Researchers from the Center for Governance and Culture in Europe share their methods of promoting interdisciplinary science.
The Center for Governance and Culture in Europe (GCE) at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, was established in May 2011. Here, affiliated members collaborate in interdisciplinary and internationally oriented projects, and explore Europe from political, cultural, and economic angles (https://gce.unisg.ch/?sc_lang). The goal of the GCE is twofold: to raise the profile of interdisciplinary European research at the University of St. Gallen, and to foster international collaboration with like-minded research institutions across the continent. Our research on governance systems and cultures addresses forms and patterns of interaction in which a variety of public and private actors shape public policy making, and societal behaviour in general.
The centre publishes the online journal Euxeinos – Governance and Culture in the Black Sea Region, which focuses on interdisciplinary topics around the Black Sea region that support the networking efforts between scientists and scholars in the surrounding nations, Europe and the US. Euxeinos is one among a few publications that examines the Black Sea region as a conjoined region from an interdisciplinary perspective. Individual articles and entire issues may be downloaded from the GCE website or at www.euxeinos.ch.
The GCE collaborates closely with the Centre for Advanced Studies in Sofia, Bulgaria, (http://www.cas.bg/en/) as well as with the New Europe College in Bucharest, Romania (http://www.nec.ro/). Both contribute significantly to ongoing academic debates, and are vital places of encounter for scholars of the western Balkans, central and eastern Europe and the Black Sea region.
There are currently three larger research contexts at the GCE, with studies focusing on Ukraine, vocational training and professional education and training, and the European Neighborhood Policy.
Analysing dynamics in Ukraine
Research on Ukrainian regionalism has been one of the focuses since the foundation of GCE. Ukraine is a fascinating country in which to research national building processes because of its contested political developments and complex cultural dynamics. The research at GCE advocates an interdisciplinary and transcultural approach that questions simplistic conceptualisations of the nation state.
Methodologically, the research combines quantitative and qualitative sociological research methods, including questionnaires, in-depth interviews, discourse analyses, hermeneutics and cultural histories. The overarching objective of the greater project is to challenge the dominance of the nation state paradigm in analyses of Ukraine by illustrating the inter-relationship between national and regional dynamics of change.
Our research seeks to deconstruct the dominant narrative of a Ukraine that is split into a pro-European West and a pro-Russian East. Such a reading of the current sociopolitical situation is far too simple. Ukraine is best understood when approached from a regional angle, and, in turn, how these regions figure into and correspond to the nation as a whole. The Ukraine Regionalism Project reconceptualises Ukraine as a fluid construct in which various discourses overlap, concur, and eventually merge. It explicitly moves beyond the perspective of an entity that is irrevocably defined by traditional political borders, and cultural, economic, historical or religious stereotypes. Special attention is paid to transcultural contact zones, including Transcarpathia and Bukovyna.
The research team conducted three consecutive surveys in all Ukrainian regions (n=6,000) in 2013, 2014, and 2015. The consecutive order of these surveys allowed for comparative studies in the change of attitudes during the most intense crisis in post-socialist Ukraine.
The research on Ukrainian regionalism created a network of historians, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, literary critics and linguists in the country, along with others from Russia, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Canada and the US. The research team have met for consecutive annual conferences in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, as well as in the cities of L’viv, Myrhorod, Kharkiv, Chernivtsi and Odessa, since 2012.
The uaregio.org website contains all of the collected research data, and is freely available. Results may be visualised in various ways: as interactive maps, in diagrammes, or in charts.
Analysing vocational training in Europe
The GCE is engaged in research on governance mechanisms in vocational education and training (VET). The GOVPET research group analyses specific forms of governance in collective skill formation systems found in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland. In co-operation with the University of Lausanne, SFIVET Zollikofen, both Switzerland, and the University of Cologne, Germany, GOVPET examines three main research questions:
- It seeks to understand how decentralised co-operation in skill formation works and can be stable despite the constant risk of co-operation breakdown;
- It explores ways in which private sector stakeholders can be encouraged to make long-term commitments to collective
co-operation endeavours. Here, the aim is to determine to what extent state policies can be used to encourage private sector stakeholders to willingly align themselves with societal objectives (e.g. the integration of disadvantaged persons in VET programmes); and
- It examines how VET systems can be adapted in response to new challenges.
These three research themes are examined at length in several specific sub-projects. The first theme, ‘co-operation and conflict in skill formation’, is addressed in three of these sub-projects. The first two of which analyse decentralised co-operation in various economic sectors in Switzerland, with a special focus on the role of professional organisations. The third analyses decentralised co-operation in various Swiss regions, with particular emphasis on the role of state and collective institutions in border zones.
With the second research theme, ‘private sector commitment’, GOVPET examines how governments can get private sector stakeholders to consider societal objectives in decentralised co-operation. Here, the inclusion of disadvantaged labour market participants is used as a case study. This theme is addressed in four sub-projects. The first of which analyses existing tools to promote an inclusive skill formation system. The second examines employers’ recruiting practices and attitudes towards accessibility of the VET system. The subproject explores so-called ‘second chance’ training programmes intended to provide vocational education and training to young people who have not managed to obtain a qualification through formal education and training pathways. The fourth focuses on the governance of two-year programmes in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.
The third research theme, ‘adaptability of dual-track VET systems’, is also broken down into three sub-projects that explore the mechanisms used to adapt VET programmes to new challenges in international comparison. These challenges include fundamental socioeconomic processes such as demographic change, digitalisation and globalisation. Each of these three sub-projects focuses on different stakeholders and aspects of the skill formation system. They examine reform processes within the upper secondary level VET sector – comprised of three- and four-year VET programmes and shorter two-year VET programmes – as well as within the tertiary level professional education sector.
Overall, GOVPET promises to broaden and deepen our understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and conditions for successful decentralised co-operation. It will also analyse how the overarching objective of social inclusion is considered in the governance of collectively organised VET systems (https://gce.unisg.ch/en/govpet).
Analysing the European Union’s Neighbourhood Policy
With two larger research projects sponsored by the European Union’s research programmes succession, the GCE documents a well-established interest in the study of the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership. As the co-ordinator of eight partners comprising interdisciplinary research consortia, we addressed sociopolitical, economic, and security-related sources for stability and instability in the Caucasus (www.issiceu.eu). Due to its multiple cross-border linkages, it proved important to include not only Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as countries included in the EU’s set of eastern-oriented policies, but the entire region.
This involves the three south Caucasus states, the north Caucasus republics of the Russian Federation of Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia and Chechnya; the de facto states Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh; and, importantly, the neighbouring countries of Turkey and Iran as relevant regional powers. The regional approach allowed for capturing frequently overlooked intra- and inter-societal dynamics, that when combined with a geopolitical momentum or economic crisis might amplify frictions all too easily.
A couple of findings stand out. For instance, given that organised civil society formats such as NGOs have for different reasons a rather negative connotation for both governmental authorities and societies alike. The EU should be open to support alternative forms of civic participation. These may include, for instance, locally rooted neighbourhood-help, diasporas as crucial neighbourhood actors and even specific contributions from religious institutions.
Another important finding relates to an improved understanding of the interests of different parties in keeping territorial disputes alive. The best example is the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. On the one hand, we find that domestic parties in both Azerbaijan and Armenia benefit from a belligerent rhetoric because it guarantees the maintenance of external material and domestic immaterial resources. On the other hand, external actors, in particular Russia, Turkey and Iran, do not necessarily converge in their interest and capacity to either maintaining uncertainty or mitigating the conflict.
The perspective of the role of different external actors towards the countries of the European neighbourhood is one important dimension that the second research project addresses (www.eu-strat.eu). With the general interest in contributing to an improvement of the EU’s co-operation with its eastern partners, the consortium has two questions:
- Why is it so difficult for the EU to foster peace, prosperity, and stability in countries of the Eastern Partnership? and
- What are the possible angles for the EU to contribute and inspire the political and economic development in the six eastern partnership countries from within?
The consortium comprises ten partners from the Eastern Partnership countries and western Europe. Co-ordinated by the Free University in Berlin, Germany, it began in May 2016 and will continue until the end of April 2019.
Contact details Ukraine project: Professor Ulrich Schmid (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Contact details Vocational training project: Professor Patrick Emmenegger (email@example.com)