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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Intensive care unit (Foto: Vadim/Adobe Stock)
Intensive care unit (Foto: Vadim/Adobe Stock)
SFB member Mirella Cacace, collaborating with experts from her network, has conducted a comparative study of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and Israel.

Large differences in number of hospital and intensive care beds before the pandemic

Before the onset of the pandemic, the four countries showed significant differences: In terms of hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants, Germany had the highest value at 8.0, Spain and Israel followed with 3.0, while facilities in Denmark (2.4) and Sweden (2.1) were the lowest (values from 2018 in each case). However, the supposed advantage for patients in Germany is severely compromised by the high occupancy rate of beds and the unfavorable ratio of patients to nurses and medical staff.

A similar picture emerged for the provision of intensive care beds: Germany had by far the most intensive care beds per 100,000 inhabitants (33.9). Israel and Spain had only about a third of that (10.3 and 9.7, respectively), followed by Denmark (7.8) and Sweden (5.2).

Increasing intensive care capacity

Cacace writes in her study that all countries succeeded in rapidly increasing intensive care bed capacity (regardless of whether capacity planning was centralized, such as in Israel, or decentralized, such as in Spain). Sweden was also able to quickly reduce intensive care bed capacity when the pandemic subsided, thus saving costs. "Indispensable for this flexibility is the current availability of data on existing and built-up capacity, especially in intensive care. Sweden was the only country in our sample that had information on the number and location of intensive care beds at the onset of the pandemic," Cacace writes in the results chapter of the study. As a result, Sweden had clear advantages for expanding and contracting intensive care capacity as needed.

No data available on nursing staff in intensive care units

In addition to the number of beds, however, the number of intensive care nursing staff is also crucial for the quality of (intensive) care. The availability of (highly) qualified nursing staff is a crucial bottleneck in the adequate care of patients during the pandemic in all countries studied, Cacace writes. It is all the more astonishing that "as of today, no data are available on intensive care staff in any of the countries."

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The study was published in February and is available online free of charge at the Bertelsmann Stiftung website (in German only): Krankenhausstrukturen und Steuerung der Kapazitäten in der Corona-Pandemie. Ein Ländervergleich


Contact:
Prof. Dr. Mirella Cacace
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Catholic University of Applied Sciences Freiburg
Karlstrasse 63
79104 Freiburg
Phone: +49 761 200-1553
E-Mail: mirella.cacace@kh-freiburg.de

Andrea Schäfer
Andrea Schäfer
In "Worlds of Labour", the social scientist focuses on the refinement of indicators and their integration into the Global Welfare State Information System (WeSIS).

Dear Andrea, you have been with us for a few weeks now. nevertheless welcome to CRC 1342! You started at a difficult time, when most of the team has to work from home ...

Switching to a new team at a time when most people work from home is indeed a challenge in terms of communication. The team of project A03 welcomed me warmly and appreciatively and paved a straight path for me into the team and the work through regular exchange and a lot of patience.

Can you briefly tell us about your professional path so far?

My professional path is winding and characterised by many experiences, insights and cooperation with many colleagues. In addition to my Master's degree in Sociology, Business Administration and English at the University of Potsdam, I worked early on at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) in the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) department with Elke Holst on the topic of women in the labour market. After graduating, I moved to DIW to work with Jürgen Schupp and Martin Kohli on the connections and interactions between inheritance and wealth distribution.I then went to Bremen to the Graduate School of Social Sciences (GSSS, now BIGSSS), where I completed the graduate programme with great colleagues - such as Till Kathmann, Susanne Strauß and Can Aybek.

What happened next?

After only a short time in Bremen, I became a research assistant in Karin Gottschall's department Gender Inequalities in the Welfare State at the Zentrum für Sozialpolitik (ZES, now SOCIUM). During this time I worked with outstanding colleagues such as Simone Hasler, Karin Gottschall, Simone Scherger and Anna Hokema on topics such as vertical segregation, family policies, gender inequality and gainful employment. I was involved in various projects, including "InGRID - Inclusive Growth Research Infrastructure Diffusion (EU/FP 7)" with Olaf Groh-Samberg, the project "What comes after the family wage? Problems and possibilities of regulating income risks for normal workers" with Irene Dingeldey and in the project "Migration and transnational payments from a gender perspective" with Elke Holst and Mechthild Schrooten. It was also exciting to work with colleagues like Heidi Gottfried, Karen A. Shire and Sylvia Walby in the international network "Globalisation, Gender, and Work Transformation (GLOW)".

Due to care work and the restrictions of the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz, I went into organisational and political practice in the Central Commission for Women's Issues (ZKFF) at the University of Bremen in 2018. As a scientific officer, I advised and supported the ZKFF in all fields of action in the performance of its legal duties. Intermittently, I transitioned into academia for short periods of time, such as in 2019 in Sonja Drobnič's Department of Life Course, Life Course Policies and Social Integration at SOCIUM. Since 2019, I have been regularly teaching quantitative and qualitative methods in the Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Bremen. Since 15.01.2021, I have taken a sabbatical leave from my position as an officer of the ZKFF and since then I have joined the project "Worlds of Labour".

Why were you interested in working in the CRC 1342?

I am interested in the CRC because it goes beyond the usual social policy research at institutions. On the one hand, because global development dynamics of public social policy are studied over long periods of time, and on the other hand, because the expertise of many people from different disciplines, cultures and countries is bundled here over several years. There is an open-minded atmosphere and the variety of perspectives creates a great, stimulating working atmosphere.

You have been part of project A03 for a few weeks now. What exactly are you working on?

I am working on the refinement of indicators based on normative and legal standards of employment relationships. Part of this work is to integrate the indicators developed into the WeSIS database. In addition, I advise the team on methodological issues and deal with the relationship between legal regulations on equality and gender-specific segmentation in the labour market.

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Project A03: Worlds of Labour. Normative Standards of Employment Relationships as National and Global Patterns of Welfare State Development


Contact:
Andrea Schäfer
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-57095
E-Mail: andrea.schaefer@uni-bremen.de

Dr. Kressen Thyen, Dr. Roy Karadag
Dr. Kressen Thyen, Dr. Roy Karadag
Kressen Thyen and Roy Karadag have investigated why Tunisia is holding on to subsidies despite international criticism, while Egypt has undertaken reforms. In the interview, they talk about their findings, which they have recently published.

Who is benefitting most from food subsidies in Tunisia and Egypt – the poor, or the elites?

Kressen Thyen: There are several ways to answer this question, I suppose. But first, let us look at how that is done: Public authorities have acted after World War II in different spheres to lower and stabilize the price of food, be it by setting incentives for peasants to produce wheat and other products for local markets, by providing inputs to peasants to make that production possible, and for some time even by distributing and redistributing land to smallholders. Plus, favorable price policies stabilized the profit expectations of peasants, millers and traders and secured deliveries of enough food into the cities where most of that food is consumed. While all of these economic actors also profit from the state’s regulation of food markets, the main beneficiaries would still be the urban poor.

Roy Karadag: Well, with that question, one already gets to the tricky aspect of having systems of food subsidization and the ways it has been contested since the 1980s. And that contestation lives with these stark contrasts, having the poor on the one side and the elites on the other side. And since those first studies done under the purview of the World Bank in the early 1980s which academically produced the field of food subsidies in Egypt, for example, that was very much the focus: arguing that food subsidies do not benefit the poor as much as they do richer people.

Kressen Thyen: Of course, that is much more complicated and cannot be put in these general frames, as the question of ‘benefitting’ definitely needs further qualification. What is obvious is that people and families from middle and higher social classes have more money and can buy more food, and members of these groups have, of course, also bought foodstuff to benefit from cheap prices. In the language of targeting, yes, that has always been a bone of contention. But then again, given that poor people do not have as much money, they are much more dependent on these cheap prices in order to get food on the table for themselves and their children. So, in relative terms, the poor benefit more or most from food subsidization. Because the alternative to buying cheap bread, rice etc. is to suffer from undernutrition and hunger.

Food subsidies have been criticised as being an expensive and insufficient measure to reduce poverty. Do you agree with this critique?

Kressen Thyen: Well, in this case, too, the issue is one of appropriate and fair framing. Food subsidies are not a good tool if you really aim to reduce relative poverty and to redistribute resources. But then again, are they supposed to do that? Rather, they are tools to help poor people having access to enough food on the table. So, one may rather frame it that they do not reduce relative poverty, but that they are there to fight and overcome hunger. And with respect to the latter, North African countries have seen enormous improvements with respect to hunger and malnutrition since World War II.

Roy Karadag: Yes, I mean, sure you can criticize the ways that material goal of eradicating hunger translates into specific public procedures of price-setting, of directing agriculture and providing infrastructures of stores and bakeries to reach the poor. But the overall goal is to have affordable food, and I do not see any problem with that goal, especially in countries that are much poorer than here in central Europe, for example.

Kressen Thyen: One will be able to set up comparisons between poor countries in the 1950s and their developmental trajectories until the 1980s and today. And then, you easily find successful ways out of poverty where states did not have to rely on similar forms of food subsidization as in North Africa. And where states have rivalling forms of social safety and poverty alleviation. But that is no justification to attack subsidies in contexts where poverty has remained pervasive.

Roy Karadag: One need not categorically reject attempts to have better targeting or to be aware of the financial limitations of food subsidization. That has been accepted ever more since the 1970s and the connection between high subsidy expenditure, budgetary pressures and mass protests. Countries that ultimately depend on having to provide cheap food will run serious legitimacy deficits if they cannot control prices – as in this region where countries have become food import dependent since the 1960s and 70s. That is a problem, and it would, of course, be better if there were enough other forms of social security and welfare. But that does not mean that one can just get rid of food subsidization and the public promise of affordable food and nurturing the poor.

There are alternatives to food subsidies on the “social policy tool market”: very popular among these are social cash transfers that became widely applied in many low- and middle-income countries. Would not these be more targeted to support the poorer parts of society than food subsidies (– at the end of the day there are only so many loafs of bread you can eat)?

Roy Karadag: I would argue that this global drive toward cash transfers is nothing but a financial compensation for all those contexts when there are no other welfare policies available or when those are not wanted and do not fit the dominant developmental scripts. Yes, I am for more money in the pockets of poor people, but the reason this idea is becoming hegemonic across all developmental organizations is that it does not get into the way of liberal welfare understandings. But what would the difference be to existing welfare benefits when you have to spend that money for more expensive food? I doubt that.

Kressen Thyen: It is questionable to assume that such cash transfers will actually be more redistributive than existing frameworks. If the critique toward food subsidization is: They are not redistributive enough and stabilize highly unequal social settings, then one should also confront cash transfer ideas with that same critique and question whether they are truly redistributive. And that is just one dimension. Think also of the consequences of targeting and the drive to ever more and better targeting to really make sure that only the needy receive those payments. The registration of the very poor under conditions of significant parts of the population facing structural poverty is very tricky, needs a lot of financial and bureaucratic resources and needs to be legitimized.

Roy Karadag: The other overarching issue or argument focuses on the liberalization of agriculture and food markets: this is what actors like the World Bank and proponents of neoliberal ideas are after, their argument, promise and hope being that liberalized markets will bring more and, ergo, cheaper food to the cities, as the existing inefficiencies and crony networks would be broken up, competition would rule, and that there would be enough incentive to get food to the urban poor at the right price level. This is the liberal promise: but one should seriously question this claim. Why should food be as cheap in the future without public subsidization? When countries are dependent on food imports, have free floating currencies, and when agricultural producers earn more with cash crops for international markets. You need a lot of trust and belief in market mechanisms making sure that there would be no price escalation against which one would offer no price cushion, any longer.

Kressen Thyen: Think of the loss of legitimacy this would entail, and of the potential for mass protests. As we spell out, there is a concrete tragic of food subsidization: If you offer too much, you will run into budgetary and financial pressure, in particular when you cannot control the price of food due to your position in global food and agriculture markets. But if you reduce them too much to counter that budgetary pressure, you run the risk of triggering food riots. Experts critical of subsidies want to get countries out of that food subsidies trap. But they cannot guarantee another trustworthy future with stable food prices in a world without subsidies.

The international pressure to abolish food subsidies was high for many years if not decades, and the costs of the subsidies are very high and volatile. Why do Tunisia and Egypt do stick with it anyway (– to a greater and lesser extent)?

Roy Karadag: Well, because of their enormous symbolic value in North African societies. Hunger and undernutrition have been devastating in times of economic crises and war in past centuries. And past collective exposures to hunger continue to determine what people expect of their governments, affordable food being very high on the agenda.

Kressen Thyen: Don’t forget that this is also the only social policy tool with which the state actually reaches the entire populace. That is not the case for other policy fields in which the reach of the state is much more limited, for example in labour policy and social security. Informal labour relations are just too prevalent in Egypt and Tunisia, and formalization may be a fine goal, but it is very complicated to realize under the existing conditions. The same goes for all those promises of universal healthcare and public schooling, of child welfare and social assistance. But everybody comes to the market to buy and consume food. Which is why you reach everybody with these measures. And the fact that ‘bread’ was also one of the big rallying slogans in the mass protests of 2010 and 2011 emphasized this symbolic value and its place in society. People do not want to relieve the state of its obligation to guarantee affordable food.

Roy Karadag: One should keep in mind that inequality has been increasing over the past century, that there is enormous pressure across middle classes, who struggle to keep their social positions. The danger of impoverishment is very much felt by middle classes who join and participate in mobilizations for maintaining subsidies. And, as I said, food is a symbolically much more relevant field than, e.g. in transport and energy, where states cut much more subsidies. There, too, there were protests against high costs of living, but not with that same fervour as usually happens in context of bread price increases.

Kressen Thyen: So, that was now all limited to expectations among the populace and issues of legitimacy beliefs and mobilization capacities. The other dimension is then on how that translates into actual government policies to live with that kind of pressure and generalized expectations. And, here, we enter the field of internationalized reforms, of the modes through which pressures from above and below are mediated by ruling elites. And, in brief, this has mostly been in the mode of brokerage, meaning ruling elites muddling through these pressures, trying to maintain enough leverage vis-à-vis both sides.

Roy Karadag: And then, with the regime changes and new internationalized politics after a first couple of transitional years, paths actually diverge, and there is much more movement in Egypt and none, anymore, in Tunisia, as we lay out in the article. But, more movement did not mean abolishing them, just liberalizing more than others to get all that praise from expert communities.

In your paper you write a very strong sentence: “The internationally recommended adjustment of North African welfare systems to more market-friendly economic policies is empirically tied to violence and repression.” Could you explain that please? And does that mean that IOs and other international actors should rather stop pushing towards welfare state reforms in Northern Africa?

Kressen Thyen: The linkage between violence, state coercion and autocracy, on the one hand, and economic liberalization, on the other hand, is a quite established one. Not just for this region. And in this more concrete case, yes, you have experts calling for the implementation of policies that are not popular and would not survive a democratic process. That is also not specific to these countries: welfare state retrenchment is always a tricky affair and usually leads to protest mobilization and contestation. That is one reason why Tunisian politics could not be steered in the post-2013 years to move to further subsidy cuts or to even think of more targeting measures. And it is one big factor in overcoming that huge gulf between IO demands and popular demands. That was only overcome in the context of crushing activist space and oppositional networks and of crushing the most powerful oppositional political bloc of that time, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood.

Roy Karadag: Yes, it is not because of smarter policy outlooks or of better political communication between the various interest groups that the new military rulers under the Sisi government managed to stage themselves as transformative reformers as in the case of the 2014 food subsidy reforms. What sets them apart from earlier governments is, instead, their transformative use of repression and coercion.

Now, if one is politically or academically in line with liberal reform demands from the IMF, the World Bank, the EU, from actors like Germany and the US, then one may surely continue pressing for policy changes. But one should be very much aware what the signal is when one positively credits governments like the Egyptian one for its capacity to introduce such changes. Because such certification and legitimization also legitimizes the enormous violence associated with that policy. And here, I would very much urge people to not do that. And to be appropriate in one’s academic judgment as to why things happen the way they did.

Kressen Thyen: Yes, we did not write this to say there should be no international cooperation or that there must not be policy recommendations by such organizations or even that subsidy systems should be upheld as they are. We mainly wanted to highlight the hypocrisies that such globally oriented organizations and big actors like Germany, to name just one big actor, stand for. Germany continues to express its hope in cooperating with this Egyptian government to make for a better economic future for Egypt and for Egyptian-German development cooperation, irrespective of the human rights record of Egyptian rulers. You may say, okay, that is Realpolitik. Fine, but what about expert communities hailing Egypt as a success and even model case? That should just not happen.

Roy Karadag: Yes, there is a lot of hypocrisy out there, which is nothing new in international and in Middle East and North African politics. We will not change that. But we at least wanted to make sure where the contradictions of internationalized food subsidy reforms lie, and that one should not gloss over all the violence associated to real life policy changes.

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Read the full paper online:

Thyen, Kressen; Karadag, Roy, 2021: Between Affordable Welfare and Affordable Food: Internationalized Food Subsidy Reforms in Egypt and Tunisia, in: Social Policy & Administration, online first, https://doi.org/10.1111/spol.12710


Contact:
Dr. Roy Karadag
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-67468
E-Mail: karadag@uni-bremen.de

Dr. Kressen Thyen
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-58515
E-Mail: thyen@uni-bremen.de

India in lockdown (Photo: ThroughMyEyes, Adobe Stock)
India in lockdown (Photo: ThroughMyEyes, Adobe Stock)
Part 4 of the CRC 1342 Covid-19 Social Policy Response Series has been published. For India, Stefan Kühner, Keerty Nakray and Daniel Neff conclude: The relief efforts have not been able to adequately address the social and economic suffering.

In their essay, Stefan Kühner, Keerty Nakray and Daniel Neff summarise the broad contours and key characteristics of the Indian government’s social policy re­sponse to the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing nationwide lockdown (up to the end of September 2020). This far, the authors write, the Indian government’s Covid-19 relief measures have not been able to adequately address the social and economic grief in the country, as there were no adequate safety nets in place to counter immediate social emergencies to begin with.

Not a single piece of new legislation has been implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Instead, the authors found a large "and at times bewildering" array of temporary relief measures by ordinances, specifically targeting distinct groups, for example 'the poorest of the poor', elderly, widows, disabled, farmers, construction workers, unorganised sector workers, and fishermen. Apart from a housing scheme, the authors did not find any new longer-term scheme that has been devel­oped directly in response to the pandemic.

Kühner, Nakray and Neff conclude: "The initial picture suggests that the Indian government’s response to the pandemic prioritised economic and fiscal measures, relied on the existing inadequate safety net, and was not timely enough to support millions of inter-state migrants." Although all measures added up to being fiscally quite expansive, the benefit levels granted fall far short of the sums needed to compensate for Covid-19-related income losses.

The authors’ analysis of policy documents suggests that the Indian government’s Covid-19 crisis response has been merely incremental rather than resulting in any radical or structural adjustments of the In­dian social policy status quo.

Read the full essay and the appendix documenting the government's measures: India’s Social Policy Response to Covid-19: Temporary Relief in a Rigid Welfare Landscape

See the other parts of the series: CRC 1342 Covid-19 Social Policy Response Series

Öktem earned his PhD at Bilkent University in Ankara with a thesis on the emergence of welfare systems in the Global South. In the interview, he talks about his academic career and explains his role in the CRC.

Dear Kerem, you have moved to the University of Bremen a few weeks ago and are now also working in the CRC project B01 - welcome! What topics and tasks will you be working on in the next few months?

Kerem Öktem: As a member of the project on "Mechanisms of social policy diffusion", I will be looking in particular at the development of Turkish social policy. A particular focus of my work will be to understand which causal mechanisms have played a role in the introduction and development of unemployment insurance in Turkey.

After your studies in Bayreuth, you moved to Bilkent University in Ankara. What were your reasons for doing your PhD there?

Already during my studies in Bayreuth, I did an internship abroad at the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TIHV) and a semester abroad at the Middle East Technical University (METU/ODTÜ) in Ankara. For private reasons, it was obvious for me to stay in Ankara and so I decided to do my PhD at Bilkent University.

There is probably hardly a phase in the career of a scientist in which one can deal with a topic as intensively as during the PhD period. Your dissertation is entitled: "Pathways to universal social security in lower income countries: explaining the emergence of welfare states in the developing world". From your point of view, what was the most important insight you gained?

My dissertation is dedicated to the question of under which circumstances relatively poor countries develop such comprehensive social policies that they can be described as welfare states. What particularly surprised me was that social policy was developed in very different contexts, by governments and regimes of very different kinds. Two of the cases I looked at in detail were Brazil and South Africa. Here, for example, it was shown that in Brazil not only the democratic centre-left governments of the 2000s, but already the right-wing military regime from 1964 to 1985, and in South Africa not only the governments formed by the African National Congress (ANC) in the post-apartheid era, but already governments during the apartheid era expanded social policy for very specific motives.

In 2017, you moved to the University of Bielefeld and worked on the project "How 'Social' Is Turkey"? Can you give an answer to that - how social is Turkey?

The question "how 'social' is Turkey?" in the project title referred to our attempt to understand to what extent a social policy similar to European welfare states has emerged in Turkey. In doing so, we found that in recent decades the main social policy programmes that constitute the modern welfare state, such as an old-age pension or health insurance, have been introduced in Turkey and gradually extended to a large part of the population. In this respect, Turkey is now quite similar to European welfare states. However, if one looks at the details of the programmes, one sees that differences still exist. For example, there is no legal entitlement to basic material security as there is in Germany. If one takes a broader view of the context and sees the European welfare state embedded in the democratic constitutional state, the comparison obviously becomes even more difficult.

Will Turkey remain a focus of your academic work or will your interest shift to another region?

Researching Turkish social policy from a comparative perspective will remain a focus of my work. However, I would also like to turn more to other countries. If I have the time, I will, for example, look at social policy developments in India, which are surprisingly little discussed in international research.


Contact:
Dr. Kerem Gabriel Öktem
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
E-Mail: oektem@uni-bremen.de