ISS Research Groups

Focus on ISS

The ISS research programme, Global Development and Social Justice, consists of four cross-cutting research themes. Each of these research themes are explored and analysed through different perspectives by four research groups.

Operating within the framework of the research programme and contributing to the overall research objectives of the institute, the research groups bring together academic staff, post-docs and PhD researchers for day-to-day interactions, discussions on future research directions, exchange of ideas, seminars, and discussion and implementation of research plans and projects. While the research themes are expected to be dynamic and may change as new themes may be added, the research groups provide a relatively more stable administrative and intellectual home for our researchers.

Together, the four research groups mobilize the intellectual capital that is present at the institute for research activities that are undertaken by staff within or across the groups, depending on the nature of the research topic. The four research groups reflect the diversity of research at ISS in terms of research foci and methodological approaches.

Development Economics

Development Economic research group

The Development Economics research group is a lively and diverse group of development economists. We apply an interdisciplinary approach combined with a variety of theoretical perspectives to answer pressing questions about poverty, inequality and growth but we also extend our analyses to the study of institutions, conflict, gender, health and well-being as well as social norms and sustainability. Our research also looks at how sanctions impact targeted countries, the political economy of social protection and how conflict impacts fiscal capacity. We further analyse financial depth and inward investment, processes behind deglobalization, as well as the impact of natural resources on conflict, but also happiness, democratic development and growth. 

The research we employ is innovative not only in terms of content, but also in terms of methods. We are experienced in compiling large datasets and constructing indicators such as the Indices of Social Development. We employ experimental and quasi-experimental impact evaluation techniques to assess social programmes and reforms across the world for their transformative potential. We also have a network of experts in research synthesis in the form of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. All these efforts have one common goal: to put people at the centre of an inclusive development process.

To achieve our objectives, our research involves innovative projects such as the use of drones to assess environmental damage, the use of SMS messages to increase psycho-social well-being or the use of lab-in-the-field experiments to assess intuitive help and punishment or adjustment to conflict settings.

In short, we are a thriving and collaborative group of engaged economists. We provide an economic perspective to development processes around the globe. We like to think outside the box and to combine different approaches and views to address recurring development questions and challenges from new perspectives.

Political Ecology

©Anna K. Voss

The Political Ecology research group brings together researchers from a variety of disciplinary and geographical angles working on how resource scarcities are created and contested. We approach resources in a broad sense, not only natural and physical resources, but also social and economic – our work focuses on land, food, water, the environment, disasters, conflicts and climate change, but also on subjects less conventionally associated with ecology such as social policy, population and demography, gender, or children and youth.

Indeed, it is this integration of political ecology with themes of social reproduction, intersectionality and feminism(s), with rigorous investigations into issues of poverty, inequality and social exclusion, and with systemic consideration of processes of capitalist socioeconomic development and structural transformation, that makes our group particularly distinctive, cutting edge and internationally recognized. 

Our activities also feature a strong element of scholar activism. The urgent, pressing issues of concern that motivate us include:

  • Climate change and environmental disasters such as food, water and energy crises, in particular working in collaborations with critical NGOs;
  • Community-organized alternatives such as movements for food sovereignty, agro-ecology, open-source agriculture and technology, land reform campaigns and degrowth initiatives, through partnering with farm and food movements;
  • Inequality and social justice including racial and gender discrimination, through cooperating with trades unions, migrant and refugee organizations and global South institutions;
  • Employment crises and universalistic approaches to social policy.

We emphasize the necessity of approaching these issues from a political economy angle that focuses on the interaction between local, national and global sources of power within contemporary capitalism, including how policies shape distributional and other conflicts within and between societies. Our multi-scalar analysis covers rural and agrarian societies as well as urban and metropolitan conglomerates in their interdependence at regional and global levels. 

Civic Innovation

©Richard Toppo

The Civic Innovation research group consists of a group of international scholar-activists committed to social justice. Our research is concerned with the mechanisms that marginalize and impoverish underrepresented people in dominant development and academic paradigms – and how to counter these processes for progressive social change by combining expertise from different disciplines. Through published work and project partnerships, we aim to explore and generate social action in fields ranging from social movements to frugal innovation and many topics in between.

In our research, we co-create diverse forms of knowledges together with people and communities. Here, the ‘civic’ part of the research group’s name reflects both the current understanding of civic as ‘being part of the community’ and our critical engagement with the term’s historical origin which excluded marginalized people. These concerns translate into participatory and collaborative research approaches that counter the exclusion of people’s own voices and representations. Such transformative methodologies allow us to continuously expand our expertise and ensure the societal relevance of our research.

Our academic work addresses mainstream development interventions and challenges its assumptions. It explores alternatives and relates to existing innovations. Our team forges collaborations with institutions in the South and develops modules relevant for students and other constituencies dealing with contemporary social challenges.

Governance, Law and Social Justice

Researchers in the Governance, Law and Social Justice research group carry out research projects on the various ways in which the organization of society, reflected in governance and legal frameworks, impacts development processes. Our research is informed by concerns of how and to what extent prevalent governance and legal arrangements help or hinder social justice. Our researchers aim to produce internationally leading research outputs that are socially committed and societally relevant. Research questions are therefore not formulated only with academic debates in mind, but also speak to the concerns of wider audiences. We attempt to disseminate our research findings not just through academic journals and books published by academic presses, but also use media that target general audiences.

Our research is explicitly multidisciplinary and draws on a range of disciplines, including political science, political economy, public administration and management, international relations, international law and anthropology.

Thematically, the group’s research initiatives are concerned, amongst others, with topics such as:

  • the political economy of crisis management;
  • the role of causality and complexity in political economy analysis;
  • human rights, conflicts and peace building;
  • social movements;
  • legal mobilization;
  • citizenship and migration;
  • climate and disasters;
  • development assistance and humanitarian action.

On all these issues, we aim to collaborate in global partnerships, with a particular focus on partners in the global South.

We aim to ensure societal relevance by combining research initiatives with capacity development activities in the global South and with our active involvement in public and policy debates within and beyond Europe. As part of our societal outreach, we actively maintain strong links with organizations outside academia, including civil society, non-governmental organizations and international institutions.

Find out more about ISS reseearch in this short video


Check our website for latest news, upcoming eventsrecent PhD defences, and the ISS library for working papers, PhD theses and the journal Development and Change.