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Department of Social Anthropology

Max Cam Centre

The Max Planck Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy, and Social Change, which was officially launched in 2018 supporting a group of six postdoctoral projects under four co-directors, has been, and is expected to continue as, a driver for interdisciplinary research at the intersection of the anthropology of ethics and economic anthropology.   The Centre’s work concludes in September 2022 with a major conference. 

The Max Planck Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy, and Social Change, or Max Cam for short, was officially launched in 2018 supporting a group of six postdoctoral projects under the four co-directors between Halle, Göttingen and Cambridge. Funded jointly by the Max Planck Society and a group of Cambridge institutions, including the Isaac Newton Trust, the Department of Social Anthropology and the School of Arts and Humanities, the Centre has focused on strongly anchoring a set of important questions in anthropology’s research agenda: how do ethics, the economy and social transformation overlap? What role do ethics play in and for the economy? How is this role changing over time? 

Over the last four years these searching questions have been applied to core postdoctoral projects from a variety of angles. From Anna-Riikka Kappinnen’s analysis of the intersection of religion and banking in Ghana and Rachel Smith's study of the Papua New Guinean Kava production to Patrick McKearney’s work on Kerala’s care workers and Johannes Lenhard’s study of the ethics of venture capital investors, the four Cambridge-based Max Cam projects already illustrate the range of topics we touched on over the course of the Centre’s life. Our regular conversations in reading and writings groups combined with more than three dozen public events, three conferences and a large variety of organised panels and presentations (at AAA and EASA as well as at ASA, SIEF, EGOS and RAI) was further enriched by the large variety of additional perspectives from our partner institutes in Halle and Göttingen together with a number of close affiliates in Cambridge; the research topics across the more than 12 strong researcher affiliates in the Max Cam Centre comprised ghost workers, gold traders, funeral rites, behavioural economists, care robots and leadership trainers among others, ensuring our conversations were full of nuance and incorporated varied, interdisciplinary perspectives. 

The effects of the last four years of intense field research, regular convenings and exchange are emerging. Not only has the first volume based on the inaugural Max Cam conference in Halle already appeared under Chris Hann’s editorship (Work Society and the Ethical Self), a variety of joint publications are in the making, including a Special Issue on ’The Ethics of Investment’ for the Journal of Cultural Economy. Max Cam researchers were able to secure additional funding from among others ESRC, Philomathia, the Keynes Trust, CERF, Cambridge Impact as well as various Cambridge colleges, including King’s, Trinity, and Churchill; these funds enabled both impact activities (e.g., starting a not-for-profit organisation to support homeless organisations with research), conferences and specific research projects all contributing to the intensity of activities in and around Max Cam. While monographs of Max Cam postdocs have appeared already (del Nido’s ’Taxis vs. Uber' and Lenhard’sMaking Better Lives’), the extensive field research and other activities undertaken by Max Cam researchers is only in the early phase of being analysed and published. 

In September 2022, the Centre will officially come to an end with the final conference, hosted at Churchill College, Cambridge. Under the heading of ‘Ethics and Social Change; Economy, Religion, and Moral Transformation’ an international group of distinguished scholars will join the community of Max Cam directors, associates, and affiliates for two full days. This conference might be the last Max Cam activity; however, it will hopefully further deepen the interdisciplinary analysis of ethical dimensions of economic and social life beyond Max Cam and in fact beyond Cambridge. Many of Max Cam’s core associates have moved on to academic positions and lectureships in Geneva, Amsterdam, and Aberdeen; others have developed strong engagement with civil society, governments, the business world, and journalism, often enabled by their Max Cam research. In this way, the thoughts developed and shared by Max Cam researchers are in the process of spreading both within and beyond academia, hopefully with a lasting influence on the analyses of the intersections of the economy, ethics, and social change.


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