Dedicated to the theme 'The Individual and the Collective: Concepts, Methods and Approaches', the event brought together dozens of current and past fellows from different backgrounds in the social sciences and humanities for a three-day in-depth interdisciplinary discussion highlighting the research conducted in the programme over the academic year.
"I find it fascinating, simply the breadth of the topics," said Juho Härkönen, Director of the Max Weber Programme for Postdoctoral Studies. "It is extremely interesting to see what people are doing in humanities and social sciences, law, economics. Now, this is the second year that I have been Director, and I am still astonished by the sheer range of what has been done, and the high quality."
The conference hosted 15 panels, each with a dedicated expert chair, and a total of 68 panellists. The topic, the interplay between the individual and the collective, focused on social identity, collective rights, the concept of self, and individual and collective interests - all essential topics in law, history, social and political sciences, and economics.
"The Max Weber Programme is famous for being entirely interdisciplinary," said Ipek Çineli, Max Weber Fellow (SPS) and conference organiser. "We wanted to come up with a topic that would encompass all of the social sciences and we realized that the individual and the collective is something we all try to answer questions about."
"The goal was to catch that very thin layer that crosses all the disciplines," explained Liane Huttner, Max Weber Fellow (Law) and conference organiser. "The individual and collective and the relation between them is really something that you can find in all humanities and social sciences in terms of methods, but also of concepts. We really wanted to have a real interdisciplinary discussion between people and we felt that this theme could do that."
The organising committee had four members, each from a different discipline. The theme came, in their words, from their personal experiences as researchers and from their perspectives as participants in the wider academic community in their respective fields.
"What is the place of the individual within the broader collective and what role does the collective play in the life of the individual?" asked Anastazja Grudnicka, Max Weber Fellow (History) and conference organiser, explaining the topic. "That translates into very different experiences, experiences of someone living in the 16th century, but also the experience of someone living in the 20th century; someone living in Europe, someone living in Africa; and we felt that was something that could speak to different research areas."
"It was an attempt to be broad but still talk about what we feel were the challenging aspects of our time without going back to the pandemic or other themes addressed in the past few years," added Matilde Ceron, Max Weber Fellow (RSC) and conference organiser. "I like, when I look at the conference programme, to see interconnections - some that I would not have necessarily expected. When we did the matching work of people, we saw connections that we had never imagined before."
When arranging panels, the fellows worked to mix people focusing on different disciplines, as well as current and past fellows, and more or less experienced researchers. The organisers attribute this unique mix as key to meeting the main objectives of the event.
"We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to move their research forward by getting feedback from their peers," explained Çineli. "It is interdisciplinary – something that is hard to find in academia. This is a rare occasion to exchange ideas and opinions with people from other disciplines in the social sciences and it also gives former Max Weber Fellows the opportunity to connect with the new fellows."
Indeed, one of the goals of the conference is to connect current fellows with former fellows. The conference panels hosted 20 former fellows, who travelled back to the EUI to give feedback to the new fellows, share their own research, and to reinforce an important network.
"It is very nice to be with the former fellows," said Ceron. "We have finally put a face to a name, and it is also lovely to see people who were in the programme many years ago sharing experiences again at the EUI."
"Bringing the alumni here is nice for them to keep in touch with the Institute and it is important for us to have this network, as it is good for the current fellows to meet and network with former fellows, and in general it is facilitating keeping the alumni network alive," explained Härkönen. "We currently have 700 alumni from the Max Weber Programme and they receive newsletter about what is going on in the programme, but events like this keep the network alive in a different way."
The Max Weber Fellows June conference also hosted a high-level keynote speech by Professor Jens Hainmüller from Stanford University. Delivered to a packed conference room, the address highlighted Professor Hainmüller's research on the immigrant integration challenge and what policies and interventions work to facilitate the successful integration of newcomers. Notably, Professor Hainmüller was also the recipient of the EUI's Honoris Causa degree. The keynote speech was open to the entire EUI community, bringing scholars from all academic units to participate in the interdisciplinary conference.
"The objective was to think together, discuss together about our research, and have fun together," concluded Huttner. "Research is about exchanging ideas and being with people, colleagues and sometimes friends, and that was what we wanted to do. We wanted to make people feel safe in their discussion and from what I see it has succeeded."
"The idea is to bring present and past fellows together to exchange experience, talk about our research and establish collaboration," added Grudnicka. "The objective of the conference overall is to foster this interdisciplinary dialogue that is at the heart of the Max Weber Fellows."
During the 2022-2023 academic year, the Max Weber Fellows Programme hosted a total of 61 fellows, 35 of whom were female and 26 male. The fellows represented 31 nationalities from around the world.
The Max Weber Programme (MWP) is the largest international postdoctoral programme in the social sciences and humanities in Europe. It is known for pioneering the idea of a taught postdoctoral programme in the social and historical sciences – a distinct model that combines support for research with teaching, academic communication, and other career development skills. It fosters multidisciplinary research collaboration across departments and between established and early career researchers within the EUI.