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Research Agenda

Bild: IOS/neverflash.com

Understanding and explaining transformation processes in Eastern and Southeast Europe, both past and present, is at the core of the IOS research agenda. Transformation has been a defining experience for the region's societies—and not only since the end of state socialism. In light of this, the Institute’s research profile sees it investigate change on a long time axis (since the eighteenth century) as well as the current dynamics of transformation. In these contexts, we are interested in actors as well as structures, and in how the two are interrelated. The main methods used in our research are drawn from History, Economics, and Political Science. By emphasizing both transnational and comparative perspectives, phenomena are not deemed to be self-explanatory and Eastern and Southeast Europe is not approached as a closed analytical unit. We want to understand the place of "our" region in the world, but also, conversely, the place of the world in the region under study; hence our interest in relationships, entanglements, connections, and transfers. With these perspectives, the research conducted at the IOS seeks to gain new insights into the relationship between upheaval and continuity as well as between divergence and convergence. Regionally, the IOS focuses on the area of the former Soviet Union (including Central Asia) as well as Southeast Europe, but in each case applying flexible spatial concepts.

A research program like this emphasizes context sensitivity. Social phenomena and processes are analyzed both in terms of the significance of overarching factors (such as business cycles, ideologies, environment, technological development) and in relation to space-specific constellations. With its methodological expertise, the IOS is in a good position to investigate the connection between instances of short-term change and long-term, structural changes, between social practices and social structures, for current as well as past case studies. The focus is therefore on identifying bundles of factors at different spatial and temporal levels in order to find out how and why people, institutions, and other actors acted the way they did at certain historical moments. For this purpose, collective and individual experiences as well as horizons of expectation and sense-making, i.e., cultural factors, must be taken into account as well.

The research agenda of the IOS brings together the disciplines of History, Economics, and Political Science in a multidisciplinary matrix. Since 2021, two main themes have guided the Institute’s research:

  1. "Institutionalization, De-Institutionalization, Re-Institutionalization"
  2. "Mobility(s) and Inequality(s)".

The Leibniz Science Campus "Europe and America in the Modern World: Frictions and Transformations of Globality since the 19th Century", established in 2019 in cooperation with the University of Regensburg, illustrates the Institute's commitment to transregional area studies as well as its aim of exploring globalization processes in all their ambiguity and different manifestations.


"Institutionalization, De-Institutionalization, Re-Institutionalization"

This research area examines the causes, consequences, and characteristics of the formation or reconfiguration, but also of the dissolution and collapse of institutional orders, both from historical and contemporary perspectives. It emphasizes the process character of these phenomena, both over the long and the short term. We also explore the impact of conflicts, including violent conflict and war, on institutions. How do institutions gain legitimacy and how do they lose it? How do they operate under extreme conditions? What constitutes the quality of institutions? This research area is based on a broad understanding of the term institution as either a formal or informal (or mixed) framework and regulatory system for social, political, and economic action. In this context, institutions themselves can take on the role of actors. Based on this concept of institutions, the study of processes of re-institutionalization and de-institutionalization, which vary over time and in their geographical scope, opens up numerous possibilities for the analysis of social and political stability and ruptures, both in the past and present, and of economic upswings and downturns. One focus will be on the analysis of the dynamics of conflict and cooperation in their institutional manifestations, another will be on the issue of varieties of statehood.

"Mobility(s) and Inequality(s)"

Building on the IOS's extensive research on labor and migration processes, we will analyze the connections between migration and inequality, develop along different dimensions. To this end, we combine (social) historical, sociological, and economic perspectives. On the one hand, some structures of inequality and the mobility patterns based on them are long term; on the other, economic crises, political upheavals, and wars mark distinctive ruptures in migration patterns. In a similar vein, patterns of inequality are also dependent on the political order and its visions of society. The term mobility contains multiple meanings, encompassing both spatial migrations and changes in socioeconomic status within a society, as well as immaterial transfers. The forms and dynamics of mobility are closely related to structures and practices of inequality, indeed they are mutually constitutive. Our research questions include the causes as well as repercussions of international migration and internal mobility, the interaction (intersection) of crucial factors of social differentiation (such as gender, ethnicity, personality traits, or residence) with mobility and inequality patterns, their connection with economic backwardness and business cycles, and the question of how these phenomena are perceived, interpreted, and politicized by social actors at different levels of interaction.

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