Political Innovation in East Asian Cities

Question 1-3

Research Group 2 Political Innovation in East Asian Cities

Youngah Guahk, Momoyo Hüstebeck, Weijing Le

Research Group Leader:
Dr. Momoyo Hüstebeck

PhD students:
Youngah Guahk (Supervisor: Prof. Dr. A. Klein)
Weijing Le (Supervisor: Prof. Dr. A. Klein)


Over recent decades, Asia has experienced dramatic economic growth, which has initiated processes of modernization, urbanization and mobility. These rapid developments have led to social and political changes such as migration, individualization and new forms of citizen participation. Addressing the urban challenges, new instruments of policy-making and political control have been implemented at the local level.

As a consequence of the rapid transformations, innovations have increasingly attracted academic attention. Previous studies appear to have focused not on political, but mainly on economic or technical innovations. However, as the latter are also embedded in society, social sciences can serve to identify social impacts or approaches to counter the urban challenges. Following prevailing concepts in social sciences (Polsby 1984: 8; Howaldt/Jacobsen 2010; Gillwald 2000), innovations are considered as fundamental, deep and sustainable social or political changes. Starting from this common approach, the research group explores specifically political innovations defined as new governance structures or outputs. Due to sustainable adaptations of prevailing policies to altered needs, the inventions are recognized as political innovations.

Based on this definition, a particular research focus lies on policy processes which trigger fundamental reforms in different urban fields. Aiming to increase our understanding of the character, causes, and consequences of the political innovations, their trajectory is scrutinized. In addition, actors’ motives and interactions are explored. Moreover, as innovations are defined as sustainable, their policies or outputs are evaluated.

Beyond this conceptual framework, political innovations in the field of urban governance in Korea, Japan and China are investigated. Two doctoral projects are being undertaken within the research group, one focusing on political innovations in the context of Chinese higher education and the other on eco-cities in Japan and Korea. Additionally, a postdoctoral research project explores democratic innovations in subnational entities, based on a comparison of Japan and Germany.

As a further step, the three-country sample aims to reveal the specific national political and social conditions required for innovations. Urban case studies will provide explanations for the macro-development and government structures in each state. Beyond national studies, further comparative research could potentially provide an insight into innovation in the East Asian region as a whole from a transnational perspective.

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