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Last semester I taught a class on “Comparative and transnational analysis of contemporary societies” for master’s and doctoral students at the University of Cologne. The aim of the course was to familiarize students with key approaches in comparative-historical social and political analysis, major critiques, and alternative approaches of world society and transnational analysis. We started with the now well-known critique that comparative-historical analysis often falls victim to “methodological nationalism” because it all too frequently assumes society to be bounded by the nation-state. In consequence, comparative-historical analysis often ignores cross-border social relations and horizons of actions, emerging from increasing cross-border flows of people, goods and cultures, transnational and global organizations, networks and communities, as well as transnational institution building.
We started with the sociological classics of whom many considered the comparative method as a key heuristic of social and political analysis. From that we moved on to post-World War II sociological analysis, world systems theory and the world society approach. Empirical illustrations covered issues such as state building, social classes and inequality, migration and diaspora communities, transnational movements, cross-border policy networks and the Europeanisation of welfare institutions.
Interestingly enough, we discovered that even within transnational analysis focusing on networks, diffusion or multi-level interactions, the comparative method does still have an important role to play. Going back to the classics, we found intriguing combinations of comparison and diffusion analysis in Tocqueville’s and Weber’s work. More contemporary critical approaches, such as world systems theory and world society theory, continue to use country comparison as a reference point. This led us to the conclusion that the comparative method is still very valuable but needs to be adapted and combined with other methodological approaches such as network analysis, process tracing or sequence analysis to encompass the transnational and global realities of contemporary societies. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I attended a very interesting conference organized by Jean-Christophe Graz, Christoph Hauert, Marc Audetat and Danielle Büschi at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. At this conference, the prospects and limits of participation of civil society in international standardization were not only assessed by leading academics working in the field but also by members of various NGOs, including consumer and environmental organizations operating at the national and transnational level. The conference was part of a research programme at the University of Lausanne called “Living together under uncertainty” which has the aim to reinforce the relationship between academic knowledge and civil society. The INTERNORM project is trully transdisciplinary in the sense that Helga Nowotny understands the term: bringing together different types of knowledge from academics and practitioners for democratic problem-solving in the global sphere. The conference was one of the rare moments where academics and pratictioners engaged in really productive intellectual inquiry into how problems of standard-setting are framed, organized and managed in various national and transnational arenas. It also turned out to be a very cross-fertilizing event between the French and English-speaking communities in this field. Discussions revealed the many still persisting obstacles created by technical standard-setting organizations which make it difficult for civil society actors to participate on an equal footing. Yet, discussions also pointed to the strategic capacity of transnational and European NGOs to coordinate effectively across borders and to set their priorities in ways to enhance their leverage and influence. The presentations of the conferences are available on the INTERNORM project website.
“Rose Monday” parade, Cologne 2013
Photo by courtesy of the author
Carnival, though celebrated in many places around the world, is a deeply local affair, a matter of local civic pride, including jokes about those who are not locals (in Cologne, such jokes are likely to be about the inhabitants of the nearby town of Düsseldorf). This year, however, Cologne, the capital of German carnival, themed its celebrations “Fastelovend em Blot, he un am Zuckerhot“ which in local dialect means „Carnival in our blood, here and at the Sugar Loaf Mountain“ – a reference to Rio de Janeiro, with whom Cologne was twinned in 2011. On the other side of the Atlantic, Unidos da Tijuca, one of the most successful samba schools in Rio de Janeiro, appeared as „Samba da Alemanha“ at the annual samba contest in the Sambodromo.
Samba School Parade at the Sambodromo in Rio di Janeiro in 2012
Photo: Fotos_Gartis, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Is carnival going cosmopolitan? Or has it never been as local as my Cologne experience made be believe? I think neither of the two is the case. From the 18th century onwards, civic localism was an essential part of modern carnival and still is today. What has changed, though, is the reach of the cosmopolitan outlook in which this localism is articulated.
The holiday season seems a good moment to explore the contradictory nature of Christmas as a holiday that has become nearly globally observed while at the same time still being considered deeply nationally entrenched in many countries. Take Germany, for example: Considered as the homeland of Weihnachtsstimmung (Christmas mood), Christmas trees and Christmas markets, few would doubt that there is something a like a really true deutsche Weihnacht. Across the Atlantic, Americans equally claim to have their American Christmas, which, by the way, is the only federal holiday in the United States with a religious connection. Yet, celebrating Christmas has also an inherent transcendental dimension that goes beyond national borders – no matter whether people observe it as a religious or secular holiday.
To better understand the contradictory global and national character of Christmas, it is useful to go back to the long 19th century in which the modern Christmas was re-invented in a series of developments. During this period, Christmas celebrations became increasingly linked to national sentiments but they were also shaped by a multitude of imagined cultural encounters and transfers between countries. Building on the abundant scholarly literature on the history of Christmas, this blog post aims to sketch some developments which had a lasting impact on modern Christmas as it is familiar to us today. In particular, it draws on the wonderfully detailed books of Joe Perry and Stephen Nissenbaum, as well as an article by Neil Amstrong (references see below).
More than three years after I posted ‘Fair value accounting in retreat?’ on this blog, it seems appropriate to take stock of the results of reform initiatives undertaken after the financial crisis. Just as a brief reminder: In the course of the financial crisis, International Financial Reporting Standards were suspected to have exacerbated the collapse of financial markets. Particularly the use of “fair value accounting” for banks’ financial assets was scrutinized for its contribution to downwards spirals between devaluated market assets and banks’ rising capital requirements. Previously considered as a purely technical matter, accounting principles suddenly became a matter of international politics. The G20, the Financial Stability Board, IOSCO and the two leading standard setters, IASB and the US-American FASB, all got involved in what appeared a busy beehive of reform debates. Three-and-a-half years later, with the financial crisis followed and superseded by the European sovereign debt crisis, accounting principles seem to have returned to their status of “sleeping beauty”. Yet, this impression is misleading. Accounting principles continue to be a crucial link between the reporting of financial institutions and financial market regulation. All the more a reason for reviewing two recent publications which analyse international accounting standards reform and harmonisation.
At this year’s Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association from 16 – 22 August in Denver/Colorado, the Section on Global and Transnational Sociology featured a number of highly interesting panels and pre-conference activities. Panel topics included Global Governance (co-sponsored with Sociology of Law), Transnational Processes and Institutions, Gender, Globalization and Transnationalism, and Transnational Networks. In addition, a pre-conference meeting, organized by Peggy Levitt and Liz Boyle, discussed new ways of seeing and knowing in transnational and global research. At the Denver meeting the outgoing chair Sarah Babb concluded her highly successful term of office and welcomed the new chair Julia Adams (see interview). Read the rest of this entry »
Sigrid Quack and Leonhard Dobusch comment on the recent developments in the German “Piratenpartei” around the Pirate Party Convention 2012.
With the German Pirate Party continuously rising in national polls – currently ranging between 10 and 13 percent (see Figure below) – media attention on the party’s convention last weekend had reached a new height.
And this media coverage is increasingly becoming transnational. Germany’s largest weekly Der Spiegel devoted an extensive feature article in English to the phenomenon, trying to explain questions such as “Why the Pirates Are Successful”:
“This is precisely the Pirates’ biggest attraction: transparency and participation, as well as a healthy dose of freshness and otherness. This sometimes makes the Pirates seem childishly naïve and chaotic, and yet they seek to make do without back-room backslapping and conventional political smoothness.”
But also criticsm is voiced in the recent coverage. The Economist, for example, calls Pirates in its recent printed edition “slightly barmy” and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung published a series of articles on unfortunate comparisons of the Pirate Party’s rise with that of the NSDAP by the secretary of the Berlin Pirate caucus (German article) and some right wingnuts in the party who among other statements denied the Holocaust (German article). Read the rest of this entry »
Many believe that global markets are a new phenomenon. But that is not the case. Not only had the late 19th century already reached a level of global trade and financial flows which approached that of today, but there have been long distance trading circuits across jurisdictions and continents which date back as far as medieval times. In the 12th and 13th century, the Italian city states of Venice and Genoa maintained long distance trading networks that reached as far as North Africa and Central Asia, providing the basis for ‘global’ markets for luxury goods, such as spices and silk. In the North, the Hanseatic League formed a federation of trading cities along the coastlines of the Northern and Baltic Sea generating cross-border markets for bulk goods such as fish, salt, grain and wood.
These markets were transnational in the sense of their interconnecting economic actors from multiple political jurisdictions (i.e. kingdoms and city states) across the world into a multilayered system of rules and regulations which governed their exchange relationships.
Economic historians have produced a rich literature on these markets which is also instructive for economic sociologist studying the governance of contemporary ‘global’ markets. In a recently published article I combine both approaches to analyse how key coordination problems were resolved in medieval long-distance trading systems.
Sigrid Quack and Leonhard Dobusch comment on the election results of the German “Piratenpartei” based on their research project “The Copyright Dispute”.
On Sunday, 27 September 2009, the Pirate Party running for the first time in German federal elections promptly won 2 percent of the votes. In some constituencies, particularly in university towns and urban centres, it gained up to 6 percent. In total, 850.000 voters cast their ballot for the Pirate Party (see official results and DW-World).
While this result does not bring the Pirate Party into the German parliament because of its 5 percent barring clause, this is nevertheless a quite impressive result for a young party which was founded only three years ago. Just to compare, the Green Party gained only 1.5 percent in its first run for German Federal elections in 1980, even though it had reunified a number of regional parties with experience in municipal councils and Länder parliaments. According to Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, an independent polling institute, the gains of the Pirate Party are part of a “historic gain’” of small parties in the last elections.
First signs of the Pirate Party gaining electoral support became visible in the elections for the European Parliament earlier on 7 June this year, where the Pirate Party obtained 0.9 percent (see also “Copyright Related Social Movements: Pirate Parties and the European Parliamentary Elections”). In the North Rhine-Westphalian communal elections on 30 August, members of the Pirate Party gained seats in the municipal councils of the cities of Münster and Aachen. In parallel to its public visibility and electoral support, the membership of the Pirate Party has been growing rapidly to currently close to 10,000 members, out of which about 8,000 joined the party during the last four months.
Still, this leaves interesting questions about what made nearly a million people vote for a relatively unknown and unestablished party, and what the perspectives of this party are for the next elections in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2010. Is the Pirate Party comparable to a “Biertrinker-Partei” (“beer drinker party”), as suggested by political scientist Oscar W. Gabriel (see pr-inside.com, German), and is therefore its success a short flash that will disappear as soon as it popped up?
In the following we will suggest that to be better understood, the development of the Pirate Party in Germany needs to be situated in a broader context: The gains of the Pirate Party build on both, a network of transnational activists criticising an, in their view, unbalanced extension of copyright protection and more localised social movements concerned with new data retention and surveillance plans. The internet is the place where these rather broad trends enter everyday life experience of people, and particularly those of having jobs in computing, software, creative industries, media, education, research, universities – not to speak of the palpable and rather concrete experiences of all those who wish to download music, share files and access open content in their free time. Read the rest of this entry »