Research Profile

The primary focus of our research is on peace and conflict and on international organizations. We are working in four thematic areas of interest:

(1) international conflict, especially secession and ethics of peace

(2) patron-client relations in world politics

(3) relations among international governmental organizations and

(4) post-conflict memory and transitional justice

Our regional focus is on Europe (post-Soviet space, South-Eastern Europe) and on East Asia

  • International Conflict

    The study of conflict has been the core theme of our Chair's, Rafael Biermann’s academic interests since the 1980s. Following an initial occupation with questions of arms control, the main concern in the early 2000s shifted to intrastate, especially ethnic conflict and crisis prevention during his habilitation. His regional focus became the Balkans, looking at the failure of international crisis prevention before the onset of war in Kosovo. Multiple publications appeared on German conflict resolution in the Balkans, on the stability pact for Southeastern Europe, on the Kosovo conflict, on NATO and EU enlargement in the Balkans, on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, and on the collapse of Yugoslavia in general. A list of all publications of Biermann can be found herepdf, 178 kb · de.

    Once in Jena, Biermann mentored theses within the DFG research training group Cultural Orientations and Social Structures in Southeast Europe (2010-2017). One result was Johannes Gold’s PhD on the chances of multi-ethnicity in the supposedly multi-ethnic city of Kosovo, Prizren. It was the first publication within the book series we established with Springer called Innovation in Conflict Research which was inaugurated in 2018. Carolina Rehrmann was the second to publish, focusing on causes of intractability in the Cyprus conflictExternal link.

    In recent years, additional research foci have emerged. First, Rafael Biermann’s study of ethnic conflict in the Balkans, further instigated by the Ukraine conflict since 2014, inspired a strong interest in ethnic and secessionist conflict. His sights moved from the Balkan conflicts (Coercive EuropeanizationExternal link and Secessionism, Irredentism and EU Enlargement in the Western BalkansExternal link) to the Caucasus and then to a global comparative perspective. One result was a review of the de facto states literatureExternal link, another a piece on norms and interests in secessionist conflictExternal link, introducing the notion of norm selection to the IR literature.

    Major finalized or ongoing PhD theses are concerned with secession: Sebastian Relitz focused his thesis on the EU engagement without recognitionExternal link in the post-Soviet de facto states, Abkhazia in particular. Christopher Brucker investigates how secessionist groups employ international normsExternal link to mobilize support for their cause. Ivan Laškarin explores the interdependence between secession and irredentism.

    A special focus of our team is currently on the relations of patrons and clients in secessionist conflict (e.g. Russia-Abkhazia). The goal is to introduce into the literature on secession a sophisticated conceptualization, outline multiple directions for future research and apply the concept to various cases. An international workshop held in 2021 was the kick-off event. A major result will be the publication of a Special Issue on the topic in `Territory, Politics, Governance`. Geza Tasner, a PhD at the Chair, is working on one major dimension of this topic, namely competition among patrons, transferring among others, insights from the Cold War literature to current-day applications (e.g. Russia and Turkey on the South Caucasus). His PhD is embedded into the research network Cooperation and Conflict in Eastern EuropeExternal link (KonKoop), which six German research institutes, among them our Chair, established in April 2022 to connect and advance research carried out in Germany on conflict in Eastern Europe.

    Beyond secessionism and ethnic conflict, a strong interest has grown at the Chair in instruments of conflict management, especially mediation, peacebuilding as well as humanitarian intervention and responsibility to protect; one research result is the PhD publication by Christopher Huber on UN sanctioning of non-state actors. This also includes alternative approaches to conflict resolution, a topic Carolina Rehrmann pursues in habilitation project on polarized identities in European migration discourses, which employs a post-colonial, anti-racist and gender-sensitive approach. Finally, ethical questions have become increasingly important at the Chair, leading to a 2019 Special Issue in Ethics and International Affairs on Balancing Legal Norms, Moral Values and National InterestsExternal link.

    While the geographic orientation of the Chair is worldwide, there is a particular focus on South Eastern Europe, the post-Soviet space and Asia. Three projects focus on the post-Soviet space: Sebastian Hoppe analyzes in his PhD the political economy of Putin’s state strategy in the Russian Far East; Roman Labunski’s dissertation interprets the Russo-Ukrainian conflict from the clash-of-civilization perspective employing critical geopolitics; and Bidzina Lebanidze de who represents our link to the Caucasus Studies Institute in Jena writes his habilitation on the concept of resilience in the EU’s European neighborhood agenda.

  • Patron-Client Relations in World Politics

    The patron-client research agenda mentioned above evolved in two stages. In a first stage, the focus was on such relations in secessionist conflict, i.e. how state and non-state patrons support host states and secessionist groups in secessionist conflicts. Major research directions were explored on resource exchange among patrons and clients, motives for forming, maintaining and terminating relationships, the struggle among patrons and clients for control vs. autonomy (the ‘dependence dilemma’) and the impacts such relationships have on the course and outcomes of conflict.

    Early on, we realized that the PCR concept can be applied to many other issue-areas in world politics. It was applied to Cold War superpower politics in the ‘third world’ in the 1980s, re-discovered in a few post-Cold War publications on great power relations with medium or small powers and is today loosely applied in literatures such as surrogate / proxy warfare. Two workshops were organized in Thessaloniki and Toulouse to explore the transferability of the PCR concept. The result is the decision to publish an edited volume on the topic, co-edited by Rafael Biermann with Nicoló FasolaExternal link (Bologna) and Ivica PetrovicaExternal link (London). Based on an author workshop in June 2024 in Jena, the book will conceptualize the phenomenon, delineate it from neighboring concepts, present varying cases of state-led PCRs (state-to-state) and non-state (at least one non-state actor) PCRs and offer explorations of policy-fields such as development aid or terrorism studies where the concept may be usefully transferred.

  • Relations among International Organizations

    Our long-standing research on international organizations builds on organization theory in business and management studies and sociology, bridges rationalist and constructivist approaches and studies international governmental organizations worldwide in a comparative perspective with a theory-building ambition. The focus is on cooperation and conflict among organizations, as well as the design of inter-organizational cooperation. The publication which started this research record was the 2008 RIO article theorizing inter-organizational networkingExternal link. Subsequent publications by Rafael Biermann have reviewed the state of the artExternal link, investigated NATO’s organization-set and analyzed the decision-making process among partner organizations, in particular what he called the dual-consensus rule.

    A first culmination was the ‘Palgrave Handbook of Inter-Organizational Relations in World AffairsExternal link’, a collaboration of 38 researchers from 12 countries, published in 2017. The Handbook, which Rafael Biermann published together with Joachim Koops (Brussels), contains 32 contributions, focusing either on theory and concepts (such as organizational fields or levels of analysis) or on applications to specific policy fields (such as climate change or migration). Our team contributed entries on the cooperation of the Council of Europe with non-state actors (Dr. André Härtel), social network theory (Matthias Schulze and Florian Ries) and population ecology (Florian Ries). Apart from the introduction and the conclusions by the editors, Rafael Biermann wrote about processes of (de-)legitimation among international organizations, the role of bureaucracies when IOs cooperate as well as resource dependence theory (with Michael Harsch).

    Rafael Biermann is also working on a monograph which analyses the relationships of the European Union with 68 partner organizations since 1951, including regional organizations worldwide, the UN specialized agencies, and international financial organizations. The research asks why, how and when cooperation started. It combines a large-N analysis with multiple case studies and builds on in-depth research in the archives of the European Union institutions in Florence and Brussels.

    Research by our PhD students in this field mainly looks at informalization processes. Christian Opitz explored interaction effects between formality and informality in his 2019 thesis and applied this to civilian CSDP governance within the European Union). Steve Biedermann aims to understand why states act through different types of informal intergovernmental organizations with a specific focus on peacebuilding.

  • Reconciliation Studies

    Our research on post-conflict reconciliation and transitional justice is based on cooperation with the Jena Center for Reconciliation Studies. Rafael Biermann has mentored PhD thesis at the Center’s DFG-funded research training group. A major result is the publication of a volume on Reconciliation in the Balkans and the CaucasusExternal link, jointly edited by Carolina Rehrmann, Rafael Biermann and Philip Tolliday (Adelaide, Australia). The volume features contributions both on core concepts of reconciliation research and on specific dimensions of overcoming a divided past in the Balkans and the Caucasus. Carolina Rehrmann has contributed an introduction theorizing reconciliation, while Rafael Biermann offers a comprehensive overview of the state of reconciliation in the Balkan countries since the wars of the 1990s.

    Several PhD projects emerged from this thematic focus. Sungjin Park received a scholarship from the Kwanjeong Educational Foundation to pursue his PhD on memory politics in post-conflict societies at our Chair. Anh Nguyen, a native Vietnamese, reconstructs the critical years of reconciliation between Vietnam and the United States after the war until diplomatic normalization in 1995. Also under the supervision of Rafael Biermann, Shota Shvelidze applies the reconciliation concept to Georgia-Abkhazia relations.

  • German Foreign Policy

    The study of German foreign policy of our team started out with the PhD dissertation of Rafael Biermann on Soviet role in German reunificationExternal link (in German). It traces the diplomatic interaction between Germany and the late Soviet Union from 1988 to 1991, focusing in particular on the two-plus-four negotiations and their prelude since the fall of the Berlin Wall and on internal preference-building in Moscow.

    In the 1990s, Rafael Biermann published an edited volume, together with renowned practitioners of the time, on German crisis management in the BalkansExternal link. He also analyzed several times the participation of the German Bundestagpdf, 1 mb · de in decision-making on missions of the German armed forces (in German).