SECP Discussion Papers

Research papers of the ZNWU Fellows are usually first published as ZNWU Discussion Paper. The Discussion Papers thus contribute to a broad dissemination of our sustainability research. The aim is to receive feedback from the research community that is as diverse as possible and to bring our research to publication maturity.

What should be the role of the ECB in tackling the socio-ecological challenges related to planetary boundaries, such as climate change and loss of biodiversity? A clear answer to this question is still lacking, in spite of the strategy review of 2021. Regretfully, this review has not received the scrutiny it deserves, as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have taken center stage. Taking these recent developments into account, we provide a critique of the new strategy. We argue that it lacks transformativity, as it subsumes climate change under the policy objective of price stability, assumes that transformations can be mastered within the structures of the past, and refrains from questioning the current institutional set up. In its main part, the paper discusses the historical relevance of what we believe is the main reason for these deficits: The fear that taking up the real issues (such as independence and accountability) would make the ECB a political football in times of rising inflation. Taking these fears seriously, we show that the institutionalization of central banking has always reflected the transformative dynamics of their time. Consequently, if planetary boundaries represent a transformative challenge, they will radically change the ECB, too. Moreover, we provide evidence that central banks’ historical transformations have always reflected their peculiar position as mediators between the financial and the political realm. We argue that, at the current juncture, transforming central banking implies moving away from finance and towards politics. This involves risks. However, we argue that the historical experience offers few reasons to fear a closer integration of central banking into the public sphere, as long as the latter is dominated by democratic politics. Consequently, if one comes to the conclusion that the ECB’s current corset is too narrow, it can and should be augmented. While we do not offer a blueprint for such augmentation, we conclude our analysis by sketching elements of a sustainable strategy for a transformative ECB.

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Sociology and political science are both dealing with the "defensibility" of societies - with a defense against danger from within and without. In order to give additional impulses to the interdisciplinary debate, especially against the backdrop of the rapidly changing environment, it is worth expanding the interpretation to include crucial perspectives, such as the questions of "enduring stress" (resistance) and "recovering" (regeneration). And it is about the social willingness and ability to "re-sort" and "re-invent" (reconfiguration). These terms were influenced by resilience research significantly. Surprisingly, compared to individual and organizational resilience research, research on societal resilience is still comparatively less developed. But at the latest as a result of the preoccupation with VUCA worlds, further societal risk factors, burdens and potential crises are increasingly being identified. Together, they all lead to key questions: How can the roles of citizens and the state be readjusted? How will the necessary insights be gained? Will it inevitably be - as Andreas Reckwitz puts it - a "painful learning process of growing up in society"? Or will it be a fruitful and exciting path for all sides? It is important to examine what added value the concepts of developing societal resilience can offer in this regard, as well as what tasks and perspectives await those involved.

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Until spring 2020, crisis management was considered to be rather a marginal area of corporate leadership. With the crisis year 2020, certainly all companies have realized that leading through crises is a necessary basic competence for all managers and especially for corporate leaders. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that an existential crisis can affect any company – without being to blame itself and regardless of its business model. Therefore, it is of high entrepreneurial and economic, but also social and human importance to identify critical success factors for crisis management in companies and to develop or further develop recommended actions. The Corona crisis thus also offers a great opportunity for gaining relevant knowledge.

This research report identifies those success factors for leadership in crisis that are more closely associated with the supposedly “soft” aspects of leadership such as attitude, empathy or openness. The findings are based on interviews with top managers from a wide range of industries and company sizes.

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How can we toughen up the state against the backdrop of the transformative challenges of climate change, planetary boundaries, and technological progress? This discussion paper examines this question through a fundamental analysis of the dimensions of democratic politics and the “management” of public affairs. Moreover this discussion paper argues that the state's ability to act is suffering from the withering away of the antagonistic dimension of democratic politics. At the same time, the state itself often puts on too tight a corset by narrowing its financial leeway and providing central public management organizations with a considerable degree of independence that was not secured by a similarly developed system of public accountability.

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Diversity and equal opportunities are now established topics in organizational practice. The public sector, as the largest employer in Germany, is considered to play a pioneering role, even though it still has potential for development in this area, as the few studies in the German context suggest. This study examines which organizational context factors prove to be relevant to the discrimination experience of LGBTIQ* employees in public administration (N=15 problem-centered interviews with LGBTIQ* employees from eight local governments). The interviewees experience different forms of discrimination, but generally consider them to be rather low. They perceive soft factors to be most relevant to the experience of discrimination, which employers, however, find difficult to influence, such as the working climate and the personal attitudes and behaviour of managers. This is followed by internal, configurable factors such as diversity measures and team composition. The interaction of the individual factors and their (successful) composition seems to be of particular importance. The experience of discrimination among LGBTIQ* employees could therefore be positively influenced by the management bodies in public administration. In addition, the signals associated with diversity measures enhance the employer image of the public sector.

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Stress and psychological strain are dominant phenomena in modern Western societies and play an ever-increasing role among students. In the business environment there are already various concepts that serve to reduce stress and build up resilience and usually there is also a high level of attention from management and executives. On the other hand relevant activities at universities are rather rare and above all little systematically developed. Against this background, Prof. Dr. Werner Stork and Prof. Dr. med. Silke Heimes together with the lecturer and mindfulness trainer Helmut Aatz and five student employees (Sarah Allagha, Jens Boll, Stella Brug, Paul Hoffmann and Maximilian Rasch) carried out a project to develop suitable concepts as well as to research the potential effects on the perception of stress and the resilience of students. The results of the RODS II study confirm that mindfulness practice in students is suitable for reducing stress and promoting resilience. From the study, the recommendation can be derived that mindfulness courses at colleges, universities and training centers be systematically and firmly anchored in the teaching activities for all students.

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The article explores regional policy issues at the nexus of economic geography and the recent academic literature on the political economy of digitalization. The objective is to blend these two areas of research to derive a first set of preliminary policy implications for so called “Smart Region” strategies. First, we document and analyze the finding that digitalization and, more generally, technological progress based on information and communication technologies represents a risk rather than an opportunity for many regions. Against the backdrop of the role of human capital accumulation in this process, "Smart Region" strategies should re-focus their attention on the settlement and development of "digitally competent" human capital. Second, we summarize key findings from studies that deal with the capitalist accumulation regime emerging in the course of digital change. This regime, often referred to as "platform capitalism" or "surveillance capitalism", appears to be antagonistic what is considered an integral and functional regional economy. Against this background, regions should meet calls for a rapid integration into this regime with a good deal of skepticism. Similarly, they should be careful not to embrace “smart” initiatives overhasty. Instead, they should develop their own definition of digital literacy and consciously incorporate alternatives to platform capitalism in their digital strategies. Attracting digitally competent human capital can support such an approach, especially if the respective initiatives are directed towards the public, educational and non-profit sectors.

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Stress and psychological stress are dominant phenomena in modern Western societies. Recent studies by health insurance companies show that very high stress levels also occur during studies. This can lead to serious illnesses and reduces performance. The analyses show that the stress levels in students are higher than in the “normal population” and that these developments at the Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) are particularly alarming. Against this background, the Department of Economics at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences has carried out a pilot project with measures to improve stress management and promote resilience. The measures were scientifically accompanied by quantitative and qualitative methods. The positive effects on the health and performance of the students could be convincingly proven. Since the 2019 summer semester, the new teaching and training elements for resilience have therefore been firmly anchored in the curriculum of the Business Administration B.Sc. program at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences.

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In 1974, a series of banking crises unsettled many of the world’s largest economies. The most prominent of them, the Herstatt crisis in Germany, sent major shock waves through the nascent global financial system. In retrospective, the crisis marks the beginning of a long trend of discontinuously rising financial instability that culminated in the crisis of 2007/08. In retrospect, the crisis appears to be a prelude or preface, if not the first chapter of a looming era of financialization and banking turbulence. As such, it could have shaped the response of those analyzing and responding to financial fragility. But how did contemporary observers in fact interpret and contextualize the episode? What mark did it leave on professional views and policies on the financial sector? With a focus on Germany, we review an extensive set of contemporary documents to analyze the impact of the 1974 crisis on experts’ expectations towards banks and finance.

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