Focus of Research and Teaching - Prof. Dr. Heike Holbig

The newly established professorial chair focuses on political science research on contemporary China from a comparative area studies perspective. Research as well as teaching thus accommodate the growing empirical relevance of China’s ongoing political and socioeconomic transformation in the context of globalization.

In the field of theoretical research, the main emphasis is on comparative authoritarianism underpinned by area studies expertise. In addition to a functionalistic analysis of regime transitions, the evolution and diffusion of norms as well as the influence of discourses and framing processes on the behaviour of political and social actors are included in the analysis.

As norms and discourses observed in and leveraged by authoritarian regimes increasingly point beyond the limits of nation-states, it has become essential to systematically take into account the international dimension and to bridge the traditional borders between the subdisciplines of comparative politics and international relations. A particular focus is on the legimitization of authoritarian rule – regarded by some as an oxymoron – at the intersection of the domestic and the international. Using the example of the People’s Republic of China, the tense relationship with globally prevalent democratic norms and standards of legitimization are explored. A research project on "Ideological Change and Regime Legitimacy", conducted within the larger framework of the German research network “Governance in China” and financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) from 2010 to 2016, has been analyzing the changing role of ideology in the legitimization of authoritarian party rule. Since then, Heike Holbig has developed the topic further in various publications.

Moreover, the research team was part of the interdisciplinary and transregional collaborative research programme "Africa’s Asian Options" at Goethe University Frankfurt, which has been supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) since 2013. The research programme has been based on an intensive collaboration between the two Goethe University area studies centres ZIAF (Center for Interdisciplinary African Studies) and IZO (Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies), carries out research on new interactions between Africa and Asia in comparative and transregional perspective. In the context of this programme, the research team has focused on China’s influence on the perception of good governance, development, and international cooperation in Africa.

"Protecting the Weak: Entangled processes of Framing, Mobilization and Institutionalization in East Asia", which has been supported by the Volkswagen Foundation in their initiative “Key Issues for Academia and Society” since 2014, is another recent research project launched by Prof. Holbig. Designed as an interdisciplinary collaboration with Prof. Amelung (Sinology, FB09), Prof. Bälz (Japanese law, FB01) and Prof. Storz (Japanese economy, FB02), the research project has investigated the entangled processes of acknowledgment of public claims for the protection of weak social groups and interests in China and Japan, which have been compared against the backdrop of historically formed constructions of modernity in the two East Asian countries. The research findings have been published in an edited volume titled Protecting the Weak in East Asia. Framing, Mobilisation and Institutionalisation (Routlege Contemporary Asia Series) in summer 2018.

Entitled “Legitimate Multipolarity”, a new research project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) starts in late 2018. Collaborating with Amrita Narlikar and Johannes Plagemann from the GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg explore how global governance institutions are changing under conditions of multipolarity. According to some, the rise of new powers has contributed to a wider “legitimacy crisis” of global governance institutions plagued by gridlocks, poor performance, and inadequate representativeness – at a time in which international cooperation matters more than ever. Self-confident rising powers with distinct histories of foreign policy thought and strategic cultures, so goes the fear, clash with established narratives of liberal multilateralism. On the other hand, rising powers’ capacity to contest established powers’ agendas prima facie increases the legitimacy or fairness of global governance institutions by way of reducing power asymmetries between North and South. In a first step, “Legitimate Multipolarity” investigates the legitimacy deficits of global governance institutions (WTO, G20 AIIB) under conditions of multipolarity. In a second step, the project analyses possible solutions to such problems put forward in Chinese and Indian foreign policy discourses. Legitimate Multipolarity adopts an empirical, not normative, approach to the study of legitimacy.

Going beyond this focus of theoretical research, teaching covers a much broader spectrum. The main emphasis here is on developing social and area studies competences necessary for the analysis of the far-reaching political and socioeconomic transformation processes in China within the context of economic globalization as well as the changing perception of the People’s Republic within the East Asian region and from a global perspective. As in research, teaching also aims at bridging the disciplinary borders between comparative politics and international relations. With regard to content, the courses offered a range from introductory courses on politics and society of contemporary China and on more recent developments in political science debates on authoritarianism to specialized courses (mainly held in English) for the master degree programme “Modern East Asian Studies (MEAS)” at the Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies (IZO). In most cases, MEAS courses are available for students of the Social Sciences faculty as well.

Among other courses, “Academic Writing” is tailored to the needs of Master students with an interest in the East Asian region. Students are introduced to the standards of scholarly writing in general and to the criteria applied to article submissions by refereed journals in particular. In order to train their practical writing skills, besides preparing smaller exercises such as abstracts, critical reviews, research exposés etc, students draft a short term paper of their own from a social science perspective, focusing on a current topic selected from the fields of China’s domestic politics, society and economy or international relations in East Asia.