PhDs in Socio-Economics: New Research Paths

Earning one’s PhD is one of the main hurdles in an academic career. While the title gives access to otherwise unobtainable jobs, the work itself can be forgotten; in the rush to publish articles and search for a new academic position, the thesis itself can easily lose out. We wanted to give a bit of extra attention to this accomplishment, and so present to you a selection of some of (nearly) finished PhDs in the field of socio-economics. They present the new strands of research within our field and show a continuous diversity in topics and geography.

               The five PhDs below give a great representation of the developments in the discipline, tapping into new empirical objects, from the development of colonial stock markets to new forms of job training.

               Mariusz Lukasiewicz’s thesis discusses the development of the Johannesburg (SA) stock exchange in the 19th century, bringing together studies on colonialism as well as finance; another historical thesis, by Inga Rademacher, concerns tax reform and the decline of unionization in the US and Germany. Rodolfo Roberto Uebel will defend his thesis in 2018 on Brazil’s migration foreign policy under the Lula and Rousseff presidencies; Yves Blanchet, PhD from the University of Montreal, also looks at the efficiency of policy, focusing on the Quebecois government’s has implementation of training centers (mutual centers) to help SMEs develop their employees’ occupational capabilities; and Zhongzhen Miao’s dissertation looks at bottom-up innovation within Chinese firms and institutions.

               In addition to reading the dissertation abstracts below, you may enjoy the short video presentations by Yves Blanchet, Zhongzen Miao and Roberto Rodolfo Uebel, in which they explain their research (you can do so by clicking on their names above).

Anne van der Graaf

Gold, Finance, and Speculation: The Making of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, 1887-1899

Mariusz Lukasiewicz, University of Leipzig


               On 12th of May 2017, Mariusz Lukasiewicz defended his PhD thesis in International History, entitled “Gold, Finance and Speculation: The Making of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, 1887–1899” at the Graduate Institute of International and Development in Geneva, Switzerland. Associate Professor Aidan Russell presided the examining committee, which included Professor Marc Flandreau, Thesis Director, (now University of Pennsylvania) and Professor Youssef Cassis, from the European University Institute, Italy.

               More than two decades after the dismantling of apartheid, South Africa remains deeply segregated. If apartheid is taken as not just an ideology of racism and racial segregation, but also a system of economic exploitation, it becomes difficult to say that it has meaningfully ended. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) has in many ways been at the center of current discourse on South Africa’s white monopoly capitalism and the government’s inability to reduce the country’s staggering economic inequality. South Africa’s capital market, the most developed on the African continent, is still largely dominated by white-owned conglomerates, making it difficult for South Africa’s black majority to raise financial capital beyond the confines of the local banking sector. This dissertation provided important historical insight into the early forces of international finance and South Africa’s current state of economic inequality and racial segregation.

Despite its 130-year history, no previous study has attempted to investigate the establishment and development of Africa’s oldest existing stock exchange as an integral aspect of 19th century financial capitalism. The dissertation project presents an historical account and analysis of the origins, foundations, and development of the JSE between its establishment in 1887 and its temporary closure at the outbreak of the South African War in 1899. The development of the JSE is woven interchangeably with the history of Johannesburg’s mining industry and the growth of the city as a crucial supplier of gold to global monetary systems at the height of the classical gold standard. Following the early financial developments in Kimberley, Barberton, London, Paris, and finally Johannesburg, this dissertation investigates the social, financial, and economic connections between the rise of South Africa’s gold mining industry and its foremost financial institution during the first age of financial globalization.

The first twelve years of the JSE’s history not only coincide with the European colonization of southern Africa, but more importantly, expose the active participation of certain members of the Exchange in the British imperial project. Using neglected original documentation from the Exchange and partner financial intermediaries in southern Africa and Europe, this dissertation demonstrated the close personal alliances, inter-institutional discrepancies, and legislative framework of the JSE in a dynamic study of Africa’s oldest and largest financial capital market. 


Common Ground: Justifications of Neoliberal Tax Cuts in the US and Germany

Inga Rademacher, Defended at MPIFG and University of Cologne, Germany

               The dissertation Common Ground: Justifications of Neoliberal Tax Cuts in the US and Germany traces the formation of political ideas in the field of tax policy, explaining how policy makers developed convincing narratives for individuals earning higher incomes to receive tax cuts in the US and Germany.

               During the 1980s, such reforms were either blocked in parliamentary bodies, as was the case for Helmut Kohl in Germany, or had to be repealed after passage, as when protests caused a crisis of confidence for the Reagan administration. The thesis explains why such obstacles to reduce redistribution in the income tax system were no longer in place when George W. Bush and Gerhard Schroeder implemented their tax cuts in the early 2000s, reducing the top personal income tax rate from 39.6% to 35% and 52% to 42% respectively. The dissertation argues that political ideas were crucial in providing a ‘moral fiber’ to justify tax cuts but had to correspond to and be coherent with new structures of the political economy.

               During the 1980s, policymakers proposed tax cuts by using the academic language of supply-side economists that focused on concepts of incentives and investments. These concepts did not successfully appeal to party bases on the left or the right, nor to trade unions, women’s groups, or civil rights groups, which dominated the political debates at the time. Only when the international Third Way movement and an epistemic community of political theorists developed new justice concepts for the left did the political discourse shift toward cutting taxes for higher incomes. Increasingly, the left turned its conception of social justice and redistribution into one of market fairness and equal opportunities. The dissertation shows that this emerging discourse which legitimated tax cuts for the rich was deeply embedded in structural changes in the political economy.

               The most important driver of this change in political ideas was the decline in trade unions. In both countries, trade unions had traditionally channeled political and moral inspiration from the grassroots to the party leaders. The AFL-CIO and the DGB had aligned workers from different sectors with activists from women’s, civil rights, and religious groups. When this protest infrastructure collapsed between the late 1980s and the 1990s, parties from the left lost touch with their traditional voter bases. The thesis thus contributes to approaches of ‘moral economy’ that understand the political economy as a set of historically distinct and deeply intertwined social relations of economy and society. 


The Change in the Brazilian Migratory Foreign Policy between the Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff Governments

Roberto Rodolfo Georg Uebel, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

This doctoral thesis, developed in the International Strategic Studies Graduate Program of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil, analyzes the foreign policy of the governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), specifically focusing on the issue of international migrations to Brazil. The thesis is directed by Professor Dr. Sonia Maria Ranincheski and funded by the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES).

The dissertation’s central hypothesis is that international migrations to Brazil were motivated by the differentiated strategic insertion of these two governments into two specific regions: Latin America and Africa – precisely those regions with the largest influx during the period analyzed. However, as there was no defined immigration policy in either government, the attraction, management, and coordination of migrations occurred through foreign policy. As such, this thesis argues that there was a “migratory foreign policy”.

The resumption of international migration flows toward Brazil was due to the country’s strategic insertion in Latin America and Africa and the change of its foreign policy regarding these regions between the governments of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. The strategic insertion of the Brazilian case and the attraction of potential immigrants to the country is based on four pillars: the country’s participation in humanitarian missions in Haiti and Africa; the More Doctors Program; cooperation and scholarship and fellowship granting programs; and the promotion of the country by migratory and international labor networks as an alternative to the United States, European Union, and other traditional destinations. The immigration of Latin Americans and Africans to Brazil from 2003-2015 is not part of a classical growth-stabilization-decline migratory cycle.

This doctoral research is expected to prove some issues that continue to have political and economic impact on the formulation of public policies, governmental agendas, and civil society debates in Brazil, namely: the dubious humanitarian character of Brazil’s strategic insertion in Latin America and Africa during the two administrations analyzed; the country’s receptivity to migrants as non-original; the verification of an effective change, reorientation, and differentiation of the migratory foreign policies of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff; and the prevailing of political interests and agendas that sometimes prioritized or restricted the admission of certain immigrant groups, such as Bolivians, Haitians, Cubans, and Venezuelans.


Training Mutuals and Their Contribution to Skills Development

Yves Blanchet, PhD, University of Montreal 

               This PhD thesis sets out to identify the contribution that institutional training mutuals make to skill development in the workforce. It also seeks to understand factors that prompt institutional training mutuals to contribute to skills development.

               Research shows that training activity participation rates are lower among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which can prove detrimental to developing workforce skills. Over the last decade, the government in the Canadian province of Quebec, in cooperation with labor-market partners, has set up intermediary institutions called training mutuals. According to the literature, however, the relative efficiency of these training mutuals remains unknown. This leads us to ask: What contribution do training mutuals make to skill development in the workforce and what factors play key roles in this contribution?

               From a methodological point of view, the thesis is structured around four case studies of training mutuals recognized by law in Quebec and belonging to different sectors of economic activity. The collection of the qualitative data was carried out by way of semi-structured interviews, both with actors involved in training mutual and secondary sources.

               The comparative analysis shows that the contribution of these structures varies in importance from one training mutual to the next. The dissertation contributes to the identification of institutional entrepreneurs that stand apart from all other actors involved in training mutuals and to the understanding of their influence on the contribution to skills development. Our analysis also shows that training mutuals will have a greater chance of succeeding in contributing to skills development if institutional entrepreneurs are among the actors revolving around training mutuals and if mutuals find positive complementarities with other institutions.

               Quebec’s intermediary institutions are very good at mobilizing resources for skills development; however, our results show that training mutuals do not necessarily succeed in mobilizing resources. Our research also shows that, unlike other actors, when there are institutional entrepreneurs who revolve around training mutuals, they can play a key role in mobilizing resources for the benefit of skills development in the workforce.


The Impact of China’s System of Innovation on Bottom-up Learning for Innovation in Firms

Zhongzhen Miao, PhD, University of Birmingham, UK

               Existing literature on National Systems of Innovation (NSI) mainly focuses on the impact of NSI on national or sectoral-level innovations. How NSI impacts firm-level innovation still lacks theoretical exploration. China is widely criticized for its poor innovation capability due to the lack of bottom-up innovation as reported by the OECD and various scholars. The literature shows that nearly 70% of knowledge employed in successful technological innovation is developed through Bottom-up learning (BUL), which is thus increasingly recognized as a crucial part of process of technological innovations development.

               This study aims to develop a theoretical framework by analyzing and evaluating how two sets of institution of China’s NSI (corporate governance & firm’s access to capital) contribute to the development of innovation on the firm level through bottom-up learning (BUL). Thirty-seven in-depth interviews in seven leading firms in China’s automobile and railway equipment sectors were carried out in this research using multiple case studies. The sampled cases include four State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) owned by the central government, two SOEs owned by local government (provinces), and one private limited firm. The author has performed cross-case analyses to identify and examine the impact of corporate governance along with firms’ access to capital on the likelihood of adopting BUL practices in firms.

               This study contributes to existing knowledge in three ways. First, it shows how NSI shapes firms’ BUL choices for innovation depending on four institutional factors: (1) whether the top manager of a firm is an insider or outsider, (2) the length of employment of the top manager, (3) the firm’s access to capital, and (4) the level of competition faced by the firm. Second, based on the analysis of the four factors above, a new finding is that central and local SOEs should be separately considered because they face different institutional conditions for BUL for innovation. Third, to support the analysis between NSI and BUL, the study operationalizes the concept of BUL by systematically introducing five underlying practices. This makes BUL a practical tool for management practitioners to develop firms’ innovation capability through adopting BUL practices.


Have you finished your PhD project? Is the end in sight? Do you want the world to know about your research? The SASE newsletter is looking for presentations of finished, or nearly finished, PhD projects on socio-economic topics. Let us know about the theoretical insights and empirical results that have resulted from those years of hard work. Wherever you come from or whatever your topic, as long as it is related to socio-economics, we would love to hear from you. Send us an abstract of approximately 400 words sketching the research and results, and we will feature it in the newsletter (space permitting).

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This article is taken from
SASE Winter Newsletter 17/18
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