The Update


What we do, what we plan, what we think



The Opening Conference

How can we live together on one planet? This question could be the basis of a planetary ethos – and it is indeed the common theme of the work undertaken by the new cohort of fellows at THE NEW INSTITUTE. We are happy and humbled to welcome this diverse and dynamic group as we got to know them at the two-day opening conference. 

The mood was optimistic – and the excitement palpable: The Warburg Ensemble, the home of THE NEW INSTITUTE, is nearing completion and provided the perfect setting for the start of the new fellow year. As Academic Director Anna Katsman said, “A new community gathers here today at THE NEW INSTITUTE. We come from distinctive life-paths, cultures, and disciplines. This makes us a multi-perspectival, plural, and dynamic ‘we.’”

What will happen now? Most fellows will start working in one of the five programs of THE NEW INSTITUTE. Some will come later in the year, and some will stay with us for a whole year. And still others, like the Elkana fellows Esengül Ayyildiz from Turkey and Ferenc Hammer from Hungary, the American scholar Richard Hecht, the German writer Kübra Gümüsay and the Chinese philosopher Xudong Zhang will pursue their own projects, contributing to define what it means to live, like THE NEW INSTITUTE founder Erck Rickmers likes to call it, in a “secular monastery”. 



Human Flourishing

In all their differences, of topics, backgrounds, and biographies, what unites the fellows at THE NEW INSTITUTE this year is an overarching question: What is common to us? And who are we as humans on this planet? As Andrej Zwitter, the Chair of the program on “Conceptions of Human Flourishing - Reformulating the SDGs, argued when working with the term “new”, “We are looking for a New Atlantis – and we need to define the principles of this utopian society and describe how to get there.”

What is this program all about? There is a material crisis and a metaphysical crisis – and the question is how the one relates to the other, both in reasons and resolutions. The fellows in this program will take a critical look at the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), anticipating and in some ways challenging the new formulation of the SDGs in 2025. They ask: Does fulfilling the SDGs mean the realization of human flourishing? Are the SDGs increasing the value of life? What is the value of life?

What will the fellows work on? Ariel Macaspac Hernández, senior researcher in the Managing Global Governance (MGG) program at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) in Bonn, will address the question of mobilizing care for sustainability and human flourishing. Wakanyi Hoffman, an Ubuntu Worldview Speaker, will explore wisdom tales of human flourishing taken from indigenous sources. The Buddhist monk Karma Ura from Bhutan will contemplate a central topic of this discourse, the idea of Gross National Happiness and its challenges and success. And Dean Rickles will ask: What do we want to be – aligning ends with means in our future endeavors.


Common Wealth

A distinctly transformative vision is at the core of Program Chair Isabel Feichtner’s plan for “Reclaiming Common Wealth: Towards a Law and Political Economy of Land Commons”. She emphasized the urgency and the need for an epistemic and ontological shift – and sees commons and commoning as pathways to a more democratic society.

So how can we solve the housing crisis – and the question of ownership in agricultural land? A focus will be on ownership structures and data commons, on re-valuing land and housing and the law and institutional design of land commons – working towards “housing commons” and exploring in this respect the potentialities of the right to socialization in the German Constitution. 

What will the fellows work on? Urban geographer Susanne Heeg will take a close look at the “assetisation” of housing and the design of commons public partnerships in the realm of housing. Public lawyer and legal theorist Tim Wihl will work on a law for the commons. And legal anthropologist and financial analyst Felicitas Sommer will investigate avenues for making ownership structures transparent and establishing data commons.


Black Feminism

Do we live in a time of polycrisis? Yes, says Minna Salami, Chair of the program “Black Feminism and the Polycrisis: Configuring a Novel Solution Space Through Intersectional Methodology”. But as she made clear: “Solutions” to climate change, war, poverty, and pandemic risks, among others, are too often characterized by the same hierarchical power dynamics and strategies that cause them in the first place. Addressing problems from this Euro-patriarchal perspective without addressing questions of power is part of the problem.

What is Minna’s answer? Looking at the polycrisis through a Black feminist lens illuminates novel understandings and visions for a better future. The polycrisis is not strictly a concrete problem; it is also a crisis in meaning. The program responds to the polycrisis using the power of intersectional theory and other holistic feminist perspectives.

Who are the fellows? Currently at THE NEW INSTITUTE we host the philosopher Abosede Ipadeola, the ecofeminist, ecoreporter, and climate justice leader Adenike Oladosu and the political sociologist Akwugo Emejulu. Ipadeola is working on the question of resilience and exploring the urgency for action. Oladosu advocates the establishment of a green democracy across Africa and the restoration of Lake Chad. Emejulu continues to develop her research on the notions of “refusal”, “ambivalence”and “joy” in the context of the polycrisis and her forthcoming book “Precarious Solidarities”.


They will be joined by Pumla Gqola, Kathryn Belle, and Maha Marouan later in the year.


Planetary Commons

Six of the nine planetary boundaries have been crossed – requiring new governance interventions to safeguard Earth system functions. The concept of planetary commons, says Louis Kotzé, Chair of the program on “Governing the Planetary Commons: A Focus on the Amazon, is in this context promising both from a legal and policy perspective and as a mainstream concept of common survival.

What is the ambition? Based on the fact that Earth-regulating biophysical systems are essential to sustain life across the planet, Kotzé aims to initiate a paradigm for governing planetary resilience, craft a joint academic paper, launch a mainstream notion of planetary commons, develop a theory of the planetary commons from different scientific perspectives, and draft and disseminate a policy paper.

Who are the fellows? Afshin Akhtar-Khavari proposes to look at ecological restoration law from the point of view of the more-than-human – this would allow to re-imagine the law from a planetary perspective. He will be joined later in the year by Karen Morrow, Ainhoa Montoya, and J. B. Ruhl. 


Depolarizing Public Debates

What do we do when debates break apart – one of the most important challenges that humanity faces? Tackling this question is the task of the program that will explore the debates around climate change as a highly relevant case study of polarization processes in communication.

Why worry about polarization in communication? Before society breaks apart, debates break apart, says Michael Brüggemann, who chairs the program “Depolarizing Public Debates: Developing Tools for Transformative Communication”. Building on an analytical framework, he will work with the fellows on measuring discursive polarization in media content and explaining why and how debates break apart. This will form the base for developing tools of transformative communication that help enable society to have a constructive and critical debate on necessary transformations towards sustainability.

What will the fellows work on? Shota Gelovani will explore depolarizing online debates by fostering what he calls democratic listening. Hartmut Wessler wants to leverage generative AI for autonomous discussion moderation in order to enhance this type of listening. Fritz Breithaupt will explore how narratives polarize in the process of being retold – following the model of the telephone game. And Katharina Esau will add a comparative dimension to the analysis of media content in order to measure and explain under which conditions media debates polarize.

We are sure these five programs will provide a set of answers or trajectories to address some of the central questions of our times. As Markus Gabriel said, Academic Director of THE NEW INSTITUTE, “With the recognition of the absence of the universal and not with reference to a given universal, THE NEW INSTITUTE responds to a new recognized level of social complexity.”


In this spirit of future-oriented thinking, adapting the concepts of joy and care as guiding principles, we are looking forward to the next nine months – and beyond.

Hamburg is our home.
The world is our habitat.
The future is our concern.

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