"We want to take the fear of the future away"
Politics, economics and international relations, work, education and public services: plenty of
things are on the move and changing. How our society can cope with changes is the research interest
of Andreas Jain and Kai Litschen. In this interview, the two professors at Ostfalia talk about how
they want to shape the changes and about the opportunities and risks offered by the future. And
they explain why their research area requires the cooperation of many disciplines.
Professor Jain, Professor Litschen, what are you working on in the research area "Social
Perspectives of Change"?
Andreas Jain: Social change is characterised by its persistence; our society is continually
changing. This is due to the fact that each generation has its own objectives, ideas, values and
technologies. Therefore, we are continually forced to adapt to these changes. This is not easy for
us humans: we would always go on as we are used to. How we can nonetheless cope with these changes:
this is what we examine in our research area.
Kai Litschen: So far it has been the case that the perspectives for change have at best been
accompanied and described by research. In our research area the approach goes a bit further: We
want to steer the development and offer society solutions for what is coming. Many aspects of our
everyday life in the future, and what we want to prepare people for, is already around the
Which aspects, for example?
Kai Litschen: I am dealing with the digitisation of work. It will not only change the world of
work but also our society. Servicing the machines will be a highly qualified work that requires a
high level of training of the workers. On the other hand, people will need to perform simple
activities, because in their area digitisation will not be worthwhile. This development poses a
risk. We must ensure that the difference in qualification between these two groups does not also
lead to a social division.
What can you do to steer the changes in the working world?
Kai Litschen: I would like to illustrate this with an example: People usually went to work
around 8am and went home at 5pm. Today, this is neither necessary, nor does it account for the
needs of society and the desire for work-life balance. Here the flexibilisation of work offers an
opportunity – for example, the freedom for people to choose the place of work according to their
own point of view. Instead of having to take on long commutes into the office, we will be able to
work from home and gain two hours’ time for more quality of life. As a legal scholar, I must think
about how to measure this work performance and how the employer can ensure that the employee is
earning his or her salary.
Andreas Jain: Such a change to labour law has several implications. If people no longer have to
drive two hours to work, the traffic routes need to be organised differently. Additionally, they
need a place of residence where it is possible to pursue their work. It is also possible that
people will have more children because they will be able to balance work and family life better. We
in our research area are challenged to help shape these changes.
What do you need in order to shape them?
Andreas Jain: In any case, the expertise of many different disciplines. We need the jurists to
adjust labour law to the new needs. We need myself as a planner to generate the spatial structures.
And also those who create the political conditions to promote sensible developments – for example,
with funding instruments that reward having children. What can happen if you make this or that
adjustment – this is also our task. We integrate the disciplines and are, so to speak, the
transdisciplinary center in which all come together. Including the sociologist who asks: Does
society want all of this at all?
What are urgent questions to which we as a society need to find answers?
Andreas Jain: How can we succeed in organising people living together globally? Everything is so
close together, in the meantime any change in another country also has an impact on us. In Germany,
we have understood that the strong must help the weak, for example with the financial equalisation
between the federated states. We must begin to think this way globally as well.
Kai Litschen: How do we want to live together as a society in the future? More and more people
are wondering what the social services can do for them. Actually, it should be the other way round:
What can I do for the social services? This development is demonstrated by the fact that
associations, trade unions and churches are losing members. Willingness to participate is
declining. We need to move society towards greater involvement.
Can you contribute to a better future?
Andreas Jain: Yes, by creating the right structures for changes and giving people security. We
want to take the fear of the future away. This fear is not good for our life together; it paralyses
the development of society. If our research were to make people happier, this would also make me