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Prof. Dr. Ali Akbar Tajmazinani
Prof. Dr. Ali Akbar Tajmazinani
CRC guest researcher Ali Akbar Tajmazinani has presented the first results of his typology of welfare systems in Muslim societies.

In the Jour Fixe lecture series, Ali Akbar Tajmazinani from the Allameh Tabataba'i University in Tehran presented the preliminary results of his current research focus: a typology of welfare systems in Muslim societies.

For this purpose, Tajmazinani collected data on states with a majority Muslim population: Data on socio-political input and output factors (including public expenditure on health, social protection and education; level of education; extent of universal health coverage; Human Development Index; distribution of wealth), GDP per capita, share of natural resources and remittances in GDP.

A cluster analysis revealed 7 groups of countries that differed in terms of welfare state inputs and outputs as well as social framework conditions. The most relevant factors for a high level of social welfare turned out to be the level of GDP per capita and social stability. Tajmazinani will further refine his typology.

Tajmazinani is an associate professor at the Allameh Tabataba'i University in Tehran and studies social policy in Muslim societies. He is spending a one-year sabbatical in Germany and cooperates with the SOCIUM and the CRC 1342, among others.

Martín who was a member of the CRC 1342 in the first funding period has investigated what influence the colonial legacy has had on the social policy developments in Mexico and Argentina.

Martín Cortina Escudero has successfully defended his PhD thesis on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2023. Martín was member of the CRC 1342 in the 1st funding period, working in the project International Complementarities in the Development of the Welfare State. The Transatlantic Sphere (1870–2020), directed by Philip Manow and Sarah Berens.

For his PhD monograph "“Diverging Paths of Social Policy Development in Latin America States: A Case Study on Argentina and Mexico from the Colonial Times to the Early Post-World-War-II Period", Martín has investigated the international factors contributing to the two countries’ diverging paths in social policy in the period from colonialism until the 1960s.

Martín started out with his research question "Why did similar paths lead to different social policy outcomes in Argentina and Mexico?" In his literature review he could not find decent explanations for the variations among the social policy developments in Latin American countries. Therefore Martín chose the examples of Argentina and Mexico to test his hypothesis that colonial legacies were a key factor. He examined historical documents, parliamentary debates and secondary resources to test his hypothesis, applying a mixed-methods approach, combining process tracing, Qualitative Comparative Analysis and descriptive statistics.

Martín found that Mexico and Argentina went through similar historical stages – the transition to modern capitalism (1810-1910), the adoption of a primary export model (1910-1940) and an industrialization process focussing on import substitution import (1940-1960). These stages to some degree led to some convergence in countries’ social policy developments.

The colonial legacies of both countries on the other hand prepared the ground for the differences in their social policy arrangements: Mexico with its abundance in precious metals and its large indigenous population was very much in the focus of the Spanish Empire, which therefore implemented strong colonial structures in Mexico. In Argentina the opposite had happened, because it was resource scarce and not densely populated – as a result the Spanish Empire did not spend as much money and effort on implementing hierarchic colonial structures. These disparities paved the way for Argentina to eventually develop a political regime of electoral competition in the first half of the 20th century, whereas Mexico developed an authoritarian regime.

These differences in regime types, amplified by the differences in the working classes’/unions’ influence on political decision-making processes, has shaped the social policy decisions of both, Mexico and Argentina, Martín has found. Argentina’s social policy was rather extensive and stratified up, whereas Mexico’s social policy was rather limited and unified, privileging civil servants.

After his presentation Martín received valuable feedback and criticism on his work from the committee that he will be taking into account before submitting to an academic publisher.

Dr. Jan Helmdag
Dr. Jan Helmdag
Jan Helmdag from the Swedish Institute for Social Research is visiting the CRC 1342. During a lecture on statistical analyses of labour market reforms, he pointed out some pitfalls.

Dr. Jan Helmdag from the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI) in Stockholm is currently visiting the CRC 1342. At SOFI, Jan Helmdag is working, among other things, on the Social Policy Indicators Database (SPIN), which contains institutional data on various dimensions of social welfare programmes. During his visit to Bremen, Helmdag gave a lecture as part of the Jour-fixe lecture series and contributed to a workshop of the CRC working group on cash benefits.

At his Jour-fixe lecture, Helmdag presented the results of his doctoral thesis, which he wrote at the University of Greifswald, in front of members of CRC 1342, SCOCIUM and BIGSSS. For his work, Helmdag had analysed 255 quantitative studies on labour market reforms worldwide between 1963 and 2021. He focused on the ideological position of governments on the one hand and on the impact of labour market reforms on the generosity of labour market policy (measured by expenditure on labour market policy instruments and wage replacement rates) on the other.

While the statistical analysis of all 255 studies together - Helmdag speaks here of a "one-size-fits-all" analysis - produced a relatively uniform picture ("There is robust evidence for classical partisanship", i.e. left-wing governments tended to increase spending and wage replacement rates, while right-wing governments tended to cut both), the country-specific analysis produced a fragmented picture:

In terms of spending levels, active labour market policy reforms are predominantly characterised by "new politics", passive labour market policy reforms are characterised by all three faces of partisanship: classical partisanship, reversed partisanship and new politics. Economic factors such as economic growth and unemployment rates had a major influence on the level of expenditure, but political institutions had not. All "faces of partisanship" were also evident in the level of wage replacement rates, whereby government constellations and "veto players" played a greater role than economic factors.

Helmdag concludes from his research that explanatory models based on one-size-fits-all analyses can be very misleading, especially when they refer to a long period of time. Country-specific analyses, on the other hand, offer valuable insights to improve the models.

You can find out more about Jan Helmdag and his work on his profile at Researchgate and on his profile at SOFI.

Dr. Ali Akbar Tajmazinani
Dr. Ali Akbar Tajmazinani
Tajmazinani is Associate Professor at Allameh Tabataba'i University in Tehran and is researching social policy in Muslim societies. He is currently spending a sabbatical in Germany and cooperates with the SOCIUM and CRC 1342.

Ali Akbar Tajmazinani is an expert on social policy in Muslim societies. "About two billion people are of the Muslim faith and constitute the majority of the population in about 40 countries around the world. Yet these countries are virtually absent from the comparative social policy literature," says Tajmazinani. He is working to fill this gap. In 2021, he edited the edited volume Social Policy in the Islamic World, published with Palgrave Macmillan. In this book, Tajmazinani analyses the Koran and other fundamental texts with regard to their impact on social policy in predominantly Muslim states. The volume also includes case studies on eight countries.

Ali Akbar Tajmazinani has spent the last two months at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) working on food subsidies and the recently introduced cash transfer scheme in Iran. Tajmazinani is now on a visiting fellowship with SOCIUM and CRC 1342 in Bremen until the end of the year.

Tajmazinani will mainly work on a typology of welfare systems of Islamic societies. He will write a paper on this topic for the SOCIUM SFB 1342 Working Paper Series and give a public lecture on 7 December.

The cooperation with the CRC 1342 is to be continued beyond 2022.

The volume is a central result of project B01 in the first funding phase and has now been reviewed by both the sociologist Ulf Tranow and the historian Johannes Nagel.

In his book "Kausale Mechanismen und Process Tracing - Perspektiven der qualitativen Politikforschung" (Causal Mechanisms and Process Tracing - Perspectives on Qualitative Political Research), Frank Nullmeier shows how political research can be systematically approached by means of process tracing and how political processes can be better understood and explained in detail by means of causal mechanisms. Nullmeier first examines the history and theoretical foundations of the concept of causal mechanisms and, building on this, presents a refinement to a theory of causal mechanisms. Furthermore, he explains how mechanisms already identified in the social science literature can be used to explain political developments. Finally, the book offers a guideline on how to proceed with process tracing, which researchers and students can use to analyse independent political processes.

Ulf Tranow, sociologist and Akademischer Oberrat at the Institute for Social Sciences at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, has read Nullmeier's book and written a detailed review for Soziopolis. Tranow summarises the chapters concisely, contextualises them within the literature and praises Nullmeier's integration of theory and empiricism: "It is worth reading both for those who want to familiarise themselves with the theoretical foundations of the mechanism concept and for those who are looking for a more application-oriented approach to mechanism-based individual case research."

Tranow has only one critical remark about Nullmeier's book: "... hardly any complex mechanisms are presented and discussed in the book", although these are necessary for explaining individual events in the social sciences. According to Tranow, Nullmeier is sceptical that a comprehensive compilation of complex mechanisms is possible on the basis of the current state of research. However, Tranow disagrees: "[N]ot only empirical research, but above all social theory lends itself to using it to compile complex mechanisms for a practical research toolbox ... The reappraisal of social theories by transferring their underlying causal models into the systematics and terminology of the mechanisms approach could be a big step towards making this explanatory programme attractive for empirical research."

Ulf Tranow: "To explain why by explaining how". Rezension zu "Kausale Mechanismen und Process Tracing. Perspektiven der qualitativen Politikforschung" von Frank Nullmeier. In: Soziopolis – Gesellschaft beobachten. 10.10.2022,

Johannes Nagel from the Department Global- und Verflechtungsgeschichte at Bielefeld University has read "Kausale Mechanismen und Process Tracing" from a historian's perspective and reviewed it for H-Soz-Kult. Nagel recommends reading the book to historians "... who are open to theory-based explanation and do not limit themselves to loosely commenting on source material with borrowed social science terminology, but want to proceed in a methodologically consistent manner". He praises the section on the history of theory as a "... concise overview of debates in bordering disciplines that one would otherwise have to read up on via various literature". Nullmeier's systematisation of causal mechanisms is very valuable for empirical historical research, Nagel notes, as it is helpful for applying theory and operationalising one's own projects: "The methodological explanations encourage one to think about how working on the material and explaining in individual case analysis are connected."

Johannes Nagel: Rezension zu: Nullmeier, Frank: Kausale Mechanismen und Process Tracing. Perspektiven der qualitativen Politikforschung. Frankfurt am Main 2021: ISBN 9783593512075, , In: H-Soz-Kult, 10.10.2022,

Prof. Dr. Frank Nullmeier
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-58576

Diana Bao
Diana Bao
Harvard graduate Diana Bao is a business founder, has worked as a consultant and has even produced a musical. As a PhD student associated with project A05, she is now investigating the influence of international organisations on China's education policy.

Dear Diana, you have started your PhD journey in Bremen in September as a BIGSSS fellow. But you are also associated with our project A05. How did that come about?

Well, let me start with how I approached to Professor Kerstin Martens, who is now my supervisor. I have a background in international relations and education, and I am always interested in how these two disciplines interact. I have worked as a translator back home in China, having translated books on education systems in Finland and Singapore and their performance in PISA assessments. This is one example what sparked my interest in international organizations and their influence on national education policy. When I was searching the internet for prominent scholars in this field, I found Kerstin and her team at the University of Bremen.

When was that?

January 2022. I was quite bold, to be honest: I just sent Kerstin emails, told her I really like her research (particularly all the works of A05), and then asked her, if there was any chance I can study with her. That's how my PhD journey started. After rounds of communication and a zoom interview, she said she's willing to supervise me in my PhD project. So I applied for BIGSSS, and now I’m here.

What idea did you pitch to Kerstin for your PhD thesis?

My project will focus on the impact of international organizations on China's educational policy. I come from China and have a background in international relations. I am curious to see to what extent China as an authoritarian country – or a very powerful country in terms of state capacity – is influenced by international organizations. From my personal observation and experience, I would say the educational community in China is much impacted by IOs, but it's not academically rigid.

I guess, with your personal experience you are referring to Shanghai, where you grew up?

Yes, I grew up in Shanghai, which is a metropolitan city highly influenced by lots of international ideas. I want to find out if this is representative for China or not.

There must be huge differences between the metropolitan and the rural areas in China …

Exactly. It's very complex. China is large and there are many layers, in terms of power structures and influence. I've worked in an educational technology company, cooperating with the educational bureaus in China to try to eliminate education inequality. In this position I've been to most of the provinces and visited more than 50 schools in China, which has built my understanding of China's education system. I'm wondering if ideas, for instance from the OECD, would impact China’s education system gradually, not only Shanghai. My personal observation would suggest a model that starts from Shanghai. For example, OECD ideas travel from Shanghai to China’s central government in Beijing, where these thoughts were combined with other elements of government projects, formed new national educational policy, and then passed down layer to layer to the other provinces and smaller cities. In rather remote places of China, the educators there probably don't know much about IOs, but rather they learn from the central government's policy. But that's a model I need to test.

That sounds like a huge task.

Yes, this topic involves lots of aspects to look at. At the moment I'm struggling to figure out where to start and what methods I can use. But that’s fine, all the dots are going to connect. This topic connects all what I'm passionate about.

Let’s step back a little and have a look at some of the “the dots”, i.e. elements of your career so far. Maybe we start with your first experience going abroad.

The high school I went to has international exchange programmes with scholarships. I applied, got in and lived in Washington, DC for a year as a high school student. It was back in 2009, the Americans were very curious about China, everybody was excited to talk to me and asked me questions. That was the time I realized how important it is to foster communication between different cultures. And I decided to apply for colleges in the US because the way of teaching is very different from the one in China. I felt that I had enough of test-driven education. I wanted to be more engaged in communication and discussion. So I applied for undergraduate programmes and got into Georgetown's School of Foreign Services. The years at Georgetown was eye opening, I experienced real training in IR, and also had the chance to study at the London School of Economics for a year.

How did your shift to Education Policy Research happen?

When I studied IR in the US, I realized that it is ‘tricky’ to work in politics and security. As a Chinese, I can't work for the US government. Meanwhile, since I am trained in US, my chance of working for the Chinese government is low. Also, I wanted to learn more in a new field, and find overlapping terrain. In addition, my family - for generations, since my great grandparents - are all teachers. I was born in this teachers' community. Growing up, I've seen people whose lives are changed because of education, because of good teachers. In short: Education becomes part of my faith. That’s how I applied to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and got in.

What struck me: After graduating from Harvard you went back to China – not to work in academia or public administration, but …

… to produce a musical, yes! During my undergraduate programme, every summer I was working for an investment company invested in cultural projects and supporting international exchanges. I really enjoyed it since I could combine my personal interests and with my job – as I'm a fan of musicals. After graduating from Harvard, I went back to China, and joined the company straight away. I was evaluating projects, purchasing copyrights from Broadway and transferred productions to China. After a couple of months, my boss asked me to have hands-on experiences to really understand the industry. At that time I had just bought a copyright for the Tony winning show A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder and was excited to bring it to China. My boss suggested: Why don't you just go ahead with the production? I was hesitant: I don't have any experience, I'm not a professional musical producer …. But I took the challenge. I spent about a year and half starting from buying the copyrights, then transformed the show to a Chinese version. I recruited the creatives and the performers, rented the theatre, all of that. And eventually, we brought the show on the stage and it was played for two months. That was a really cool experience! Although I have to admit, it's not always fun to transform your personally interests into work.

You suddenly don't have a hobby anymore, I guess.

Yes, when I watch a musical, I know too well every detail of the project, the costs and revenue, how much the performers get paid, everything. It's kind of troubling. I have to actually tell myself to forget all about that to actually enjoy the art itself.

After that your career took another turn: You co-founded a company.

After that production, I was exhausted and wanted to switch back to education. At that time, my friend invited me to join her company as a co-founder. She is a professional musical actress, who was trained in Hamburg. After her return to China, she noticed the professional training offered to musical actors in China was not qualified, so she started an arts educational school. By the time she invited me, she wanted to expand her business to also address to teenagers. Since I am trained in education and have worked in the musical industry, she asked me to join in. So I became a co-founder, helped her to establish new curricula, elaborated business proposals and went to pitch at a couple of investors. That year of being responsible for a company was stressful, with a lot of obstacles and challenges. But also really fun.

Is the company still existing?

Yes, my friend is still running it. I stepped back again, because my parts was kind of done. I then got a new opportunity, went to Beijing and started a new job: For about three years I was working for one of the largest education companies in the world. The company's main duty is to provide after-school tutoring programmes to children in China and some other countries.

What was your role in that company?

I was working in the department that collaborates with the government and with public schools. My job was to provide ‘solution plans’ to heads of public schools. One of the biggest problems in China’s education system is inequality. The quality of education varies hugely within China, even within a province, and sometimes even within a district. There are different approaches to tackle this problem, through improving educational content, curricula, textbooks, or via working with teachers on their professional development, and also education technology. My job was to visit a school or a district, evaluate the education quality, weighing the resources our company had, to then provide a solution plan and to see how we could collaborate.

Do public schools in China have any budgets to pay a private company to cooperate with them?

Yes. All the public schools are funded by the government, so each fund is designated to a specific use. Within that plan, there are several categories that can be used to work with private companies on technology, hardware, contents, etc. For instance, in China, there's a policy that encourages the use of educational technology. Schools can apply for this fund for the following year.

After three years you made the decision to return to academia? Why?

There is a difference between means and end. For most people, a PhD is a means to academia, a key to a professional academic career. But for me, the PhD itself is an end. I have a life-long bucket list that I have to tick, and the PhD is one of the boxes.

Why is it on your list?

My interest is always in this field of IR and education, so I naturally want to know more about it. Another reason: I want to get serious research training. I think, training in logic and research is going to be beneficial no matter which paths I will take later. The third aspect is my family tradition. My father is a professor, and I grew up in this community where, within one household, there's at least one PhD.  When I explain to my family friends that I am doing my PhD, they immediately ask me: What is your research question? Your methodology?

It is natural to them …

Yes, because they are doing research themselves or were at least trained themselves before. It’s the community influence that helped me to make the decision to start doing my PhD.


Diana is more than happy to meet and talk with people about politics, culture and every-day life in China. She is also willing to help providing any resources people might need for research.

The tasks include researching education policies concerning the inclusion of marginalised groups. The working time is 30 hours per month.

The research project “The Global Development of Coverage and Generosity in Public Education” which is part of the funded Collaborative Research Centre "Global Dynamics of Social Policy" (SFB 1342) is searching for a student assistant (30h per month).

The position is to start in January of 2023, for at least six months.

The main task is to support the data collection within the quantitative part of the project. The tasks include researching education policies and constitutions from countries all around the globe for the inclusion of marginalized groups in formal education.

Interest in, or even previous knowledge of, educational sociology or policy and globalization is desirable, but not a condition. The same applies to knowledge of qualitative methods. Knowledge of languages such as French or Spanish is also desirable, a must is proficient writing skills in English.

We offer an insight into an interesting field of work and a friendly team. Salary is based on the usual rates for student assistants at the University of Bremen.

Your application should include a short curriculum vitae and your study focus or interests. A current excerpt of the transcripts of records should also be enclosed.

The closing date for applications is 26.10.2022. Applications should be made via e-mail, to be sent to

Fabian Besche-Truthe,
Helen Seitzer,

Dr. Fabian Besche-Truthe
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-57066

Dr. 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

Dr. John Berten
Dr. John Berten
John is a postdoc at Bielefeld University and investigates, what influence indicators and projections of the future have on the work of international organisers. In project B12 he is examining the ILO as an actor in the global Covid-19 crisis management.

First of all, I have to ask you how to pronounce your first name?

Since I work a lot with international colleagues, I now pronounce it English (i.e. dʒɒn), even though my family has always pronounced my first name Swedish (jᴐn) - since my mother is from Sweden.

Excellent, that's sorted then. You are a postdoc at the University of Bielefeld and joined the CRC 1342 this year. Could you please briefly describe your academic career?

I studied in Bielefeld, Bachelor in Social Sciences and Master in Sociology. During this period, I was a student assistant in a project led by Lutz Leisering, which dealt with the expansion of basic social protection systems in the Global South. This work sparked my interest in social policy and social policy research, and I also wrote my Master's thesis in the context of this project. Afterwards, I went to Bremen and wrote my PhD thesis as a fellow at the BIGSSS. My first supervisor was Martin Nonhoff, and my second supervisor was Lutz Leisering. I combined the final period of my PhD programme with a position in Bielefeld and then went to Tübingen as a postdoc to work with Martin Seeleib-Kaiser in his working group on Comparative Public Policy. And now I'm back in Bielefeld, working with Alexandra Kaasch.

I would be interested to know more about your PhD dissertation: What was your research about?

On the influence of indicators and statistics in global social policy. I was already very interested in this topic during my work as a student assistant in the Bielefeld project: Back then, it became clear what influence the fact that an individual poverty measure was available had on the expansion of basic social protection: "One Dollar a Day". In my Master's thesis, I showed that this measure was one of the epistemic or knowledge-related conditions that made basic social protection policies so popular. And I elaborated on that in my doctoral thesis and asked what other knowledge preconditions global social policies are based on: I wrote a historical thesis on the role of international organisations in this context, with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Bank as case studies. So I looked at how these two IOs have constituted global social policy as an object of knowledge using numbers, indicators and statistics.

Can you give an example?

One aspect was the question of how different models of social security are made internationally comparable. That is not self-evident. There are different models of social security all over the world, and the ILO made these models comparable with each other in its first statistical survey. In this way, the ILO created new categories and put things, which were previously considered incomparable, into new relationships. In my dissertation I looked at how these comparisons have changed over time.

How do you feel about the fact that we try to measure the whole world with the same metrics? That has its advantages and disadvantages ...

Yes, it has advantages and disadvantages and that is also a scientific interest, also here at the CRC. I think it is important to approach such investigations or comparisons and their results with a reflective mind and to be aware of the effects that such seemingly innocent epistemic instruments have. Scientific surveys and comparisons are one thing, but it has another implication when we look at the work of international organisations: Some IOs not only produce comparisons, but they create direct political effects through, for example, performance benchmarks.

The OECD's PISA assessment studies immediately come to mind ...

That's a good example, yes.

In the CRC project B12, you are examining the crisis management of international organisations during the Corona pandemic. What is your role in the project?

We are looking at what ideas and proposals IOs developed in the context of this crisis management. This relates both to Covid-19 containment measures directly and to policy responses to the socio-economic impacts the pandemic had. I am focusing on the ILO, which I have worked on in the past. My special interest, which goes beyond the actual project context, is the importance of different modes of envisioning the future. I look at crisis narratives, for example.

You've been working on the topic of crises for quite some time: in your most recent paper, you analyse how international organisations react to technological change and global climate change.

Exactly. The paper emerged from a project on "anticipatory global governance" that I started with Matthias Kranke from the University of Kassel - it's about the question of how international organisations map futures and what effect that has on their policy-making. A series of workshops has so far resulted in a Special Issue in Global Society, in which this paper has also been published. Further publications are already in preparation.

My interest was motivated by the fact that current social policy discourses are often linked to the question of the future. In the case of climate change, it is about how climate change can be limited and how one can react to its effects. But discourses on digitalisation and automation of work are also about the future. I looked at how the different ways of describing the future of labour automation and the future of climate change translate into social policy proposals from international organisations.

I have noticed two differences in the way the future affects the IOs’ policy-making, which can be summarised by the terms "preparation" and "precaution". The crucial point here is: how certain are international organisations that a particular projection of the future will actually materialise, and this is related to the way in which the future is made "knowable". In the case of climate change, there are underlying, mostly quantitative, simulations and projections through which international organisations assume with a high degree of certainty that the world will change in such and such a way. This certainty is reflected in the way IOs can discursively underpin their social policy proposals: According to this, "preparation" is necessary - we have to prepare ourselves. Digitalisation and automation discourses are based more on narrative expert judgements, so the forecasts of the future are more controversial - but we should take action nonetheless: the keyword is "precaution". Of course, this has implications for the urgency with which organisations can advertise their proposals, for example.

Let's talk briefly about your personal future: What are your plans for the time after the 2nd funding phase of the SFB?

I want to stay in science, so I'm working on my habilitation here in Bielefeld.

I wish you every success for that. Thank you very much for the interview!

Dr. John Berten
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Faculty of Sociology
Universitätsstraße 24
33615 Bielefeld
Phone: +49 521 106-4457

Anh Tran
Anh Tran
Before joining the CRC, Anh was working in international projects on social protection. As a PhD student in project A06, she is now investigating child benefits and their effect on social inclusion.

Dear Anh, what have you been doing before the CRC?

I moved here from London where I was working for the research consultancy Development Pathways. I mostly worked on issues related to inclusion and exclusion in social protection.

Who did you address with your results?

The agency is internationally oriented and most of the projects were commissioned by the UN and iNGOs: I worked with actors in the Global South, including providing advisory support to Government agencies and conducting research with local communities. I contributed to projects in several countries across East Africa and Asia.

Was that you first job after university?

Yes, I was working for Development Pathways for about five and a half years. Before that I was doing my master’s degree in Maastricht in public policy and human development. I was quite lucky to find a research-oriented role in the field of social protection, as this was the focus of my master's programme. I was specialising in social protection, policy design and financing.

What did you write your Master's thesis about?

I wrote about inequality of educational opportunities in Vietnam. I was inspired by having travelled to Vietnam and with my family being from there, and knowing how the education system is increasingly becoming more privatized or depending more on your private contributions to accessing education. That was what made me interested in looking closer at the drivers of these inequalities.

What have you found is driving this privatization trend and these inequalities in education?

While economic growth has led to reductions in overall poverty levels and increases in basic educational attainment, the market economy has become more pivotal in the provision of education in Vietnam.  Interestingly, I did not find a significant difference between educational opportunities – in terms of quality of education and educational achievements - of students enrolled in public or private education. However, I did find that having educational and cultural resources at home played a role. Families’ welfare and their ability to access resources that stimulate their child’s school engagement therefore affected achievements at school. Moreover, students from rural highland areas, where more ethnic minorities reside, experienced more disadvantages. Other studies also found an increasing number of children in urban areas who are attending private classes or tutoring which leads to higher disparities between population groups.

Your background is social protection and education policy. How big is the shift for you now working for the CRC’s project A06, focusing on family policy?

The shift is not too big, actually. While education policy was the topic of my master’s thesis, its focus was mostly on equity and social exclusion. At Development Pathways, I focused on similar challenges of social exclusion but looked at how these can be addressed through social security. I looked at the potential for addressing income security across the entire life cycle - from childhood through to old age, including challenges of persons with disabilities. Within project A06 I will focus mostly on collecting data and assessing coverage and generosity of child benefits.

Child benefits are common in OECD countries/the Global North – how about the Global South?

Across the Global South there is quite a substantial number of countries that have some kind of child benefit, but they take a lot of different shapes and sizes. For example in some countries in Africa and Asia, there are social insurance provisions for families but with limited coverage of those in certain sectors of the formal labour market. An increasing number of countries are implementing - also influenced by global agenda setting - social cash transfers which support families, although they are often targeted at the entire household and determine eligibility based on poverty or vulnerability status. They were predominantly intended as poverty relief rather than an individual child benefit as we find it in most countries across the Global North.

Would you then exclude those countries from your exploration? I guess you would need to be very specific in defining what child benefits have to look like in order to keep the data comparable …

Well, that indeed is still the question. My predecessor Simone Tonelli has already looked at the historical legacies of child benefits and at the legislation. And he also looked at including quite a number of cash transfer programmes as well. For my thesis, I'm actually quite interested in looking at how these types of programmes have come about and what the influences of trans-national institutions on domestic policy-making had been. And from a gender perspective, I would like to look at how effective these programmes have been in terms of supporting families, supporting women, addressing the cost of childcare and if they are really effective in addressing social inclusion or if they are based on the traditional role of women as mothers and care-givers, which may pose barriers to their participation in work and the labour market.

How are you going about to collect the data? Can you use global databases via the internet or do you also have to travel and look at specific cases as well?

I am still at the stage of figuring that out. There is quite a lot to build on what my team has fed into WeSIS and there are datasets out there that try to measure indices of women's empowerment and the coverage and generosity of child benefits. But beyond the macro level, for my thesis I would like to use a mixed-methods approach, combining quantitative methods with qualitative case studies. That would allow me to delve a bit deeper also into intersectionalities of social inclusion and exclusion, i.e. whether in-/exclusion has to do with gender as well as your social position in society, income, ethnicity, caste or disability, for example.

That sounds pretty exciting!

May be a bit ambitious and I am sure I will have to narrow it down, but yes, I am excited.

Have you got any plans for the time after your PhD already?

The role that I had been in before was about implementing research projects, with a mix of advising and supporting governments and policy-making. I then made the move from consulting to the CRC because I was always drawn towards the research aspects of my work. And this is what I am focused on right now. In general, I am interested in how research intersects with policy-making. I am not yet sure in what capacity I would like to move forward but I am sure I will get an idea of that over the course of the PhD.

Fabienne Müller
Fabienne Müller
After a few years in diplomacy, Fabienne has returned to university. She is doing a PhD in history, researching US trade and social policy since 1970.

Dear Fabienne, you have been a member of CRC 1342 for two months now - what did you do before that?

The last few years I was in Warsaw, where I worked at the German Embassy, in the area of culture and public relations. I prepared programmes for cultural events, drafted letters and looked after delegations. It was a leap from university into practice.

What had you studied before?

I had studied political science, administrative sciences and Spanish philology at the University of Potsdam - Bachelor and Master. Then I received a scholarship for another Master's programme.

Where and what did you study then?

European Interdisciplinary Studies at the College of Europe in Warsaw. The main campus of the university is in Bruges, but since the 1990s there is a campus in Natolin, a district of Warsaw.

What languages were the courses in?

English and French. But I also wanted to learn Polish, because I had already started a language course in Potsdam - that was another reason to go to Warsaw.

How long did you live there in total?

The Master's lasted one year, and after that I was at the embassy for five years. Until June of this year.

When did you decide to go back to university and do a PhD?

That was always my wish, because I liked my studies and the theoretical work so much. Directly after graduating, no suitable opportunity arose, so I applied for other positions, also to get an insight into diplomacy and the work and structures of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the long run, however, I always wanted to return to academia and go more in-depth in terms of subject matter. Working at the embassy requires you to quickly familiarise with changing topics. That was an important experience, but I wanted to work on a topic in depth again.

You studied political science, but now you're doing a PhD in history. How did that come about?

I was always interested in subjects adjacent to political science. During my Bachelor's degree, I took courses in history and the history of political ideas as a specialisation, just as I did in my Master's degree in Potsdam. And at the College of Europe, European history was my specialisation.

How did you hear about the position at the CRC?

I have a friend who is doing her PhD at the University of Bremen and she told me about the CRC: "Take a look, the CRC brings together political science and history, that would be a good fit for you." I then clicked through the website and read about the first phase to see where I could tie in and then came across the job advertisement for the project on social policy and protectionism and applied.

You've only been in Bremen since July - have you pinpointed your responsibilities in the project yet?

We have already met a few times in the team and decided which of us will study which country and which time periods. I will be taking care of the USA, specifically the time period from 1970 to the present. From a historian's perspective, that's quite a long period. That's why I'm currently busy reading up on it. I am also reading about the period before that, which my colleague Fritz is in charge of, since the events and decisions in the decades before that obviously provide the basis for social policy in the period from 1970 onwards.

You share your office with Fritz Kusch and Fernando Vinueza, who are also PhD students at the CRC and work on related topics: Have you set up something like a reading circle or book club?

We don't read together, but we have built up a steadily growing library in our office, which we are currently working through. If we notice something that fits in with each other's topics, we bring it to each other's attention.

Do you already have plans for your dissertation?

Yes, I would like to work on the history of ideas, as that fits in with my studies. I am currently trying to work out the major mechanisms in US social policy since the 1970s. If the literature and sources allow, I would like to examine exactly what has significantly influenced US pension policy since the 1990s - given the upheavals in the history of ideas.

Do you want to do a cumulative PhD or write a monograph?

I think I will choose the monograph format. We all work that way in the team, and it is still the most common format in the field of historical studies.

What are your plans for the future: do you want to stay in academia or go back to practice?

The next three and a half years are a very long period of time, which is why I cannot yet see what will come after that. From today's point of view, I would be very happy if I got the opportunity to continue working in science.

Fabienne Müller
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaft / FB 08
Universitäts-Boulevard 13
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-58628

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