Projects

Doctoral students at the GIGA are fully integrated into the institute’s research structure. They pursue different research topics that are reflected in the GIGA’s wide-ranging areas of expertise. The following interviews exemplify the in-depth research our doctoral students are engaged in.


Felix Haaß recently defended his dissertation on "Buying Democracy? The Political Economy of Foreign Aid, Power-Sharing Governments, and Post-Conflict Political Development". He told us about his motivations, challenges during the research process and shared his advice on how to handle them.

Questions

Felix Haaß

1. What was your initial motivation to address the topic of your dissertation?
In civil wars, politicians and rebel commanders typically use violence to resolve political questions, instead of following the rules and procedures of a democracy. So what makes rulers follow democratic limits on their power once the fighting stops? This basic puzzle of why warlords would democratize really caught my attention. I simply couldn’t find an immediate answer to it based on what I had learned in college—so I decided to attempt answering it in my dissertation.

2. What was the biggest challenge during your research process and how did you cope with it?
After settling on a topic, I worked hard to compile my initial dataset, learned statistics and software packages along the way, and absorbed a large literature on civil wars and post-conflict institutions, all of which finally enabled me to conduct my first analyses—only to find the complete opposite of what I expected to find. As surprising and challenging that moment was, it made me even more curious about finding out what was really going on—and a challenging moment turned into a motivational one.

3. What was the most valuable piece of advice that you received during your doctoral studies?
Finish things, even if you know they’re not perfect, and present them to the outside world early on; isolation and perfectionism can kill good work. Deadlines and conferences help to counterbalance that—so use them.

4. How did your participation in the GIGA Doctoral Programme influence you as a person, and in terms of your career planning?
I used quantitative methods in my dissertation—methods which I largely had to learn from scratch when I started out. The GIGA DP helped me not only to attend methods summer schools, but also provided basic methods training on its own. This helped me to acquire the necessary skills to finish my dissertation, and, surprisingly, led me to realize that I actually like research methods and statistics.


Julia Grauvogel defended her dissertation, which is entitled "The Internal Opposition Effect of International Sanctions: Insights from Burundi, Zimbabwe and a Qualitative Comparative Analysis of Sub-Saharan Africa", in January 2017. We asked her to tell us more about her research.

Questions

Julia Grauvogel

1. What was your initial motivation for addressing the topic of your dissertation?
Sanctions are one of the most popular foreign policy instruments in the 21st century, but their domestic repercussions are little understood. My goal was to open this black box and to learn more about how international sanctions affect domestic opposition to the targeted regimes.

2. What was your most influential experience during your time as a doctoral student?
My field research in Zimbabwe and Burundi has definitely shaped the way I think about sanctions today. Interviews with former presidents and local NGO activists have shown the profound impact that even targeted sanctions may have both on individuals and on broader societal debates.

3. What was the biggest challenge during your research process and how did you cope with it?
I can lively remember the feeling of perplexity when I was initially denied the research visa for my stay in Burundi. But I carried on, and after applying again, the Embassy granted me the research permit. Learning an entirely new method, QCA, also proved very difficult at times. In spite of these challenges, I would always choose to use QCA again.

4. Which moment of your working process would you like to relive / experience again?
I enjoyed the writing stage, when all pieces of evidence eventually fell into place. I also like to think back to my defense. It was a great reward after years of work to discuss my findings with some of the leading scholars in the field – and of course to celebrate afterwards.


Thorsten Wojczewski wrote his dissertation on “India and the Quest for World Order: Hegemony and Identity in India’s post-Cold War Foreign Policy Discourse.” We asked him about his research and his time in the Doctoral Programme.

Questions

Thorsten Wojczewski

1. What was your initial motivation for addressing the topic of your dissertation?
My main motivation for investigating India’s world order concepts was to understand the apparent contradictions and ambiguities in India’s foreign policy. Scholars and policymakers are often puzzled when they deal with India and cannot fully comprehend India’s behaviour. My dissertation offers important insights here.

2. What was your most influential experience during your time as a doctoral student?
The most influential experience was probably my visiting fellowship at the University of Oxford. Oxford offered a very stimulating environment for completing my dissertation and access to an impressive range of primary and secondary literature. In addition, the visiting fellowship gave me the opportunity to discuss my work with leading scholars.

3. To whom would you like to present the result of your research, if possible?
Like most scholars, I want to produce research that has an impact on the world. I already had the opportunity to present the findings of my dissertation to German policymakers at an event at the Federal Foreign Office. It was very interesting to discuss my results and to give policy recommendations.

4. Looking back: What advice would you now give to your younger self at the beginning of your doctoral studies?
Everything takes far longer than expected.


In Ina Peter's dissertation, entitled “Cohesion and Fragmentation in the Social Movement against Belo Monte", she analysed the collective action against what will be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric power plant. She gave us an insight into her research process.

Questions

Ina Peters

1. What was your initial motivation for addressing the topic of your dissertation?
I wrote my dissertation in the realm of the Hamburg International Graduate School for the Study of Regional Powers (HIGS). Brazil is considered one of these regional powers, and I was curious to learn more about the domestic conditions of Brazil’s rise. My study shows that the election of the Workers’ Party had severe repercussions for civil society organisations. While the country experienced domestic growth over many years, the relationship between the state and the civil society deteriorated.

2. What was your most influential experience during your time as a doctoral student?
During my field research I conducted interviews with settlers, fishers, and riverine and indigenous people who live inside and off of the forest. They have a very close and spiritual connection to nature, they see man as only one part of a complex system, and they have a very good sense of what sustainability really means. I was inspired by their perception of the world and I believe that modern societies can learn a lot from indigenous and tribal people.

3. What was the biggest challenge during your research process and how did you cope with it?
I had to change my research design several times. First, I was not able to collect the kind of data that I needed for a social network analysis. Then, I felt that my method of analysis was too limited to tease out the deeper meaning of the Belo Monte conflict. Eventually, I based my analysis on grounded theory methodology. It was a long process but the hard work paid off because I was able to reconstruct a comprehensive rationale of the conflict.

4. What was the most valuable piece of advice you received during your doctoral studies?
When I was analysing my interviews, which was extremely time-consuming, I came across a poster (designed by Facebook) saying “Done is better than perfect.” I put the poster up on my wall just above my computer screen, and whenever I got stuck I remembered that done is better than perfect. The poster helped me focus and take some pragmatic decisions in the last year of my dissertation.