The Update


What we do, what we plan, what we think



Helping Ukrainians

Rising to the occasion: Tax specialist by profession, our fellow Janine von Wolfersdorff has organized and coordinated rescue and support missions in Ukraine. Now that winter is setting in, Janine traveled once again to the war-torn country to provide care for the country’s most vulnerable.

Start small, grow big: This is a pilot. Not only does Janine plan to scale up her initiative; she has learned invaluable lessons about Kafkaesque administrative hurdles from her experience. In this century of crises, we need to restructure bureaucracy so that it can provide swift answers and sustainable systemic change.

All the details, including how you can support Janine, you can find here.


Welcome, Minna Salami!

Who is she? Minna is the founder of the award-winning blog MsAfropolitan, which connects feminism with critical reflections on contemporary culture from an Africa-centered perspective. She is a Nigerian-Finnish and Swedish writer and critic whose most recent book is Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Approach for Everyone.

Why we are excited: Minna will work on the program on The Human Condition in the 21st Century, developing a project about black feminism and rationality, as well as a collaborative project on feminism and patriarchal time.


This is personal

Meet our fellows: These people bring this institute to life, and each of them is driven by a unique story, a childhood memory, an obsession they cannot get over, or an event that changed their perspective radically.

Their eyes begin to shine, when they talk about it—and we want to share this with you too. That’s why we have created short portraits films in which they explain why they do what they do and also a bit about who they are.

Check it out.

Source of inspiration: from our fellows

Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy, 1870–2033 from 1958 is a book far ahead of its time. Responsible for coining the word meritocracy, Young predicted many of the impoverished social conditions that would result in replacing aristocrats with meritocrats. His subtly dystopian fiction, written as a treatise in historical sociology, was a forgotten warning about what happens when we devalue equality in both our social and material worlds. But the book also contains a vision of another possible path for humanity.

Penned in the voice of the revolutionaries of the future, Young made an impassioned plea for a new kind of equal opportunity in what I think is one of the most morally beautiful sentences ever penned in the English language: “This . . . should not mean equal opportunity to rise up in the social scale, but equal opportunity for all people, irrespective of their ‘intelligence,’ to develop the virtues and talents with which they are endowed, all their capacities for appreciating the beauty and depth of human experience, all their potential for living to the full.” Reading Young’s book can help us all develop more of this capacity for depth and beauty.

Avram Alpert is a fellow in the program The Human Condition in the 21st Century.


The right to interpretation

Is there such a right? And can the spaces of opposing thoughts be regulated? In our world, which is torn apart by material and ideological conflicts, by polarization and marginalization, it is our task to rethink the conditions that will make joint deliberation possible.

What was the event? Homi Bhabha, professor of the humanities at Harvard University, led a two-day workshop that was in turns lively, invigorating, multifaceted. The discussion with our founding director Wilhelm Krull, fellows, and guests revolved around questions including: How can we allow for diversity without fragmentation? How can we distinguish between opinions that end conversations and interpretations that are open to debate?

Around our big table, this was possible. We listened to contemplations on Montaigne, psychoanalysis, and the Anthropocene, and we interpreted these reflections when applied to other disciplines ranging from political and legal theory to mathematics and physics. A key takeaway: how we can involve more voices to achieve a more just global social contract?


Why we left Twitter

It is not completely coincidental thatas an institution dedicated to the free exchange of ideas—we have decided to leave the social media platform, following internal deliberations that started the very day Elon Musk took over. (Well, actually already before that.) In addition to the chaos that he spreads, we feel that his influence is outright dangerous for the survival of democracy, allowing hate speech and targeting individuals like American scientist Anthony Fauci.

However, since we believe in communication, we will stay connected, and you will still find us on Instagram, LinkedIn and Mastodon—at least for the time being. We hope to see you there!


Again, not coincidentally

Have you downloaded a new app recently? We generally just accept the terms and conditions for a new app so that we can start using it, even though in most cases we have no idea what service providers do with the information we generate. We have no control over it, making ourselves subject to manipulation and giving up both security and privacy.

How can this be changed? Users should have control over how their data is used. A full framework of how this can be done has been developed by our advisors Dennis J. Snower and Paul Twomey from the program Socio-Economic Transformation. Here is their report on Empowering Digital Citizens: Making Humane Markets Work in the Digital Age.

The simple secret: Apply offline rules online. In the offline world, we control information about ourselves, and society has developed norms and regulations for various types of data. These rules should also apply to the online world. The proposed framework helps us do that.

What’s up, 2023?

It was great to have you along for this rough ride through a year full of unforeseen twists and turns: the war in Ukraine, billed a Zeitenwende, or turning point, by the German chancellor; the specter of less energy, income, and future; the flatlining of a country like the UK, on the darker side; and, on the brighter side, the breakthrough in nuclear fusion or the victory of Lula in the Brazilian election.

For us, 2022 brought two new academic directors, Anna Katsman and Markus Gabriel; the move to our new quartier at Warburg Ensemble; a new cohort of inspiring fellows; and a series of events, from the workshops on the fiftieth anniversary of the Limits to Growth and the Helmut-Schmidt-Zukunftspreis, awarded to the climate activist Vanessa Nakate, to a lot of visitors, notably by members of the Indigenous Kogi community of Colombia.

We stay hopeful, otherwise we would not be doing what we are doing. If you feel you want to join in our effort, consider checking out our current job postings.

Either way, we will be back with more in 2023. Happy holidays!

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


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