Statement on the invitation of Norman Finkelstein as visiting scholar January 16, 2017
Finkelstein’s more recent work engages with issues of violence and the justification of violence and is inspired from Gandhi’s thinking about violence and non-violence. Finkelstein addresses important and topical issues revolving around oppression, marginalization, treatment of minorities, etc., all of which are often accompanied by violence. This representation of the dynamics of marginalisation characterizes the entire body of Finkelstein's work, and he endeavours to describe such dynamics using specific examples. The evaluation of structural injustice and other forms of exclusion is part of his approach, which gave him the reputation of a thoroughly controversial intellectual.
The MPI invited Finkelstein because he engages with issues that are highly relevant for anthropology in today's globalized context and are also central for the scientific work of our institute, where the vast majority of doctoral candidates and postdoctoral researchers investigate situations of structural injustice around the world and competition for survival in our globalized societies – situations which are often accompanied by violence.
Some groups have criticized Finkelstein's invitation to Halle. As a scientific institution which is primarily dedicated to basic research, we will enter into a dialogue with Finkelstein about his work. In doing so, controversy cannot be ruled out; it is indispensable in academic discourse. Controversy is, in fact, a trait of academic work; and it is one of our tasks to introduce our young scientists to controversial academic discourse: Our concern is that our PhD students should learn to listen carefully to an argument, take it on its own merits, and address it in a measured, respectful, professional manner – even and maybe the more so, if that argument goes against their own profound convictions. This, we feel, is one of the most important skills we can instil in our PhD students and early-career academics – especially in a time when social media permits expressions of prejudice and recourse to anonymous insults is almost socially acceptable, and objective exchange of arguments seems to fall more and more behind.
Today, scientists from more than 100 nations work at the Max Planck Society as well as at our institute, the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle. 70 years after the Holocaust, employees with a Jewish background are now active at Max Planck, too. It is a place where people of different religions, nations, sex and skin colour work together on key issues relevant to our society and our future.
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