You are the outgoing Max Weber Chair in German and European Studies at New York University and have spent the last four years living in New York. Please tell us a little bit about how you experienced these last years. What were some of the highlights? What were some of the challenges?
Living in New York was a great experience. It is a city full of talent and creativity. I greatly enjoyed working with the students at NYU and I was fortunate to meet outstanding colleagues during my time in New York. Looking back it is fascinating how many intellectual highlights I was fortunate to experience over the years.
There were also many cultural highlights, including visits to the Met Opera, the fantastic museums, and the parks and gardens. I also discovered that New York is for bikers. The Five Borough Bike Ride, the largest bicycle sports event in the U.S., was clearly a highlight for me, and I participated in it three times, riding through the five boroughs and across four bridges, 40 miles in all.
The greatest challenge I experienced was Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. In Lower Manhattan we were left without electricity, water, and phone connections for five days. But it was also a time to build friendships, and some of the most memorable events were shared meals and long walks in the dark with friends in the days following the storm.
Was it a productive time for you? And what effect did your experience here have on your research and your teaching?
My years as Max Weber Chair were highly productive and stimulating in many respects. The seminars are smaller than in Germany and there is more emphasis on intellectual debate. Over the course of the semester I got to know the students quite well and some kept in touch even after graduation. I taught graduate and undergraduate seminars on European politics at the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at NYU, my home institution, including a capstone course in the Masters program entitled „What is Europe“, several seminars on EU-governance, democracy and dictatorship, and comparative European governments and societies.
The perception of Europe during this time was very much shaped by the Eurozone crisis and Germany’s prominent and often controversial role in solving the crisis. Germany thus figured prominently in our courses and I often gave guest lectures about contemporary Germany in New York and at other institutions in the U.S. We also studied human rights policies and immigration in Europe, a topic that often fascinated students, and we explored the transitions in Eastern and East Central Europe, which is one of my main research fields.
In terms of research, I was fortunate to observe the 2012 U.S. presidential election firsthand. It was fascinating to see the varying perspectives in different parts of the country. I studied the campaigning as well as the strengths and arguments of the major proponents. The highly polarized political culture in the US made this a fascinating time to be here, and being in the country during the elections was a kind of anthropological field study living anthropology and enriched the political science approach in my research.
When were you in New York for the first time? What were your impressions then?
I first visited New York in 1981 coming from a conference near Boston and I came back in 1984 for a brief visit during my tenure as a post-doc fellow at Harvard University. Even though I loved visiting the Guggenheim, the MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum, it was a difficult city to navigate, since many areas in Manhattan were unsafe to visit due to high crime rates. To be honest, I did not like the city much.
How do you experience New York today? What has changed since your first trip?
I think that New York City has changed fundamentally for the better. Based on my experience over the past four years, I can only say that it is the most loveable and livable city I had the privilege to live in.
What are your thoughts on returning to Germany after living abroad for four years?
During my academic career I have spent several years in the U.S., in California, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. Academia today is very much a global enterprise. You build resilience to change and I think that I am used to the transitions you have to muster, switching from one culture to the other. Personally, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to live and work on both sides of the Atlantic.
What did you miss most about Germany while you were away? And what do you foresee missing about New York City?
In Germany we still have a very orderly way of doing things. I will miss the charming chaos, the maritime environment, and the great diversity of New York City.
In the beginning of April you organized the memorable and inspiring Max Weber Chair Conference on Women in Leadership, which featured panel discussions with Carol Gilligan, Sylvia Maier, Joyce Mushaben, and Christine Landfried (to name a few) and a keynote address by Lani Guinier. What inspired you to organize this conference and what was the take-away? Will you plan to continue your work with these influential women?
The conference was inspired by the controversial and multifaceted debate about Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013) which quickly became a bestseller in the United States and in Europe. In this book, Sandberg argues that women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers, and she insists that women have to demonstrate determination and perseverance to attain leadership positions in the corporate world. But is individual persistence enough? Is career advancement primarily even an issue of individual choice and perseverance or do other factors come into play shaping choices and providing equal opportunities?
Our focus was mainly on women in political leadership and this approach was inspired by the „silent revolution“ that is taking place in many parts of the world. In fact, we are currently witnessing a record number of female world leaders. In Europe, eight countries have either female prime ministers or presidents. Most notably, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel was elected for a third term in September 2013, and in France and Italy, the first minority women were appointed to be ministers in the cabinet in 2012 (by Francois Hollande) and 2013 (by Enrico Letta). In Latin America and the Caribbean, countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago, and in Africa, countries such as Liberia and Senegal, had female political leaders in 2014. In the U.S., several women ran in the Senate and House elections in 2012, and many view Hillary Clinton as a likely contender in the U.S. presidential election in 2016. What difference does it make for other women if we have more female political leaders? How will this affect the lives of other women in society?
As it became clear throughout the conference, “leaning in” was not a passe-partout, a passkey that fits all locks, on the road to leadership. “Can women have it all?” – the question guiding our inquiry - thus became an invitation to explore the transformations that are taking place nationally and globally at the beginning of the 21st century. Looking into different ways of advancing and succeeding in leadership, and exploring ways in which gender relations can be changed more deliberatively through political action and public policy, featured prominently in our discussion. I will continue working on this topic and we are currently editing the proceedings of the conference which will be published in the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies’ Working Papers series in fall of this year.
You also moderated a panel with the filmmaker Beatrice Möller (“Alles was wir wollen”) reflecting on the question “Can Women Have it All?” What would your advice be for young women coming of age who are trying to juggle careers, relationships and family life?
My advice would be to reach out, seek advice from mentors, and support others who are also striving to live a fulfilled life. There will always be compromises parents have to make along the way, but it is important not to be discouraged and always seek professional support. Your children will benefit from the skills and the wisdom you acquire in your professional career.
What was your experience at Deutsches Haus at NYU?
As Max Weber Chair I closely worked with the Deutsches Haus, participating in panel discussions, cultural events and organizing the yearly Max Weber Chair conference. All three directors I worked with, Kathrin diPaola, Martin Rauchbauer, and Juliane Camfield, were wonderful, very creative, and highly professional. I particularly enjoyed the interdisciplinary fabric of the programs. They were intellectually challenging and broadened my horizon. To analyze the Greek crisis through the lens of Aischylos, or European identity by ways of the biblical Babel, was fascinating, and the terrific film events, such as the film project by Beatrice Möller, enriched my own ways of thinking and approaching contemporary political and social themes.
What are you currently working on? And what are your plans for the future? When will you return to the United States and New York?
A few days ago, I was fortunate to briefly meet Hillary Clinton during her book-signing event in a bookstore at Union Square. I would like to follow her bid for the 2016 US presidential election.
I will return to the U.S. later this summer to teach an intensive seminar in the Transatlantic Masters Program at UNC Chapel Hill. Certainly, I hope to return to New York very soon and there are several projects in the making.