About the Project

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Protecting the Weak - Entangled processes of framing, mobilization and institutionalization in East Asia




An interdisciplinary project funded by the Volkswagen Foundation within its initiative "Key issues for Academia and Society" and launched on January 1st, 2014 at the IZO (Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies) at Goethe University.

Protection of the Weak

We find ourselves in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, public discourse and action are widely influenced by the tendency to shift responsibility from the state to the individual, but at the same time there is a growing consensus that the “weak” must be protected. This process has been described as “reflexive modernization” or “second modernity”. The concept of protection refers not only to weak individuals or groups, but also extends to such weak abstract interests which have fallen, or threaten to fall, victim to market forces or social change and thus have become considered vulnerable and in need of protection. While we witness a growing consensus that the „weak“ deserve protection, it is far butself-evident which groups or interests should count as “weak”. Rather the interesting question arises how social recognition of presumably weak groups or interests as being worth special protection is achieved.

What characterizes existing discursive practices, which concepts are currently available to legitimize protection measures, and what institutional solutions for the protection of the weak are in place, are all aspects of a process whose outcome is open and which is worthwhile to be examined. Much apparently this depends on differences in historical experience, social and economic structures, legal frameworks and power relations in the groups involved (including last but not least transnational networks of civil society and international organizations).

Modernization processes

This assumption applies generally, but it is particularly valid in East Asia which because of its “compressed modernization” has had to confront these processes particularly forcefully. For this reason the tacit assumption, frequently made, of a uniform (and reflexive) process of modernization is being challenged in East Asia. The concept of entangled modernities by Shalini Randeria thus seems best suited to grasp the interactive processes of translation, modification and appropriation of western discourses on protecting the weak and their amalgamation with indigenous traditions, be they genuine or invented.

Framing, Mobilization and Institutionalization analysis through four research clusters

The project analyzes these entangled processes of framing, mobilization and institutionalization through four comparative research clusters on Japan and China which look into both weak social groups and “weak” interests considered worth special protection, namely (1) victims of disaster, (2) employee wellbeing, (3) cultural heritage, and (4) animal welfare.

Key Questions

Key questions include: What are the driving factors of “entangled modernities” and what form do they typically take in East Asia societies? What concepts concerning the “weak” have been developed there? What are the dominant discourses and which groups of agents are involved? How can these groups influence the definition of who or what is perceived as “weak”? What institutional strategies are chosen, and how are they enforced? What repercussions can be observed or are to be expected for Western societies?

Principal Investigators and Research Team

Following various preparatory activities since 2012, the project, which is funded by Volkswagen Foundation within its initiative „Key Issues for Academia and Society” has got to a sucessful start in January 2014. Besides the for principal investigators Heike Holbig (Politics), Iwo Amelung (Sinology), Moritz Bälz (Law), and Cornelia Storz (Economics/Management), there are ten junior researchers and one coordinator on the team bringing together a diverse set of disciplinary and national backgrounds.

For a detailed project discription, please contact us.