Global Dynamics of Social Policy and Social Cohesion (GSPSC)

We currently welcome applications for the Graduate School Scholarship Program "Global Dynamics of Social Policy and Social Cohesion" (GSPSC) until December 15, 2023.

Please download the Call for Applications and refer to our Application & Admission page for further information. 


Research Program

For the program Global Dynamics of Social Policy and Social Cohesion (GSPSC), BIGSSS was selected by the DAAD to host four international PhD students in its Graduate School Scholarship Programme (GSSP). The first two fellows started their PhDs in September 2023, two more will follow in September 2024.

GSPSC focuses on the question of how social policy and social cohesion are related on a global, regional or national level. Comparative or transnational perspectives that address interdependencies between the Global South and North are especially welcome. Single country case studies may scrutinize the complex interlinkages between social policy and social cohesion.

Potential dissertation projects may address one or more of the following topics and/or questions:

  1. What are the specific forms or instances of social cohesion or social dis/integration that trigger the establishment of social policy? When and how do divisions between social groups (classes, ethnic groups, etc.) translate into political cleavages that involve a mobilization for social policies aimed at strengthening social cohesion?
  2. Which forms of social policy increase or decrease social cohesion? Are there also disintegrative effects of social policy? Are there specific forms of social policy that are especially contested between groups?
  3. Are there functional equivalents to the welfare state fostering social integration?
  4. Can social orders be stable without institutions designed to ensure social cohesion?

The program has strong ties to Bremen’s CRC 1342 “Global Dynamics of Social Policy” and the national Research Centre for Social Cohesion FGZ/RISC. Furthermore, there is an intense exchange with the fellows of our DAAD Programme “GloWel – Global Inequality, the Middle Class and the Welfare State” - having started in 2021 and 2022 - and the new PhD students of the RTG “Social Dynamics of the Self” who started in spring 2021 and 2023.


Faculty Associated with the Program

All doctoral education at BIGSSS is geared at a good fit between the PhD projects of our fellows and the research focus areas of the faculty involved. We believe that doing a PhD is most fulfilling for all parties if there is a mutually shared and genuinely scientific interest in the projects. Therefore, all applicants of the GSPSC program have to demonstrate a broad thematic fit between the dissertation proposal and the corresponding supervisors outlined research interests as listed below.


Prof. Dr. Hilke Brockmann

Professor Brockmann’s research focuses on subjective well-being, social inequality, and data science research. Applicants who are interested in one better in two or even in all three areas combined are very welcome.

Here are some examples:

  • Can the world afford the rich?
  • Can data science improve wealth research?
  • How does global migration affect the subjective well-being of sending and receiving societies?
  • Do education policies decide how you feel and how you vote?
  • Who does the internet make happy and who unhappy?
  • Would a global Happiness Index provide for better policies?


Prof. Dr. Sebastian Fehrler

Sebastian Fehrler's research interests lie in the fields of public, organizational, and behavioral economics. He applies game theory and experiments (lab and field) to address his research questions. His research agenda focuses on decision-making and communication in groups (such as, committees or cartels), and the evaluation of social-policy interventions (mainly in the Global South). Applicants interested in these fields are welcome.

These are a few research questions that we address in our group:

  • What social policy interventions can be used to reach vulnerable groups, effectively reduce their poverty and improve their future prospects?
  • How do people behave in strategic decision-making situations, e.g. when it comes to making an optimal group decision?
  • How well can behavior in such situations be predicted by game theory?
  • What other behavioral economic factors (bounded rationality, social preferences), which are often left out of game-theoretic models for the sake of simplicity, play a role?


Prof. Dr. Olaf Groh-Samberg

Olaf Groh-Samberg is not available as supervisor in the current application round 2023-24. 

Professor Groh-Samberg welcomes dissertation proposals on changing class structures in countries of the global south. He is particularly interested in the relation between economic, cultural and political dimensions of class formation, and specifically on emerging middle classes.

Possible research questions are:

  • When and how are middle classes emerging in countries of the Global South - what are conditions and dynamics?
  • What are the cultural values and political orientations of middle classes in the Global South?
  • What are the consequences of emerging middle classes for the overall class structures in the Global South?


Prof. Dr. Sebastian Haunss

Sebastian Haunss is interested in applications that focus either on health politics in the Global South or on protests and/or social movements.

Possible fields of research are:

  • Development and Reforms of Health Care Systems (or Health Policies) in the Global South: country or regional case studies, comparative research
  • Mobilizing and Protesting about Climate Change: especially with a focus on countries outside Europe
  • Global Issues, Local Protest: studies that address how local protests take up broader/global issues, preferably using protest event analysis
  • Protest and Social Cohesion: How do protests endanger or strengthen social cohesion?


Prof Dr. Torben Klarl

Professor Torben Klarl welcomes theoretically grounded applications that focus on the social and economic consequences of income and wealth inequality both with a sub-national and national perspective. Knowledge of modern empirical methods (panel and time series econometrics) and sound knowledge using dynamic optimization techniques would be desirable.

Possible research questions that could be addressed are:

  • The consequences of pandemics (such as Covid-19 or Spanish flu etc.) on wealth and income inequality. Proposals that work with historical data are of particular interest.
  • Pandemic shocks, climate change, and income inequality. Proposals that focus on developing countries are very welcomed.
  • Human capital inequality, life expectancy, and automation: Implications for the design of an environmental policy.
  • The Economics of data: data as an economic good, growth and inequality implications, welfare aspects


Dr. Mandi Larsen

Dr. Larsen welcome applications which examine the intersection of family and health care policy with social cohesion. In particular, she is interested in theoretically grounded research which applies a critical and gendered lens. Possible research topics could include:

  • The role of family and/or health policy in the social cohesion of a society
  • How welfare states can foster greater social cohesion using family and/or health policy
  • The impacts of family and/or health policy on marginalized groups, particularly related to social cohesion 


Prof. Dr. Wiebke Antonia Rabe

Professor Rabe welcomes applications on social policy with a regional focus on China, digitalization, environmental governance and climate change. She advises projects which are especially based on fieldwork including in-depth interviews.

Possible research questions are:

  • Do what degree does digitalization further equality/inequality and inclusion/exclusion?
  • How do state-society interaction impact social policy-making and implementation?
  • Under what conditions does interregional collaboration between richer and poorer regions allow for improved living standards and what are hindrances for interregional solidarity?
  • In what way are social aspects included into Chinese overseas investment activities and what are the implications for local societies in the host countries?


Prof. Dr. Patrick Sachweh

Patrick Sachweh is not available as supervisor in the current application round 2023-24. 

 Professor Sachweh welcomes applications that investigate how social cohesion and solidarity can be achieved despite the existence of stark economic, social or cultural divisions between groups, countries or world regions. Specifically, he is interested in motives underlying solidarity between individuals in unequal status positions.

Possible research questions include:

  • What explains the emergence of aid and social support between actors in distant world regions, such as the Global North and Global South?
  • What is the role of transnational economic elites and “the rich” for social cohesion? Is a locally and nationally detached upper-class emerging?
  • What forms transnational social policy can be identified that would promote redistribution or risk-pooling across national borders? Who supports them?


Prof. Dr. Tobias ten Brink

Professor ten Brink welcomes applications that investigate social policy dynamics and inequality in large emerging economies such as China, Brazil, and India. In particular, the social results of social policy reforms of the last decades shall be scrutinized.  

Possible research questions are:  

  • How can we explain social policy dynamics in the risk fields of old age, sickness, maternity, and unemployment?  
  • Does the expansion of welfare regimes in large emerging economies serve to combat poverty, inequality and to avoid the “middle income trap”? To what extent do factors such as gender, migration status or ethnicity influence the results of social policy?
  • How can we account for legitimation and political stabilization effects of social policy in authoritarian states and/or defective democracies?  


Prof. Dr. Simone Scherger

Simone Scherger is particularly interested in applications dealing with the relationship between family solidarity and other, more extensive forms of solidarity (and how it is affected by social policies), in the normative legitimations of social policies and questions connected to the life course, solidarity and cohesion.

Possible research questions are:

  • How do family solidarity and more extensive forms of social solidarity (such as those embodied by welfare states) relate to each other? Is a ‘substitution’ of the former by the latter plausible or rather patterns of mutual reinforcement (crowding in)? How does this relationship vary in comparison between (countries of) the Global North and the Global South?
  • How are different normative legitimations of social policies connected to social cohesion? Which role does their inclusivity or exclusivity play, and do (neo-)liberal justifications and a higher degree of privatization go together with less cohesion and potential for solidarity (on different levels)?
  • How do attitudes of social solidarity on their different levels change over the life course and across cohorts, and why? Are later born cohorts per se more cosmopolitan in their attitudes?


Prof. Dr. Michael Windzio

Michael Windzio is not available as supervisor in the current application round 2023-24. 

Professor Windzio welcomes applications that investigate the social and economic causes and consequences of global migration and residential mobility, in particular with respect to institutions, social networks and social cohesion.

Possible research questions are:

  • Which national and transnational factors generate global migration?
  • How is global migration linked with institutional instability and fragile states?
  • Which aspects of cultural diversity are relevant for the integration of immigrants? Which aspects correspond with ethnic, cultural and religious boundaries, and why?
  • How is ethnic, cultural and religious diversity related to trust, cooperation and social cohesion, within and between groups?
  • How can we empirically measure homophily, as well as ethnic, cultural and religious segregation of ties in social networks? How is this segregation related to social conflicts and deviant/violent behaviour?
  • What are the causes of small-scale residential mobility? How does micro-level residential mobility aggregate to micro-level structures of residential segregation?