"A key player in overcoming our contemporary crises"

2021-12-17 An interview with Prof. Dr. Mario Mechtel, Prof. Dr. Michael Koß and Prof. Dr. Jörg Philipp Terhechte, three of the six members of the founding team, on the occasion of the founding of the new School of Public Affairs at Leuphana University Lüneburg.

What prompted the founding of the new School?

Terhechte: The new School ultimately embodies the capstone for a consistent development of the disciplines of political science, law and economics at Leuphana. We have built up cooperation structures over many years and developed initial projects in teaching and learning. In this respect, it made sense to found a School, especially since we can now sharpen our academic profile with a series of upcoming new appointments. 

Koß: We also have to acknowledge: The state is back. Even liberals no longer regard it as dispensable, but on the contrary as the decisive actor in overcoming our contemporary crises. We are responding to this with the new School.

Mechtel: And for some years now there has been a joint interdisciplinary master's programme, which highlights that there are numerous interfaces between the three subjects.  We will now emphasise these even more in our research, both internally and externally.

From your perspective, what distinguishes the new School?

Koß: We have known since the pioneering work of Max Weber that modernity is marked by continued regulation and bureaucratisation. Until recently, many have been unaware of who actually sets these rules and, above all, monitors compliance with them. We are now refocusing our attention on the state, because of course it constitutes this authority. For this reason alone, it makes sense to study the sciences of the state.

Terhechte: At Leuphana, we have always been careful in recent years to ensure that our research foci and structures go hand in hand. However, civil society, which plays a major role for us, is only conceivable in superordinate structures. In this respect, addressing the topic of "statehood" from an interdisciplinary perspective is an important next step.

Mechtel: Political science, law, and economics all address questions from closely related subject areas. In most cases, however, these issues surrounding the concept of the "state" cannot be examined in isolation through the lens of just one discipline. Let's look at a very simple example: if I, as an economist, wish to evaluate the effect of a law that was introduced some time ago, it helps me immensely to exchange ideas with colleagues from the legal sciences in order to fully understand the institutional regulations. Likewise, contact with colleagues from political sciences helps me when I wish to understand which political constellations led to the abolition of a law that was actually effective according to the evaluation results.  In the past, we have already seen these complementarities both in research and in teaching, and now, with the founding of the new School, we will continue to pursue this common path consistently.

Which research foci will the School of Public Affairs pursue?

Koß: From a political science perspective, it will primarily be about the question of democracy. How do we ensure that the state meets new challenges without compromising its democratic character? At the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Leuphana, we are therefore concerned with the normative, cultural and institutional foundations of democracy at the local, national and international levels.

Mechtel: Economics at Lüneburg follows an empirical orientation. We are interested in identifying causal relationships in the real world. An essential range of our research involves the evaluation of policy measures, but also evaluation of the decisions of (inter)national institutions, and of companies. Especially in the area of policy evaluation, which is becoming increasingly important in times of fake news and perceived truths, we recognise specific links to the other two subjects, as I have already illustrated with the example. Knowledge about the incentives of political decision-makers as well as the legal design of institutions and measures is essential for a solid empirical evaluation.

Terhechte: In jurisprudence, we are particularly concerned with the europeanisation and internationalisation of the legal system and the question of how law is to be understood in an age of social transformation and  what role it plays. In addition, we are very interdisciplinary. And if you take a closer look at these focal points of the disciplines involved in the new School, the potential for close cooperation becomes apparent. It is about fundamental questions: How do we organise our society and the state in the future? What political, legal and economic framework conditions must be taken into account? What role do the EU and international organisations play in a modern understanding of statehood? It is obvious that a number of exciting research questions will arise quasi-automatically.

What research synergies do you want to use?

Koß: In the new School we have the opportunity to appoint a total of 11 professors, three of them in the area of political science. We intend to use two of these professorships specifically to advance the integration of the disciplines. One is a professorship for policy field analysis, in which legal policy is to play an important role, and the other is a junior professorship for political economy.

Mechtel: We would like to further expand the respective strengths of the three participating disciplines and further deepen the interdisciplinary approach on the basis of strong disciplines. The area of "evidence-based policy" just mentioned offers exciting links between the disciplines from the economics perspective. In addition, we are currently establishing an interdisciplinary research colloquium in which we can draw inspiration from the contributions of the other fields. Initial consultations in the run-up to the founding of the School have already uncovered many a surprise with regard to similar research interests. The appointment of a new junior professorship for "Law and Economics" is an important element in this mosaic.

Terhechte: Ultimately, it is a matter of not just flaunting the concept of interdisciplinarity, but of realising the collaboration of the different disciplines in daily practice. Links are joint study programmes and scientific events, but also important joint research projects.

How will it be networked and visible internationally?

Terhechte: The new School has numerous international collaborations, for example with universities in France and the United Kingdom. We are organizing a joint master's program with the University of Glasgow and the University of the West Indies. In addition, there is a new Erasmus Mundus Master's program with partner universities from all over Europe. It is important to us that our students always have the opportunity to gain academic experience abroad. In addition, our colleagues have many contacts abroad, which they naturally also want to make fruitful for the new School.

Koß: Initially, political science in Lüneburg has a joint double bachelor's program with the Université Paris-Est Créteil. In research, we all cooperate closely with partners in Europe, the USA - and actually the whole world. My colleague Chris Welzel, for example, is vice president of the World Values Survey Association, which studies changes in global value attitudes.

Mechtel: Research in economics has a very international orientation. Here at the Institute of Economics, there are numerous collaborations with scientists from abroad, for example from universities in Zurich, London, Madrid, Amsterdam, Glasgow, Essex, Aarhus, Bergen, to name just a few. An annual conference on microeconomic research topics held in the spring deepens these contacts and also enables PhD students to become part of the existing networks. For the post-pandemic period, we are also working on expanding international exchange opportunities for our students.

What is special about the new School (and/or their way of working)?

Mechtel: We are three independent subjects that research central questions of our time from very different perspectives and thus inspire each other. There is a great openness and curiosity, simply a very positive dynamic. Of course, we have all been used to exchanging ideas with colleagues via videoconferencing for many years and use these opportunities very productively - but the fact that the three disciplines are gathered in one building and the distances are therefore short should not be underestimated. In addition, the exchange with the students is very close, which is also due to the relatively small number of students in each of the study programs - especially in a national comparison - which allows for an excellent supervision ratio.

Terhechte: We want to combine research and teaching in a very special way. The state as a complex phenomenon can only be meaningfully grasped in this way. Interdisciplinarity and internationality will certainly play an overriding role here.

Koß: Instead of constantly chasing a new sow through the village like many others, we will devote ourselves to a supposedly outdated question, namely that of the state, its constitution, its possibilities and its limits. "Bringing the state back in" was once a demand within American political science, whose fulfillment was then eclipsed by the next fashion. We are on it and do not want to be distracted!

How should it develop over the next few years?

Koß: The new professorships will enable political science to sharpen its democracy profile on the one hand and to cooperate more closely with the other two disciplines on the other. This should open up completely new perspectives, especially for research cooperation.

Mechtel: We have the great opportunity to be part of a School that is growing in perspective and thus to further strengthen the visibility of our research topics in an inspiring academic environment. From my point of view, it is important that research and teaching go hand in hand and that we introduce master's students to research in particular.

Terhechte: The School of Public Affairs will play an outstanding role in northern Germany - and certainly beyond - thanks to the combination of subjects. Through new study programs and international cooperation, we want to help ensure that our students are optimally prepared for the challenges that the next decades will bring.

Thank you!


  • Prof. Dr. Michael Koß
  • Prof. Dr. Mario Mechtel
  • Prof. Dr. Jörg Philipp Terhechte