Meet Our New Faculty Member: Björn Bremer

October 17, 2023
  • Please tell us a bit about your background and academic career so far.

I grew up in Hamburg, Germany, but I left home early at the age of 16 to study at the UWC Atlantic College in Wales, an international sixth-form college that aims to bring together students from all over the world and from different backgrounds. This experience shaped my initial interest in the organization of the social world, which led me to study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford. After my undergraduate studies, I crossed the Atlantic and moved to Washington, DC to obtain a Master’s degree in International Economics and International Relations from Johns Hopkins University SAIS. Afterwards, I decided to return to Europe and to obtain a PhD at the European University Institute in Florence, and before coming to CEU, I was a Senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the Societies in Cologne. 

  • What has influenced your main research interests?

I started studying politics and economics in the shadow of the financial crisis, which came as a shock for policymakers and commentators around the world. I observed the Occupy Wall Street protests in London and witnessed the onset of austerity policies in the UK, which sparked my interest in the politics of macroeconomic policies. Especially when I was studying in the US, looking at the European continent from the outside, I became puzzled by Europe’s steadfast support for austerity policies in the face of what was then the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Why did policymakers shift the burden of adjustment to the financial crisis onto the shoulders of the weakest members of society by cutting government spending and increasing taxes? In my PhD thesis, I tried to explain why even the political left supported these policies, and I have been interested in studying the politics of economic crises and macroeconomic policies ever since.

  • May we ask, what were you like as a student?

I had very different phases as a student. At the beginning of my undergraduate studies, I spent a lot of time doing university sports, being involved in student politics, and traveling as much as possible outside of term time. It was only towards the end of my undergraduate studies that I decided to prioritize my studies (a common story, I suppose). A very nice side effect of this studious phase was that I realized how much I enjoyed it when “things clicked”, irrespective of whether I was finally able to solve the econometric problems set or (believed to have) understood Karl Marx’s writings. At this point, I happily spent more time in the library than I had before, but this changed again once I moved to the United States. Studying at a policy school in the heart of the US capital, I went to a large number of public lectures, seminars, and conferences, trying to soak in as much of the policy debate as I could. I still miss the buzz of attending all these high-powered events (as well as all the free food!). Eventually, however, I became a little bit disillusioned by the superficial nature of the policy debate, as I wanted to understand the social and political world around me better. Hence, I started to work as a research and teaching assistant at SAIS, and eventually, decided to pursue a PhD instead of a career in policymaking.

  • What attracted you to CEU?

CEU’s highly international environment and the world-class political science department were the main reasons that I wanted to come to CEU. I have spent my entire adult life studying and working in international contexts, and CEU’s highly international orientation in combination with its strong research and teaching profile made it the perfect fit for me. Moreover, my own values closely align with CEU’s mission to promote the values of an open and democratic society, and I hope that I can be a small part of working towards this mission in the next few years.

  • What are you most looking forward to during your time in Vienna and CEU?

I particularly look forward to meeting CEU’s students from across the world and to seeing them flourish in their studies. I also look forward to collaborating with my colleagues in the department, across CEU, and other universities in Vienna. There are so many great scholars in Vienna, who I hope to meet and learn from! Moreover, I am excited about settling down in Vienna with my family, getting to know the city, and finding out why it is consistently rated as one of the most liveable cities in the world.

  • Do you have any advice for current or prospective political science students at CEU?

I am always hesitant to give advice, as everyone’s experience as a student is different, especially at CEU where people come from very different contexts. There are two pieces of advice that I would give everyone, though: First, be curious! I would encourage students to watch the world around them, to interact and engage with their fellow students as much as possible: Ask people about their background, take new classes, be critical, and do not be afraid to make mistakes. Second, have fun! While I believe that we are lifelong learners, being a student and part of an academic community is such a unique experience. You will never have as much time and freedom to meet new people, broaden your horizons, and also to discover yourself. Make sure that you enjoy it, despite all the deadlines that you are constantly chasing. 

  • Why do you think people should study political science? And why at CEU?

We live in a complex, contested, and often messy world, and studying political science is the best way to better understand it because politics is everywhere. And such an understanding is crucial for becoming an effective citizen: It is the best possible preparation to make a difference, regardless of whether one wants to work in the private sector, government, the charity sector, or academia. Studying political science helps us to appreciate our individual and collective powers (as well as our limits) to shape the world around us. This is especially the case at CEU, where students are exposed to different perspectives on a daily basis: They are challenged to think outside the box, engage with different ways of thinking about politics, and are asked to navigate a highly international institution. Graduates are thus extremely well placed to pursue a wide range of careers and to leave their mark on the world when they leave CEU.