Grant for New Research Group, Extension for Another

Photo: UHH / Hansen University of Hamburg Main Building
Photo: UHH / Hansen University of Hamburg Main Building

How and why do the perception and acceptance of political rules and institutions change? This is the hot-button question that a new research group on major structural change, headed by Lydia Mechtenberg from University of Hamburg, is asking. A research group in biology will also continue to receive funding from the German Research Foundation for another grant period.

Using different theory-based lab and survey experiments as well as other empirical methods, the researchers in the new research group Bedeutender struktureller Wandel (FOR BISC) will study the causal mechanisms of social change. To do so, the group is set to receive more than 3 million from the German Research Foundation and the Austrian Science Fund over the next 4 years.

They are focusing on changes with the potential to shake up social structures. "We live in a complex network of rules that govern how nations, economies, and societies are organized. As citizens, we agree to these rules and define them via institutions that are supposed to fulfill certain tasks," explains group spokesperson Dr. Lydia Mechtenberg, professor of economics with a focus on political economics in the Department of Economics at University of Hamburg.

FOR BISC is now examining how 3 crucial engines of change-climate change, globalization, and technological change (as well as mass migration)--are impacting social structures.

"Thanks to these extreme influences, there is a redistribution of material and immaterial costs and uses. This can lead, for example, to changing faith in the quality of existing institutions. And changes in one’s own values can lead to new political, social, and economic conflicts. All of this can adversely affect the legitimacy of institutions," says Mechtenberg.

These conflicts and the loss of legitimation can cause profound structural changes. The members of FOR BISC want to find out which reactions to social conflicts lead to what kinds of change. "If the social structure itself can suffer a loss of legitimacy, the conflict can escalate and there may be sudden, profound changes. In other cases, the reactions and the change are more gradual," explains Mechtenberg. In 7 subprojects, the researchers will look at the causal relations of the engines and processes of change. The goal is a comprehensive theory of change.

In total, the German Research Foundation has granted funding to 9 new research groups and a humanities center for advanced studies. These funding formats are intended to allow researchers to address current pressing issues in their field, and to establish innovative new directions in research. In a first phase, The German Research Foundation has also extended funding for a second funding period for 3 projects, including FOR 5116: Plant-microbe communication through exRNA: systems-level approaches to explore molecular mechanisms and agronomic applications.

The group’s spokesperson is Julia Kehr, professor of molecular plant genetics in the Department of Biology at University of Hamburg. The research is being conducted at the junction of agricultural sciences and biology. The researchers want to understand how communication between host plants and their interacting microbes functions in the case of infections as well as in symbiotic relationships.