Commenting on the landslide victory of the SPD in Saarland

The social democrats have won a landslide in the state of Saarland. For the TV station “Saarländischer Rundfunk”, part of the ARD consortium, Georg Wenzelburger has been invited as expert to comment on the outcomes on election evening. The interviews can be watched in the ARD Mediathek (see the links below).

Visiting fellow Dr. Carola Fricke in Kaiserslautern

Dr. Carola Fricke

From 21 to 23 March, we welcomed Dr. Carola Fricke from Freiburg University as visiting fellow in Kaiserslautern as part of the project Linking Borderlands. Carola Fricke has studied political science, geography and public law and has published her dissertation on the European dimension of metropolitan policies. Since then, she conducted research on topics related to cross-border cooperation, policy learning and regional planning, among others.

With her interdisciplinary background, she could offer a distinctive perspective that was particularly helpful for our subproject Policy Borderlands which is concerned with policy learning in cross-border regions. Carola Fricke offered valuable insights on theoretical as well as empirical questions which we are currently concerned with in the project. Among others, we discussed an analytical framework on policy learning in cross-border contexts that we developed in the course of 2021 and that will be published in 2022. We also spoke about methodological approaches to trace policy learning and explored the possibilities of methods such as focus groups and planning games. Carola’s stay was completed by a meeting with Benjamin Blaser und Nino Pfundstein, both researchers at the department of spatial and environmental planning from TU Kaiserslautern who work in the subproject Planning Borderlands. Carola’s multi-disciplinary perspective has helped to further pursue intersections between the two subprojects which we are looking to expand in the upcoming months.

Stefanie Thurm

New Volume on the Middle East Co-Edited by Hakan Akbulut

A new volume titled “Umbruch, Zerfall und Restauration − Der Nahe Osten im Spannungsfeld regionaler Akteure und externer Mächte” jointly edited by Hakan Akbulut, Steffen Hagemann and Anja Opitz appeared with Nomos in February 2022. The volume examines the causes, the current state and prospects of upheavals and changes in the MENA region in the past 10 years focusing on the objectives and strategies of selected actors from the region (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel) as well as of external powers (USA, EU, Russia, Turkey), while Syria and Iran represent cross-cutting issues. The focus is on uncovering the interplay of internal and external factors of influence. The contributions show, on the one hand, how external factors affect both the region and individual states while domestic factors, on the other hand, impact regional and global networks of relationships and developments.

Hakan Akbulut contributed two chapters to the volume. In his first article, he explores why former US President Donald J. Trump (along with Republican Congressmen and Congresswomen as well as the former Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, among others) rejected the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, what the declared objectives of the “strategy of maximum pressure” were, how this strategy was implemented and which results it produced both in terms of Iran’s nuclear capabilities as well as pertaining to regional security and stability. In his second contribution, Hakan Akbulut shows how the war in Syria has been adversely affecting the relationship between the two NATO allies Turkey and the United States. While arguing that relations between Turkey and the United States have usually been volatile and thus seldom free of friction, he makes the case for considering the peculiarities of the Syrian case in order to understand the downturn in relations in recent years and the severity of the current crisis. He shows how diverging threat perceptions and priorities moved the two NATO countries toward partnering with different actors afield viewed as posing a threat by the respective other party.

The volume is available at Nomos’ eLibrary.

For the table of contents, click here, please! You can download the flyer here!

Workshop on network analysis by Professor Volker Schneider

On Friday, 03 December, we had the opportunity to learn about the theory and methods of social network analysis from Professor Volker Schneider, University of Konstanz. Volker Schneider is a known expert of network analysis and has contributed strongly to the development of the field as well as published a large array of works in this area. The workshop was organized jointly with the TUK Nachwuchsring, an organization that supports young scientists from TU Kaiserslautern.

In the first half of the workshop, Volker Schneider spoke about the theoretical and conceptual background of social and policy network analysis. Afterwards, the participants had the chance to apply the learned knowledge by creating data matrices and network diagrams, using the software Visone. In the upcoming second part of the workshop which will take place in January, we are going to learn about further applications of network analysis, including the analysis and visualization of two-mode networks.

Stefanie Thurm

Reporting from Harvard

Adolphus Bush Hall

After the first six weeks in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I have finally ramped up my coffee consumption to normal, organ damaging levels again. It also took some time to get accustomed to a couple of things, such as not having severe fits of food envy whenever a squirrel hastily crosses my path clinging to a nut – which happens often. So, it seems like a good time to write a bit on my academic and personal experience so far during by fellowship at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University.

With its beautiful campus that takes up a good part of Cambridge, Harvard makes it easy to immerse into its microcosm. The Center has been very welcoming and is making a great effort to realize its usual top-notch event program despite the pandemic and the uncertainties it entails. There have been various events on the German elections, and I was also able to participate as speaker in a panel on the German 2021 national elections at Boston University. It is a great pleasure to attend the “Seminar on State and Capitalism since 1800” hosted by Peter Hall and Kathleen Thelen, which features highly interesting presentations and discussions.

View on Cambridge from Charles River at sunset

Among us Kennedy fellows, we are also planning to have our own seminar in which we can present and discuss our work from different perspectives – which promises to be interesting, as our backgrounds are economy, history, and political science. There is no hurry, though, as we are all still busy with various other things. Of course, current projects do not simply end when going abroad but continue to take their toll. Nonetheless, the fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to concentrate on a research project and provides the space to go down some rabbit holes one would perhaps not consider otherwise.

Walden Pond

Gladly, besides settling in and getting to work on my research project, there has been enough time to get some impressions of Boston and other parts of New England. A trip to Walden Pond and the remnants of Henry David Thoreau’s hut is clearly a must when in Boston – especially for the aficionado of simplistic home furnishings. His temporary home there really was quite small and frugal – certainly not much do to there even for Marie Kondo – and one can easily imagine his mother and his sisters feeling the need to bring him sandwiches to support his contemplation about a free and independent existence in harmony with nature.


As a group of Kennedy fellows, we also went further north to the beautiful Lake Sunapee (New Hampshire) for a hike and to see a bit more of Indian summer. Fortunately, we were blessed with great weather until the end of October. Now, I am waiting to see if the winter really is as cold as a number of people have remarked and whether it will be the ideal occasion to stock up on Harvard hoodies as that extra layer to keep me warm. But first, I am preparing to fend off possible imminent attempts of sugar-crazed youngsters to decimate my candy stash. Happy Holloween!

Pascal König

Prof. Dr. Peter Starke talks about diffusion mechanisms at TUK

As part of the project “Linking Borderlands”, Prof. Dr. Peter Starke who teaches at the University of Southern Denmark held a presentation on diffusion mechanisms at TU Kaiserslautern. Participants were able to join in presence as well as on Zoom on Friday, October 15th.

Diffusion research focuses on how and why policies spread between states, regions, and cities. In doing so, researchers differentiate mainly between the mechanisms learning, emulation and competition. For example, a state can be interested in solving domestic problems by looking for solutions abroad, thus learning from others. However, states can also be inclined to engage in competition with others, for example by adjusting their tax levels. While theoretically, this distinction is shared by most researchers, the operationalization proves difficult: Looking at past studies, different mechanisms are often measured with the same indicators, while different indicators are used to measure the same mechanism. For example, geographical proximity and structural similarity have been used as indicators for all three mechanisms.

Hence, Peter Starke proposes a different strategy by employing the mechanistic philosophy of science by Machamer, Darden and Craver. In this perspective, causality is no longer operationalized by a set of independent and dependent variables but in a more organic way. The focus here lies on ‘causally productive’ entities and activities which lead to a certain outcome. Empirically, this implies a shift towards paying closer attention to the actions of actors which engage in policy diffusion processes. One possible strategy lies in using text analytical methods to extract those activities – are political actors drawing lessons, observing, and learning or are they improving a country’s international position, developing an advantage, and competing?

While research is only just now starting to think about such alternative ways to classify and measure diffusion mechanisms, it surely is a promising start to exit the methodological impasse it has entered long ago.

Stefanie Thurm

New article on the legitimacy gap of algorithmic decision-making in the public sector

A new article by Georg Wenzelburger and Pascal König has just been published in Technology in Society.

Adding to the literature on challenges of algorithmic decision-making systems, the authors draw attention to how a legitimacy gap of algorithmic decision-making in the public sector arises and how it can be addressed through stakeholder involvement.

The paper starts from the widely discussed observation in the literature that even though ADM systems in the public sector promise to enhance the performance and efficiency of government, specifically in operative or front-line decision-making, they introduce a range of challenges regarding opaqueness, unfairness, and value trade-offs. However, and moving beyond this vivid discussion on how fair, accountable and transparent ADM systems, the paper emphasizes that the advent of algorithmic decision-making in the public sector rises a much more fundamental challenge which cannot be solved by the current proposals of ethical AI: In fact, as the introduction of ADM systems enables us to obtain certain outcomes of decisions by changing decision parameters ex ante, the epistemic basis of decision-making and therefore the foundation of legitimacy of ADM systems in administrative decision-making is put into question. The authors argue that the traditional basis of legitimacy, which has guided decision-making in public management and administration so far, therefore no longer suffices.

To close this legitimacy gap, the authors propose a model for stakeholder participation in ADM system adoption and design choice, based on a critical civic society, journalism and an algorithmic literacy in the populace. The model identifies the cornerstones of a participatory stakeholder involvement process and addresses the challenges involved in this process.

Louisa Prien