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Aid exchange

A sabbatical in Germany exceeds expectations for sociology professor


By Janet Harron

Whether studying foreign aid, climate change, migration, conflict or peace building, Dr. Liam Swiss and his fellow researchers at an interdisciplinary German research centre share a common belief.

The group of international fellows at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg /Centre for Global Cooperation Research in Duisburg agrees that improved global co-operation leads to substantial benefits regardless of the sector or the issue.

Dr. Swiss, a Memorial University sociology professor who researches the political sociology of foreign aid and international development, is spending the 2016-17 academic year at the centre.

Dr. Liam Swiss presenting during a colloquium in October.
Dr. Liam Swiss presenting during a colloquium in October.
Photo: Submitted

Dedicated to the research of global co-operation, the centre houses 15 to 20 fellows at any given time. With a multi-year research agenda that identifies specific areas of focus, the centre is comprised of four research teams, which are led by resident researchers specializing in that area.

Research fellows are selected through a competition to find those who fit best with the specific research focus and complement the work of other fellows.

Simple exchange?

Dr. Swiss is affiliated with a research unit focusing on the (im)possibility of co-operation.

Many consider foreign aid to be a transfer of money from a well-off country to a developing country. Dr. Swiss is studying how aid can promote a form of political globalization and is embodied by the exchange of ideas, expertise and organizational structures rather than simply an exchange of funds.

The Centre for Global Cooperation Research in Duisburg, Germany.
The Centre for Global Cooperation Research in Duisburg, Germany.
Photo: Submitted

“My project here examines how aid agencies of wealthier countries contribute to the building/reinforcement of the norms of aid and how the spread of global norms of aid, which include things as diverse as gender equality, environmentalism and the rule of law as promoted through aid programs and projects,” said Dr. Swiss, who will be based in Germany until the summer of 2017.

Global norms

This research overlaps with Dr. Swiss’s first year of research on his recent five-year Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant, Developing Conformity: Foreign Aid and the Diffusion of Global Norms (2016-21), in which he employs cross-national statistical analysis to examine the role of foreign aid and other forms of development finance in the diffusion of global norms.

“There is a lot of opportunity for sharing and discussion here at the centre and also opportunity to connect with the local policy research community at the German Development Institute in Bonn, the rest of the Dusburg-Essen community and to various workshops across Germany and Europe,” said Dr. Swiss, who will present at conferences in the Hague, Berlin and Barcelona early this year.

In May 2017 Dr. Swiss plans to host a workshop linked to his research at the centre featuring aid researchers from around the world.

Rich research environment

Overall his stay at the GCR and his sabbatical in Germany have far exceeded his expectations. Aside from the rich research environment, Dr. Swiss is also finding time to enjoy the year in Europe with his family.

“The combination of food, fun and Christmas cheer have been a great treat, though perhaps not the healthiest of diets!” — Dr. Liam Swiss

“We live close to my kids’ school in Düsseldorf, so we are enjoying the benefits of a larger urban area with great transit and cycling options as well as all the cultural and culinary opportunities that a European city this size provides,” he said.

“Despite the tragic events in Berlin, the Christmas markets here in December have been a real highlight — the combination of food, fun and Christmas cheer have been a great treat, though perhaps not the healthiest of diets!”

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