Part 2: Research – „Painful Pandemic.“

Part 2: Research – „Painful Pandemic.“

In one sentence, explain what you are researching:

I am interested in understanding how policy ideas travel and are interpreted in different contexts.

And now in more detail: What do you do in particular?

I spend a lot of time reading. And then I gather “first hand” information to discover new things. That often means I talk a lot with people in China who work in local governments. I ask them questions about policymaking – like where they get their ideas from, or whether the policy ideas I’m studying and come from the West have had some influence on the policymaking process. In addition, I ask about what enabled or hindered them from advancing a particular policy, what they observed in its implementation, etc. Generally, several rounds of interviews are required before I obtain relevant information. These questions can sometimes be sensitive, so my interviewees need to know and trust me first.

In addition, in my study I focudes on the transfer of „sustainable“ urban renewal concepts to China and therefore took photos of buildings and streets in the old town, some of which were in need of renewal and some of which had already been renewed. In addition, I took photos of interiors i.e. what people’s living spaces looked like to document the characteristics of the old town and to show the need for renewal or the existing problems. In conversations with residents, I learned what people thought about their buildings, what they wanted or didn’t want, why they couldn’t do it, or what they were waiting for. I then integrate the on-site observations and conversations into my work as well.

What do you think is the most interesting part of your research?

What I absolutely love most is doing fieldwork, which for me above all means full immersion in China for several months. I study policy transfer and policy learning, that is, the importation of foreign policy ideas and practices into China. I am interested in whether these imports affect the local policy-making process, whether they are compatible, whether they can be translated into specific policies in China, and what these „translations“ or adaptations then look like. I try to understand the mindset and culture of the local administration. In addition, I try to get behind how officials interpret Communist Party messages, how they see the issue the Party is dealing with. So you can imagine that the pandemic is and was quite „painful“ for me, because it took away from me the thing that I love most in research.

What is your scientific goal?

Today things have changed a bit, but until the late 2000s, the literature was mainly dedicated to Western countries. My research focuses on China – first as a country that imports political ideas, and then as an exporting country. I want to understand whether a country s different as China’s-with its specific regime, administration, ideology, history, and diversity-can tell us something new about the phenomena of policy transfer. I also want to move away from the thesis that its „millennial culture,“ so unique and different from ours, produces completely different results.  By this I mean the idea of a „Confucian administrative culture“ that still influences the way administration works in China. There may be some remnants of traditional administrative culture that we can consider, but this kind of culture is not the only part of the explanation. I am doing research on public administration and have used texts by French and German scholars. What they have observed in terms of organizational behavior in their countries is in many cases also findable in China.

Your website says you „focus on transferring concepts of sustainable urban development from Europe to China“. Now China is not the first country that comes to mind when you think of the term „sustainability. Have you set yourself a particularly difficult target?

Hehehe, perhaps. In any case, the news we get from China, both from journalistic articles and from what colleagues write, is not encouraging. We keep reading that environmental protection efforts in China have not always been that effective.  But that doesn’t mean efforts aren’t being made: Some local governments are experimenting with different ideas, some are trying to continue on the path to sustainability started years ago, and sometimes the public is trying to move things forward. The road is still long, there are many obstacles, and it is certainly necessary to document these experiments and these different aspects to understand what is going on in China today. It is also necessary to understand how foreign countries are trying to transfer something to China, because sustainability is not always their primary goal. Western companies sometimes propose models or approaches that are not appropriate, but they don’t care, they want to sell products rather than help the Chinese local governments to find solutions, because China is first and foremost too interesting an economic market for them.

The questions were asked by Jennifer Meina.
Status: 11/2021

Picture credits: © UDE / Frank Preuß