Development of a Joint Research Profile
The IOS's academic structure offers special opportunities for the development of an innovative research profile. Precisely because of their very different methodologies, the cooperation between history and economics can raise groundbreaking issues and enable new approaches to questions of interest to both disciplines – questions to which they can both make a contribution.
Path Dependence, Change and Contingency
The IOS has identified the question of the relationship between path dependence, change and contingency as the guiding theme of overriding importance for its research, because this topic keeps surfacing in different ways throughout the development of East and Southeast Europe. In this regard, its historical research focusses on processes of change beginning around the early 19th century, although it also considers earlier periods in relation to specific topics. Its economic research is primarily interested in issues that are located in today's world, while keeping historical dimensions in view. Both approaches have in common the emphasis on transnational and comparative perspectives and the interest in the tension between convergence and divergence. The phenomena under consideration are regarded as having evolved historically, which makes them changeable, with their characteristics being constituted by their respective meshes of relationships.
The Concept of the Social Institution
The concept of the social institution possesses interdisciplinary relevance with regard to the conceptualization of common issues. Institutions are understood in a broad sense as formal or informal social rules systems with a certain minimum degree of stability that have been intentionally shaped or have emerged unplanned. Institutions create expectations and serve as a framework for, but also as instruments of, social practice. Cultural mindsets and societal values are manifested in them. By means of institutions, the dynamics of stability and change can be described and explained; institutions can effect change or produce continuity. They mediate between the macro-, meso- and micro-levels by referring to the mutual contingency of the three levels, each of which cannot exist without the other two; each of the phenomena on one of the three levels can only be explained by means of its interaction with the others. Therefore, institutions also create a link between societal structures and the actions of individual players (from individuals to collectives). Institutions are a condition of social interaction as much as they are its result. Because of the connections described above, the explanation of the change of institutional arrangements, and its effects, constitutes a research area of particular interest to the IOS.
The Relationship Between Continuity and Discontinuity as Guiding Research Perspective
In the last few centuries, and particularly in the most recent past as well as in the present, the region of East and Southeast Europe has experienced profound upheavals. Social, economic, political and cultural systems have repeatedly been fundamentally changed – be it through revolution or evolution, in (and through) war or in times of peace. Nevertheless, strong elements of continuity can be seen throughout all of these transformations. This relationship between continuity and discontinuity is one of the perspectives that guide research on topics of interest to the IOS. The cooperation between historians and economists, in particular, can generate new answers to questions of path dependence and its (ir)relevance. In doing so, the IOS is also interested in the differences both within East and Southeast Europe as well as between this region and Western Europe, for instance with regard to the permanent wealth gap and the legitimacy of institutions. We comprehend such disparity as a relational and by no means essential category. In the light of the intense interconnections within the region, as well as between East and Southeast Europe and other parts of the world, the region presents itself as an exemplary area of study for finding out whether, and to what extent, exchange relationships lead to convergence or enhance divergence – or whether both results occur at the same time, albeit differentiated according to the object of knowledge under consideration. In this regard, the question of different temporalities is important for identifying both long-term and short-term processes of change.
Bi-Disciplinary Structure as an Advantage
The research into both change and continuities demands questions about the objectives, opportunities for action, and perceptions of concrete social actors at different levels of the social hierarchy. Especially with regard to this issue the Institute's bi-disciplinary structure has proven to be a great advantage, since history and economics each place different actors and causalities into the focus of their analyses. The combination of both disciplines allows the interlinking of hermeneutical, qualitative and quantitative methods from perspectives that are directed towards the micro-level rather than the macro-level of social interaction.
The long-term horizon of knowledge that the IOS has laid down for its research is, in the middle-term, being approached along four key themes that present a productive perspective on the tension between path dependence and change. Furthermore, these three guiding themes highlight areas of great societal, and therefore also political, relevance:
- Governance between personalization and formalization
- Dynamics of exchange (migration and trade)
- Forms and relations of work in Change
- Frozen and unfrozen conflicts
There are multiple meeting points and analytical overlaps between these four issues, which lead to special synergies in research practice.