advice they give: Knowledge transfer of international organisations in countries of the former Soviet Union", Andreas Heinrich reviews the assumptions in the literature about the neoliberal agenda ('Washington Consensus') promoted by international organisations through knowledge transfer and about the power they supposedly have through loan conditionality to impose their will on countries in financial need. Heinrich uses the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia as examples to examine the advice that IOs have given to reform health care systems between 1991 and 2018.

Heiko Pleines analysed the content of parliamentary debates in Russia and Ukraine for his contribution "The framing of IMF and World Bank in political reform debates: The role of political orientation and policy fields in the cases of Russia and Ukraine". In both countries, both left-wing and right-wing parties rejected cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nevertheless, Ukraine is one of the largest recipients of IMF loans. Due to the lack of support from parliament, the Ukrainian government retreated to the argument that no other donors were available for the reforms.

Gulnaz Isabekova looks at knowledge transfer at the local level in her contribution. Her article "Mutual learning on the local level: The Swiss Red Cross and the Village Health Committees in the Kyrgyz Republic" focuses on the interaction between IOs and local NGOs, and in particular on mutual learning between donors and recipients of development aid. For this, Isabekova examines the international project "Community Action for Health", which aims to empower rural communities in Kyrgyzstan and promote their participation in health care. Her article analyses the factors that enable mutual learning in practice. According to the article, the decentralisation of the organisation, project management and its handling of failure, continuous contact between donors and recipients of development assistance and the emphasis on the contribution of local expertise are relevant.

In his contribution "The OECD poverty rate: Lessons from the Russian case", Martin Brand emphasises the need to make normative assumptions about poverty explicit when using poverty data. In particular, for cross-national comparisons of poverty rates, Brand argues for a multidimensional poverty indicator so that several facets of this phenomenon and the specificities of the socio-economic fabric of the countries under consideration are taken into account.

----

The special issue in "Global Social Policy" emerged from an international workshop on "International knowledge transfer in social policy: The case of the post-Soviet region", which was organised by project B06 at the University of Bremen on 9 November 2019.

Read the entire issue online (individual articles open access):
Global Social Policy, Volume 21 Issue 1, April 2021


Contact:
Martin Brand
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Research Centre for East European Studies
Klagenfurter Straße 8
28359 Bremen
E-Mail: martin.brand@uni-bremen.de

Dr. Andreas Heinrich
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Klagenfurter Straße 8
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-57071
E-Mail: heinrich@uni-bremen.de

Gulnaz Isabekova
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Research Centre for East European Studies
Klagenfurter Straße 8
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-57073
E-Mail: gulnaz@uni-bremen.de

Prof. Dr. Heiko Pleines
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Research Centre for East European Studies
Klagenfurter Straße 8
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-69602
E-Mail: pleines@uni-bremen.de

Teresa Huhle and Johanna Kuhlmann report in an interview on a 6-day seminar on social policy in the Global South that they led during the Spring Academy of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation.

CRC members Teresa Huhle and Johanna Kuhlmann led a working group at the Spring Academy of the German Academic Scholarship Foundation from 20 to 25 March 2021. Thirteen students from different disciplines took part in the six-day seminar on "Social Policy in the Global South - An Interdisciplinary Change of Perspectives". In the interview, Huhle and Kuhlmann tell us how the seminar turned out.

---

Who was entitled to take part in the academy?

Johanna Kuhlmann: Scholarship holders who are at the beginning of their studies were able to take part in the academy. We had 13 students from the first to the sixth semester.

Teresa Huhle: Access was not restricted to any discipline. So we had a diverse mix: about half came from the social sciences, plus a historian. The others studied law, economics, medicine, physics and philosophy.

How was your seminar designed?

Huhle: We had five main working days - after an introductory day, each day had a thematic focus: colonial social policy, international organisations, development policy as social policy and finally propaganda and behavioural policy. Day six was dedicated to a review and the preparation of a presentation for the joint concluding evening of the academy. In preparation, the participants had to read two to three texts per day. But we then varied the individual days and worked on the topics in very different formats.

Kuhlmann: Especially with regard to the digital format, we wanted to activate the participants. That worked well. Two examples: We held a plenary debate on social policy as development policy, in which the participants acted as different characters in a kind of role play. Another time we discussed a social policy measure in detail: What reasons and arguments can be put forward for or against the introduction of a certain programme and what does the decision ultimately depend on?

Huhle: On the day on propaganda, one text was about health films produced by Disney in the USA for Latin America in 1943/1944. We were able to watch one of the films together and discussed it afterwards. We paid attention to variety in the formats. This worked well - the students were all very motivated and wanted to work and discuss in groups.

What criteria did you use to select the texts that served as the basis for each day?

Kuhlmann: Because we wanted to combine the historical and political science approach, we had to find texts that spoke to each other - be it because they complement or also contradict each other. The accessibility of the texts was also important to us. We also had students from other disciplines in the seminar. But it was an unfounded concern that they might be overwhelmed.

In the seminar, you were concerned with a change of perspective - did that refer to the North-South perspective or to the disciplinary perspective?

Huhle: When we announced the programme, we were thinking more in terms of the disciplines. But we quickly realised that what attracted the students was not the social policy or historical perspective, but the category "Global South". All of them were interested in questions of global inequality, colonial structures and their legacy, and so on. Many had also been abroad for a longer period of time, including voluntary service. Fortunately, some of them said at the end that it was particularly interesting for them to get an insight into the way we work in history and political science.

You had participants from a range of different disciplines - from physics to philosophy to law - were they still able to speak to each other in a "common language"?

Kuhlmann: Yes, that worked surprisingly well. Most of the time we didn't even notice who was studying which subject.

Huhle: The physics student once asked us not to simply use special terms without explaining them. Otherwise there was no moment when the subject affiliation came up. That was certainly because everyone was very motivated and interested. But perhaps it also plays a role that the participants had finished school not long ago. They have just come out of a system in which it is completely natural to deal with very different topics.

What did you as seminar teachers learn from the course, what did you take home?

Kuhlmann: In the seminar, students from very different disciplines contributed thoughts from their perspectives. That particularly appealed to me: It made me think about issues not only from a historical or political science perspective, but also, for example, from an economic or legal perspective.

Huhle: The seminar was very intensive and provided a lot of food for thought for everyone. I would very much like to do it again. And quite pragmatically: It was a great exercise for online teaching, we could try out very different methods. Presence cannot be replaced, of course, but we still managed to create a group atmosphere during the week. I feel like I actually got to know 13 people over the course of the week. And I really like that.


Contact:
Dr. Teresa Huhle
Dr. Johanna Kuhlmann
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-58574
E-Mail: johanna.kuhlmann@uni-bremen.de

Jakob Henninger, Dr. Friederike Römer
Jakob Henninger, Dr. Friederike Römer
Friederike Römer and Jakob Henninger have investigated how the goals of civil society organisations that advocate for migrants' welfare rights differ between autocracies and democracies. They explain their findings in an interview.

"Choose your battles. How civil society organisations choose context-specific goals and activities to fight for immigrant welfare rights in Malaysia and Argentina" is the title of a new paper by Jakob Henninger and Friederike Römer, published in Social Policy & Administration. In this interview, they explain their research design and results.

---

For all those who have not yet read the paper: Can you briefly summarise your most important findings?

Friederike Römer: In our paper, we examine how civil society organisations - for example, non-governmental organisations, but also trade unions - campaign for migrants' access to welfare benefits. We compare Argentina with Malaysia, and thus a democracy with a country that, at least until recently, was classified as an electoral autocracy. We asked ourselves: What strategies do these organisations pursue? More precisely, what goals do they set for themselves? And what actions do they take? We found that there are major differences between the two cases: In Argentina, the organisations pursued more ambitious goals, namely the inclusion of immigrants in the whole range of welfare benefits - including benefits that do not require prior contributions. In Malaysia, on the other hand, the commitment was rather limited to certain contribution-based benefits. Inclusion in the tax-financed poverty reduction programme, for example, was never part of the strategy.

Jakob Henninger: We were able to show that the contextual factor "political system" can explain at least part of these differences. In both countries there are activists who work for the inclusion of migrants. However, civil society organisations in Argentina are better integrated into political processes. They had different resources and opportunities to influence political decisions. But the type of arguments put forward by the organisations also differed: In Argentina, human rights are often referred to and interpreted in terms of equality between migrants and the domestic population. References to human rights can also be found in Malaysia - but rather as a demand to comply with minimum standards.

You argue that CSOs choose their goals and activities depending on the type of regime. Could it not be that they also align their goals and activities with the values and general sentiment towards migrants among the majority population? The point I want to make is: How do you make sure that the respective regime type is the cause of the differences in CSOs and not other factors that you have not investigated?

Jakob Henninger: Of course, these two cases are different. But what is important is that they are also similar in many crucial aspects. Both countries have a long history of migration that goes back to the 19th century and continues to shape societies today. Today, they are among the main recipient countries of migration in their respective regions and some sectors of the economy are heavily dependent on migrant labour. Similarly, the welfare states of the two countries have similarities, even if they are not the same: Both have long been focused on contribution-based benefits, but have recently introduced more benefits that do not depend on contributions. Thus, we can rule out at least some factors as explanations for the differences.

Based on preliminary theoretical considerations, you outline some expectations in the introduction of the paper, which are then confirmed by empirical evidence (e.g. that CSOs in democracies tend to pursue the goal of equality for migrants, while CSOs in autocracies tend to pursue the goal of meeting the basic needs of migrants). Were there also things that have surprised you?

Friederike Römer: We had expected that the activities of the organisations would differ significantly. We would have thought that the Malaysian organisations would concentrate more on providing concrete help in emergency situations, while the Argentinian organisations would focus more on political advocacy. However, when we analysed the organisations' self-descriptions, we realised that the differences were not very big at first glance. That surprised us. For example, in both countries, a similar number of organisations stated that they were active in political advocacy or in legal aid for migrants. However, a closer look revealed differences: In Malaysia, activists told us how difficult it is to arrange meetings with representatives of ministries. In Argentina, working groups on migrants' rights are sometimes organised directly by the ministries and civil society representatives are officially invited. Similarly, it is interesting to note what is meant by legal aid in the two contexts. While organisations in Malaysia are trying to work towards the enforcement of existing law and, for example, to make claims for compensation payments to employers, Argentinian organisations have partly tried to mark existing law as unconstitutional and, ultimately, to change the legal basis, for example, when it comes to the right to reduced working capacity benefits.

Your paper is titled "Choose your battles" and hints at the interpretation of your results. Can you elaborate on this? For example, what role do the elements of efficiency (i.e. that CSOs only strive for realistically achievable goals) and positioning vis-à-vis entities of state power (including the threat of repression/impact on funding sources) play in the choice of goals and activities of CSOs?

Jakob Henninger: Both considerations of efficiency and strategic positioning vis-à-vis state power are major factors influencing organisations in their choice of strategy. For one thing, organisations have limited resources at their disposal, so they have to prioritise their goals. Therefore, they think carefully about which problems to address and which not. On the other hand, they have to make sure that their proposals resonate with policy makers and the wider public - both of these considerations apply to both contexts.

Friederike Römer: In an autocratic context like Malaysia, however, the concern about repressive state power has a very different relevance than in Argentina. Our Malaysian interviewees report that they take precautionary measures to protect themselves and the migrants they work with. In Argentina, on the other hand, confrontational strategies are quite common. Here we would again emphasise that the cause of these differences is to be found in the political regime.

---

Read the full paper (open access):

Jakob Henninger, Friederike Römer: Choose your battles. How civil society organisations choose context‐specific goals and activities to fight for immigrant welfare rights in Malaysia and Argentina. Social Policy & Administration, 2021, online first: https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12721


Contact:
Jakob Henninger
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-57077
E-Mail: jakob.henninger@uni-bremen.de

Dr. Friederike Römer
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-67469
E-Mail: friederike.roemer@uni-bremen.de

Helen Seitzer
Helen Seitzer
Helen Seitzer, Dennis Niemann and Kerstin Martens have investigated what role the topic "PISA" plays in OECD education policy publications: not such a big one. Why PISA has become so successful nonetheless, Seitzer explains in an interview.

For their paper "Placing PISA in perspective: the OECD’s multi-centric view on education", Helen Seitzer, Dennis Niemann and Kerstin Martens have examined almost all documents published between 1961 and 2018 that are listed in the OECD online library marked by the keyword "education". What they found was that PISA by no means is that dominant a topic within these publications as we may suppose, given the popularity of PISA in mass media as well as in academic discussions. "The majority of the OECD’s output does not focus on PISA or secondary education at all. Most publications on education are discussing finance, management, or the labour market connection", the authors write. Lead author Helen Seitzer explains their results in the following interview.

---

If you had to put a number on the share of OECD publications discussing PISA in one way or the other – what would that be?

Helen Seitzer: Many OECD publications on education include references to PISA in some way or another, but the overall share of reports discussing PISA alone is around 10%-17% of all publications, depending on the time frame of analysis. There might be a few documents on PISA before PISA even started (the discussion on PISA started in 1995), but it was not called PISA back then and the publications were not specifically labelled as such.

Is that high or low if you compare that to other prominent education topics discussed in OECD publications (and what were these other prominent topics)?

Seitzer: In education research concerned with the OECD, it seems as if PISA is the only topic the OECD is focussing on. At times it seems as if discussions on the 'OECD' automatically refer to 'PISA'. From that perspective the percentage of documents only discussing PISA is really low. The research that analyses other work from the OECD is still very limited and often refers back to PISA or takes it as a starting point for their research (so do we). However, the OECD is focussing on a lot more topics than PISA, mainly on labour market-related issues, but also management and planning of higher education for example, are very often discussed.

Your analysis covered the period of 1961 to 2018. Is the share of PISA as a topic within OECD publications still low if you look at the more recent years, let’s say since 2000?

If only the documents since 2000 are included, PISA makes up around 17% of all documents. That is around 90 documents in 8 years on PISA alone. The OECD is incredibly productive in education policy.

What other topics are popular in OECD publications recently?

Seitzer: Over time, the volume of topics discussed increased, similarly rising with the number of publications per year. Recently, School funding, ICT Skills, Labour market Skills and Vocational Training, and Labour Market Regulations and Adult Education are more popular discussions just to name a few. There is an increase on the "Skills" label, but also an increase on topics discussing adult education specifically. In fact, it looks like the compulsory part of education (primary and secondary schooling) does not matter that much.

Does this tell you anything, e.g. is there a shift yet to see?

Seitzer: Since the OECD’s inauguration in 1961 the world has changed a lot, so has the organization. Of course, there is a change in what is discussed over time. In the beginning, the focus was more on assessing what is there in terms of education systems and what do countries need to support their economy after WW II. Then, there was another shift of focus around 1975 on towards higher education. More discussions were held on managing higher education and innovating higher education systems than before. Now, technology (ICT) and adult education are more prevalent. However, the labour market orientation was always present.

Let’s have a look at why PISA has received that much attention in the more recent past and, more importantly, had such an impact on policy making. What is your explanation?

Seitzer: In the paper we discuss that PISA owes its success partly to the type of organization the OECD is, the timing they introduced it in, and the strategy they employ. The OECD has found a policy window when PISA first started, and the appropriate person to "sell" it, Andreas Schleicher (a policy entrepreneur). They presented a solution to a problem (that they themselves defined as a problem in the first place) at the right time, to the right people. The OECD's authority coupled with the demand for evidence-based policy-making created the perfect opportunity for PISA to thrive.

Is it correct to say that the OECD itself did invest in creating this window of opportunity for itself in order to secure its own position of an establish player in global governance?

Seitzer: They definitely had a hand in creating a policy window through publishing reports and problematizing education system effectiveness. However, this cannot be the only issue. There were other IOs with other assessments active in the field at the time (and still are), who are not as successful. The OECD has established itself as a rational actor to provide a valuable assessment of student achievement that is necessary for countries to implement in order to be taken seriously. Their framing of PISA and the information it can provide, but also the network of experts and policymakers the IO has, are definitely partly responsible for the success of PISA. This observation, that the OECD was able to establish itself as industry leader and keep that position makes it even more interesting and important to investigate IO activities and influence.

---

Read the full paper (open access):
Helen Seitzer, Dennis Niemann & Kerstin Martens (2021): Placing PISA in perspective: the OECD’s multi-centric view on education. In: Globalisation, Societies and Education, DOI:10.1080/14767724.2021.1878017


Contact:
Helen Seitzer
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-57065
E-Mail: seitzer@uni-bremen.de