Combining European and global social research
The Max Planck Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies (MaxPo) is located in Paris, where its university partner is based. The Center focuses on determining how individuals, organizations and national states deal with new forms of instability which have emerged over the past 40 years in Western societies due to far-reaching liberalization that has been accompanied by technological change and cultural transformation.
The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne and the elite university Sciences Po in Paris, with its focus on the social sciences, are the cooperation partners involved in the Max Planck Center – a Center with an all-female management team. Both Directors – French sociologist Marion Fourcade and German political scientist Cornelia Woll – bring with them educational and lecturing experience from France and the US, which benefits the Center in more than one respect. To this effect, the researchers take full advantage of interactive teaching techniques which they have imported from the US to Paris, and thereby seek to reproduce the atmosphere of US tutorial groups which foster debate. Furthermore, they combine US and European methods of social research: Fourcade has lectured at the University of Berkeley since 2003 where she is an associate professor; Woll, after graduating in political science in Chicago and obtaining a German/French doctorate in Cologne and Paris and heading an Otto-Hahn Group, has been a lecturer at Sciences Po since 2004. Both are anxious to use colleagues from the English-speaking world from the UK and the US to open up opportunities and to improve access to French and German social science theses. This will require a balancing act, as papers will ultimately be published in English, which is a requirement in the global academic market.
Establishing the right environment for academics of the future - Fourcade and Woll also see it as their duty to provide support for doctoral students and young researchers; after all, the Max Planck Center is also a point of contact for members of the International Max Planck Research School, the graduate school of the Max Planck Institute in Cologne where Sciences Po is also involved as a partner. However, the Center will also be accepting postdocs, while an exchange programme exists for guest scientists. They will all be incorporated into two different series of seminars.
The professors complement one another in their research. The key topics addressed will include social structures, finance, inequality and power. “We focus on how the global expansion of the financial markets has changed the macroeconomics of industrialized nations in the West over the past 20 to 30 years, for example, by looking at how the lives of individual people have been disrupted by economic upturns and downturns, and at the role played by the banking industry in our society. We also aim to determine how governments deal with such changes and how, for example, they regulate the banking sector or tackle the issue of national debt,” explains Marion Fourcade.
Cornelia Woll raises the question of political ramifications: Who is actually represented politically? How are economic ideas fed into the political decision-making process? Her objective is to conduct research into these issues based on existing studies for the US from a comparative perspective for Europe. The work of both academics reverts to classical questions in economic sociology, as the consequences of economic transformations on society have not been analysed comprehensively enough. The name of the Center “Coping with Instability in Market Societies” therefore combines two research traditions in the social sciences - the study of emerging social strata and social inequality, and the study of how markets function.