The ability to answer complex research questions increasingly requires the dynamic integration of different disciplines. In response to this challenge, Leipzig University has used funding from the Free State of Saxony to establish its Leipzig Lab, whose first three working groups are devoted to the topics of global health, childhood research, and intangibles.
An Innovative Funding Programme for Excellent Fields of Research
By creating interdisciplinary project teams, the Leipzig Lab enables participants to try out new forms of collaboration which are otherwise more common at advanced study institutes. In the historic Villa Tillmanns, members of the Leipzig Lab have their own space to work and meet up with international visiting scholars.
With regard to their thematic focus, the Leipzig Labs aim first and foremost to systematically address, further develop but also scrutinise the issues already being pursued by larger networks and centres at our university. The University hopes that this will provide both new incentives for its strategic research fields and ideas on how it can further develop as a research university.
The Leipzig Lab Working Groups
In the first three interdisciplinary Leipzig Lab working groups, teams of professors and junior researchers at Leipzig University work together with international guests on the topics Global Health, Intangibles and Children and Nature:
Intangibles is a Leipzig Lab working group set up to examine fractures in the legal and economic order that is opened and determined by the concept of property. Such fractures can be found where the concept of property extends and must extend into new areas that do not originally belong to it.
- The field of intellectual and artistic activity and its results (for example as the subject of copyright)
- The field in the broad sense of ethical orientations and attitudes and their consequences (for example as soft factors of production) and
- The area of natural resources (for example as a tradable right to emit toxic substances or as a tradable obligation to dispose of or render them harmless).
Exploring values that are elusive and intangible, but which have an impact on all areas of life
The values found in these fields must, on the one hand – in order to be treated within the legal and economic order – be defined as property and capital; on the other, they defy their own internal tendency to be subordinated to the concept of property. One mark of this tendency is that the values in question are presented as something that cannot be touched – they are intangible. At the same time they cannot be trapped in a controlled space from which others are excluded. What appears here as the intangible and fleeting nature of these values – as intangible as a beautiful melody and as fleeting as fresh air – is contrasted with their concrete and penetrating effect in all areas of life.
The social and ethical basis of the property order is reflected in the tensions between intangible values
The guiding idea of this Leipzig Lab working group is that in the tensions that arise in the economic and juridical treatment of intangibles, the social and ethical basis of the order of property becomes concrete, which cannot be reflected within it. The technical and conceptual difficulties which the dynamic development of the concept of property in disciplines such as economics and jurisprudence poses therefore point beyond themselves. They signify an inherently agonal unity of economic and legal order on the one hand and ethical forms of human community on the other.
Interdisciplinary cooperation of philosophers, theologians and legal scholars
Their treatment in the respective disciplines must therefore lead into the comprehensive context of shared human life, which both attaches and appreciates values. In different ways, philosophy and theology try to understand this connection in its entirety. Conversely, philosophical and theological reflections on the source of intangibles only scratch the surface of their subject if they do not explore the depth of its economic and legal reality, which today has a global scale. This is why the Intangibles group examines from an interdisciplinary perspective the current tendency towards extending legal and economic concepts into areas that appear difficult to fix in these terms. Its aim is to ponder the inner ruptures and tensions of the present whole of a shared value-based human life.
Global health has become a key concept in political debates and health policy interventions. Diseases have never stopped at national borders, while epidemics are often tackled through concerted action. But it is not only viruses that cross borders, but also very different health concepts and – closely linked to this – different ideas about the body (and mind). Global Health is a Leipzig Lab working group that examines from a sociological-anthropological and historical perspective how concepts of health have changed in the past, and how these concepts circulate and change globally.
Investigating practices of self-optimisation to the point of deviating from health ideals
The Global Health working group therefore aims to make the changeability of health concepts clear, tracing contemporary processes which are resulting in the dissolution of boundaries in the concept of health. Recently, practices aimed at well-being, wellness and self-optimisation of the body have become increasingly important. In societies that aim at prevention and people taking responsibility for their lifestyle, illness appears almost as individual failure. Not enough attention is paid to the vulnerability and precariousness of individuals, but also of certain social groups. In addition, deviations from health ideals are often associated with great social costs and social exclusion – think of the example of being fat.
Reflecting health policy interventions and addressing social inequalities
The investigation of shifts in the understanding of health and regionally different ideas of health makes it clear that we never deal with just one ‘health’, but with very different health and body projects. These need to be better understood in order to be able on the one hand to reflect health policy interventions in a context-appropriate manner, and on the other to address social inequalities (not only) in the field of healthcare.
- How do people in very different situations in different regions perceive global discourses on health and physicality?
- How do they adapt them to make them suitable for their specific living environment?
- And against this background, how are different behaviours and bodies evaluated?
On the basis of this research agenda, the Global Health working group will, on the one hand, decisively expand health-related research at Leipzig University by adding a transregional and global perspective. On the other, the topic of global health is also intended to establish a new and seminal focus in the research profile area of Global Connections and Comparisons at Leipzig University.
Developing sustainable relations with the natural environment
- Why do we share our bed with dogs and cats, but eat pigs and chickens?
- Why do we donate to save the habitat of orangutans, but ignore insect extinction?
- Why do we kill flies, wasps or mosquitoes, but spare butterflies?
- Why are we interested in the fate of slaughtered chicks, but not the lifelong suffering of factory-farmed chickens?
People’s relationships with other living beings are diverse and complex. But they vary not only depending on the species and whether the creature in question is a pet, farm animal, pest, carrier of disease or predator. Attitudes towards one and the same species also vary depending on the cultural context and the role of that species in a particular society. In Germany, for example, around 3.5 million cattle are slaughtered every year, while in many parts of India they are considered sacred and therefore untouchable. While dogs are often part of the family here or even a social partner, most dogs worldwide live as strays, are considered unclean animals, or are eaten as a delicacy. In European zoos, chimpanzees fascinate people because of how similar they are to us humans, whereas in Uganda they are feared and hated as rivals competing for food or even mortal enemies.
Children’s relationship with animals and environment defined by culture – but how?
What causes this diversity of different relationships? How do our attitudes towards other species change over the course of our lives? Which factors play a role in this? The Children and Nature working group focuses on these questions. The aim is to explore the diversity of children’s relationships with their living – and non-living – environment, such as water or other resources, in different cultural contexts.
The working group examines how children’s cognitive and affective attitudes towards other living beings develop from pre-school age to adolescence, whether these attitudes differ from those of adults, and which individual factors, such as personal characteristics like empathy and temperament, but also social and religious values, shape this development process. For this purpose, the researchers develop anthropologically informed, culturally sensitive experimental methods that take into account the respective cultural setting and at the same time enable the comparison of childhood relationships with the environment in different parts of the world.
Objective: Development of educational programmes
The long-term goal is to use the findings from this project to develop culturally sensitive educational programmes that promote respectful and sustainable relationships between children and their social and ecological environment.
- Dr Dustin Eirdosh, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
- Dr Susan Hanisch, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
- Professor Patricia Kanngiesser, University of Plymouth
- Professor Thomas Stodulka, Freie Universität Berlin
- Dr Sebastian Tempelmann, Bern University of Teacher Education
- Dennis Shisala, Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, Sambia
- Jahnavi Jahnavi Sunderarajan, Pune (India)
- Ferdi Thajib, Berlin
- Alicia Junker, Berlin
- Leonie Blume, Leipzig
- Alex Göbel, Leipzig