Press releases – August 2018

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Aug 30 2018

Körber Foundation’s German Thesis Award for comparison of poverty trends in Germany and the United Kingdom

Great Britain: A model example?

FRANKFURT. In Germany, the risk of poverty has increased since the 1990s while in Great Britain it has decreased. Frankfurt sociologist Jan Brülle has explored the potential reasons for this in his thesis – the results are revealing.

What is poverty in the first place? Poverty researchers speak of “relative income poverty”: People who have at their disposal less than 60 percent of the average income in a country are threatened by poverty. They are more often unable to afford regular hot meals and their children might not be able to go to all their friends’ birthday parties because there is no money for presents: Poverty is a heavy burden on the individual and his or her situation in life. But how poverty develops in a society says a great deal about its structure and the transformation taking place in that society. A state that wants to allow all its citizens a minimum of economic, social and cultural participation must keep a close eye on this development.

Why has the risk of poverty risen continuously in Germany since 1992 and how is poverty structured? These questions formed the starting point for Jan Brülle’s thesis. A hypothesis viewed by many as obvious: It is due to the dismantling of the welfare state above all through the Hartz reforms. “My research showed, however, that especially the labour market and changes in family structures play a role. Changes in the welfare state only come third,” explains Brülle.

For his study, Brülle, now 33, analysed datasets released for scientific research by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin – what is known as the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). This enabled him to include the data of about 12,000 German households in his research. For the part of his study on Great Britain he used the British Household Panel (BHPS) as a basis. The two datasets made it possible to track the situation in British and German households over several years.

Do the same people stay poor from year to year or are they able to free themselves from poverty? How does poverty develop in relation to different educational backgrounds and professions? Brülle examined these questions against the backdrop of both the data from Germany and those from the British panel. The outcome was that in Germany poverty became more widespread, lasted longer and became more unequal over the period examined. The lower the level of education, the greater the risk of poverty has increased. In addition, workers are more at risk of poverty than employees in higher positions. In Brülle’s opinion, knowing the causes for these developments is preconditional for implementing the right political measures to combat poverty.

In Great Britain, where more people were affected by poverty than in Germany, the opposite development could be seen: The targeted use of social transfers was also able to mitigate even high inequalities in income. Low-income earners in Germany also receive a little help from the state to make up the difference. However, with its Working Tax Credits, which according to Jan Brülle really improve people’s situation, Great Britain is more generous in topping up low earnings. Especially households with children receive additional allowances. In Germany, on the other hand, it is clear to see that the already precarious situation for some people is becoming entrenched, while social security safeguards higher incomes even in the case of unemployment better than in Great Britain.

According to Jan Brülle’s findings, the cause for the growing risk of poverty lies above all in the polarization of the employment market: More and more people are no longer able to live off their earned income. In addition, there are more and more single households, meaning that less and less people on a low income can rely on the resources of other household members. And the reforms in the welfare state (i.e. Hartz IV) have not helped to mitigate this situation. The example of Great Britain shows, however, that the state certainly has means at its disposal to change things for the better.

Jan Brülle compiled a detailed summary of his work for the Körber Foundation’s German Thesis Award. His paper was awarded the second prize worth € 5,000 and can be found online on the Foundation’s website from 27 August 2018 onwards. The prize is awarded every year for the nine most pertinent theses.


A photograph can be downloaded from:

Caption: Sociologist Jan Brülle has received the German Thesis Award of the Körber Foundation. (Photo: Körber Foundation / David Ausserhofer)

Further information: Dr. Jan Brülle, Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute of Sociology, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 6, Westend Campus, Tel.: +49(0)69-798-36629, Email


Aug 30 2018

The University of Jos will offer a master's degree in film archiving and film culture modelled on Goethe University programme

Film degree programme to be exported to Nigeria

A Frankfurt master programme serves as an international prototype: With support from the DAAD, the master programme “Film Culture: Archiving, Programming, Presentation”, which has been offered jointly by Goethe University and the Deutsches Filminstitut (German Film Institute) since 2013, will have a counterpart in Nigeria in 2019. The programme trains professionals for film archives and work in institutions of film culture. 

What are the career prospects for graduates of small humanities programs such as film studies? The master programme “Film Culture: Archiving, Programming, Presentation” delivers a clear answer. For five years, the programme has trained up to 20 experts for film and media archives and film culture institutions per year with a placement record of nearly 100%. The success of the programme, which at the Goethe University is headed by Assistant Professor Sonia Campanini and Professor Vinzenz Hediger, now serves as an inspiration for universities and institutions of film culture in other countries. 

Starting in the fall of 2019, the National Film Corporation of Nigeria, which includes the nation’s film school, the National Film Institute, and the National Archive for Film, Video and Sound, will join up with the University of Jos to offer the first master programme for film archival studies in Africa, which will be modelled on the Frankfurt programme. According to UNESCO statistics, Nigeria is now the second most important film producing nation in the world after India, with an annual output of around 1000 feature films in English as well as in the three main languages Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. Through digital distribution networks, Nigerian films reach audiences across the continent and in the African diaspora worldwide. 

According to Sonia Campanini, training scientific personnel for film archives in Nigeria serves a twin purpose: “The first goal is to establish a policy and practice for the preservation of the national film heritage, and the second goal is to ensure the future visibility and accessibility of this heritage in Nigeria and beyond.” In its current form, the Nigerian film industry is geared toward novelty, with an output of dozens of new films each week. In the foreseeable future, the industry will move to a copyright strategy modelled on Hollywood’s business model, based on the long-term exploitation of popular older films. 

The Jos master programme will provide the technical and cultural know-how for this transition. For Ellen Harrington, the director of the Deutsches Filminstitut, the cooperation with Nigeria is an ideal fit for the international profile of her institution. “The professional exchange with partners all over the world is a core element of who we are as an institution. Africa is an impressively diverse and productive hub for film production, which we experience every year at our Africa Alive film festival here in Frankfurt. We are very much looking forward to the collaboration with our counterparts in Nigeria and are excited about the valuable impulses and new insights which we will gain from it.” 

Goethe University and Deutsches Filminstitut will closely cooperate with the NFC and the University of Jos for a four year period. At the heart of the cooperation is a multi-faceted training programme, which includes fellowships for Nigerian faculty and staff who will be able to study work methods in the current programme at Goethe University and Deutsches Filminstitut, as well as at Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art (Berlin). Faculty from Goethe University and experts from Deutsches Filminstitut will furthermore develop and implement the various modules of the degree programme by co-teaching with faculty in Jos. The funding for the cooperation is provided by the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) in the framework of the TNB transnational education programme.

The cooperation strengthens Goethe University’s international profile in Africa research which is also exemplified by the Centre for Interdisciplinary African Studies in Frankfurt. The cooperation with the University of Jos and the Nigerian Film Corporation further expands Goethe University’s focus on Western and Sub Saharan Africa, which is also a particular focus of the German government’s current foreign policy.

According to Dr. Chidia Maduekwe, managing director of the Nigerian Film Corporation, the DAAD’s support “is predicated on the impressive bilateral relations between Nigeria and Germany.” Through TNB Archival Studies Master programme, Dr. Maduekwe says, “we are determined and committed to building a robust post graduate programme that will be characterized by high level professional manpower turnout to address present and future challenges in archival management, studies, and research in Nigeria and Africa.“  

The groundwork for the project was laid when Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, Berlin, with the support of the German foreign office created a digitization facility in the National Archive for Film, Video and Sound in Jos and restored SHAIHU UMAR (Adamu Halilu, 1976), showing it at the 2018 Berlinale festival. “We are looking forward to building on our close cooperation with the Nigerian Film Corporation and the Frankfurt master programme in film culture, and we are happy to see that this cooperation now has a long-term perspective with the Jos archival studies programme”, says Arsenal Co-director Stefanie Schule Strathaus. “The cooperation with Nigerian partners, which was initiated through the founder of Lagos Film Society, Didid Cheeka, in 2015 has had an important impact on Arsenal, and we are convinced that the Frankfurt film studies programme will find great inspiration in their continuing cooperation with Jos.”

The cooperation between the German and Nigerian partners comes out of the ongoing “Archive außer sich” project, which focuses on various aspects of the global audio-visual heritage and which Arsenal jointly organizes with Haus der Kulturen der Welt. The Frankurt film studies programme is one of the partners in this project, and participated in a conference on questions of national audio-visual heritage at the National Film Institute in Jos in October 2017.

Picture material may be downloaded at:

Caption: A frame from the 1976 film “Shaihu Umar”, which tells the story of the life of the cleric Shaihu Umar. The film was long thought to be lost. In 2016, negatives and copies were discovered in the archives of the Nigerian Film Corporation and restored by Arsenal – Institute for Film, Video and Sound with the support of the German Embassy in Abuja. This project led to the cooperation between the two universities. ©Nigerian Film Corporation

Further information: Institute for Drama, Film and Media Studies, Faculty 10, Westend Campus, Dr. Sonia Campanini, Tel. +49 (0)69 798-33278 , Dr. Vinzenz Hediger, Tel. +49 (0)69 798-32079: +49 (0) 151 644 188 35,

Dr. Ines Bayer, Delegierte für Universitätsprojekte, Deutsches Filminstitut, , Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, Ko-Direktorin, Arsenal Institut für Film und Videokunst Berlin, , Dr. Chidia Maduekwe, Managing Director, Nigerian Film Corporation,


Aug 24 2018

Neurovascular communication in the brain

Blood vessels instruct brain development

FRANKFURT. Function and homeostasis of the brain relies on communication between the complex network of cells, which compose this organ. Consequently, development of the different groups of cells in the brain needs to be coordinated in time and space. The group of Amparo Acker-Palmer (Buchmann Institute of Molecular Life Sciences and the Institute of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Goethe University) reported in a Research Article in the last issue of the journal Science a novel function of blood vessels in orchestrating the proper development of neuronal cellular networks in the brain. 

It is known that vascularization of the brain is necessary to provide neurons and glial cells with oxygen and nutrients important for the metabolic support of neuronal networks. “For several years, we knew that the vascular and nervous systems used very similar vocabulary to develop and function and therefore we postulated that such a common vocabulary could be used to ensure that both systems co-developed in synchroneity and communicated with each other for proper brain function,” explained Acker-Palmer.

To study the communication of the blood vessels and neuronal cells the Acker-Palmer group focused on different aspects of neurovascular development. First, they used the vascularization of the mouse retina as a well-established method to investigate molecules important for vascular growth. Using this method, they discovered that a molecule, Reelin, that had been previously shown to influence neuronal migration was also able to independently influence the growth of vessels using a very similar signaling mechanism by activating the ApoER2 receptor and the Dab1 protein expressed in endothelial cells.

A very important structure in the brain is the cerebral cortex, which plays a key role in all basic functions such as memory, attention, perception, language and consciousness. Neuronal cells in the cerebral cortex are organized in layers and this organization is established during embryonic development. “We decided to eliminate exclusively the Reelin signaling cascade from the endothelial cells and see how this influenced the arrangement of neurons and glial cells in the cerebral cortex,” said Acker-Palmer. Using this system, the scientists revealed the astonishing finding that endothelial cells instruct neurons as to their correct positioning in the cerebral cortex. Mechanistically, they could show that endothelial cells secrete laminins that are deposited in the extracellular matrix surrounding the vessels to anchor properly the glial cell fibers that are necessary for proper neuronal migration and for the proper development of the cerebral cortex.

In the mature brain, glial cells also wrap around the blood capillaries and prevent harmful substances from the blood stream from entering the brain. This is known as the “blood brain barrier” and it is an essential structure that develops in the brain to keep homeostasis. Importantly, Acker-Palmer and her team also showed that the same signaling cascades used by endothelial cells in the cerebral cortex to orchestrate neuronal migration are used to establish communication at the blood brain barrier. “Several neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders have been associated with abnormal neurovascular communication. Therefore, understanding the signaling pathways and mechanisms involved in such communication is fundamental to finding new approaches for treating dementia and mental illness.”

Publication: Endothelial Dab1 signaling orchestrates neuro-glia-vessel communication in the central nervous system, DOI: 10.1126/science.aao2861, (Segarra et al., Science 361, eaao2861 (2018).

Image for download:

Caption: Blood vessels in red in close communication with proliferating neuronal cells in the mouse cortex at embryonic day 10 (Photo: Cecilia Llao-Cid).

Information:  Prof. Amparo Acker-Palmer, Institute of Cellular Biology and Neuroscience, Buchmann Institute of Molecular Life Sciences, Campus Riedberg, Tel.: (069) 798-42563,


Aug 15 2018

A social-psychological study shows that the communication situation is more important than social class

My counterpart determines my behavior

FRANKFURT. Are people with more money and education dominating and less warm? A social-psychological study at Goethe University scrutinizes stereotypes. 

How is our behavior influenced by our social class? Sociology has long concerned itself with this question. Whether individuals grow up in a working-class environment or in an academic household, they take on behaviors that are typical for their class – so goes the hypothesis. The Frankfurt social-psychologist Dr. Anna Lisa Aydin has found new evidence to support this hypothesis. Her study, which she carried out jointly with researchers from Zurich, Hagen, Idaho and Tel Aviv, and which has been published in the scientific journal Social Psychological and Personality Science also shows, however, that people don’t just rigidly exhibit class-specific behavior, but respond flexibly to counterparts from other social classes. 

A large portion of the research on the influence of social class stems from the ideas of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. He describes how the environment in which we grow up inscribes itself deeply into our identity. Social-psychological authors argue that people from lower social classes have access to fewer resources and can only influence their environment to a limited degree. They therefore rely more on mutual assistance, making solidarity an important value. People identify with this value and behave cooperatively as a result. People from upper social classes, on the other hand, have access to more resources, can choose from among several alternatives, and are less dependent on mutual assistance. This results in individualistic conceptions of the self where shaping the environment according to one’s own preferences is paramount. These different modes of behavior therefore constitute adaptions to corresponding social environments.   

This theory was supported in part by the current study. Overall, more than 2,000 people in Germany were surveyed. For respondents who considered themselves to be members of a lower class, warm and cooperative interaction with other people in their social class was more important than for those who considered themselves members of a higher social class. In addition, those who earned more and were better educated set more value on demonstrating competence and being assertive in their interactions with others than those in the group with lower earnings and less education. 

The authors feared that these differences in behavior could lead to a further increase in social inequality in Germany. Individuals who exhibit assertiveness have better chances for social advancement. However, the observed differences in behavior were relatively small. The influence of the social class of the individual’s counterpart had a significantly greater impact. How do people behave when interacting with someone from a lower or higher social group? The majority of those surveyed described social difference in Germany as unjustified or not very justified. As a result, they found it important to behave warmly and cooperatively toward people with less money and education. Conversely, they set value on appearing competent and assertive toward people with more money and education. 

These findings are particularly relevant in view of the fact that social inequality is increasing in Germany and other parts of the world, although most people perceive this as unjustified. While research based on sociological theories can explain how this inequality can be exacerbated by conditioning within different social classes, the current study offers an optimistic perspective: in communication situations between people of different classes where class differences are perceived as illegitimate, solidarity with the poor and assertiveness toward the rich are exhibited.


Aug 13 2018

ERC starting grants for projects on stress responses in mitochondria and Jewish translations

3 million euro for early career researchers at Goethe University

FRANKFURT. Once again, researchers at Goethe University were successful in the competition for the prestigious starting grants from the European Research Council (ERC): Dr Christian Münch from the Institute of Biochemistry II at the Faculty of Medicine, and Dr Iris Idelson-Shein from the Seminar for Jewish Studies and the Martin-Buber Chair for Jewish Thought and Philosophy, each received an “ERC Starting Grant.” In this program, the ERC supports excellent researchers in the first five years of their independent careers with a total of 1.5 million euro. 

Dr Christian Münch is a biochemist and studies mitochondria, which produce energy for cells. There are up to 2,000 of these tiny power plants in each cell of the body. They are subject to strict quality controls in order to ensure faultless functioning. Christian Münch is particularly interested in a mechanism that is turned on upon misfolding of mitochondrial proteins – known as the “unfolded protein response.” The molecular details of this stress response are poorly understood to date, especially in humans; particularly in regards to its effects on mitochondria themselves and on other areas of cells or neighbouring cells. What signals are prompted by the stress responses and how these are regulated are equally unknown. Christian Münch wants to investigate these open questions.

This project, now supported by the European Research Council, is also highly relevant from a bio-medical perspective. “In numerous diseases, including major diseases like cancer or neurodegeneration, the functioning of the mitochondria is disrupted. In some cases, misfolded mitochondrial proteins are directly responsible for the clinical picture,” explains Christian Münch. Of particular interest to the young researcher is the question of how already-stressed cells communicate with their environment. “I’m convinced there are overarching systems that coordinate the various quality control mechanisms and warn neighbouring cells of imminent danger.” With the ERC project, he hopes to make pioneering discoveries in this area.

Christian Münch has headed an Emmy-Noether research group at the Institute of Biochemistry II at the Faculty of Medicine of the Goethe University since December 2016. Before that he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University in Boston (USA). He obtained his PhD at the University of Cambridge in England in 2011.

Formative translations in Jewish garb
The project of the historian Dr Iris Idelson-Shein deals with Jewish texts that came about as translations from other languages from the sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century. These translations played a crucial role in shaping the culture, literature and history of European Jews in the early modern period. Most Jews in this period were unable to read texts in non-Jewish languages, so that their access to European cultural developments depended almost completely on these kinds of translations.

While translations have been met with great interest by historians of European history in recent decades, they have been largely neglected by historians of early modern Jewry. “So far, no attempt has been made to investigate the totality of Jewish translations in the early modern period,” states Iris Idelson-Shein, ”so that their scope, geographic distribution, development, and sources are largely unknown.”

This scholarly lacuna stems, in part, from the daunting nature of this wildly versatile literature, which drew on sources in different languages, from different genres, spaces and periods. In addition, Jewish authors often presented their translations as original work in order to cloak them in Jewish garb. To approach this rich and deceptive body of texts requires a great familiarity with various literary systems (Jewish and non-Jewish), the command of several languages, and a combination of historical, literary, cultural and other research methods. Idelson-Shein will therefore recruit a multi-lingual and interdisciplinary group of young researchers. The goal is to identify the non-Jewish body of texts that were formative in creating modern Judaism.

Iris Idelson-Shein studied history and philosophy at Tel Aviv University and received her doctorate there in 2011. She is now a research associate at the Martin-Buber Chair for Jewish Thought and Philosophy, and visiting lecturer at the Seminar for Jewish Studies at Goethe University.