The Max Planck - Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change (informally “MAX-CAM”) was a collaborative undertaking with the University of Cambridge established on 1 July 2017. The Centre had its physical headquarters at the Department of Social Anthropology in Cambridge, where most postdoctoral researchers (both core funded staff and affiliated scholars) were based.
MAX-CAM was co-directed by Chris Hann (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale), James Laidlaw and Joel Robbins (Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge University), and Peter van der Veer (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen). The Coordinator was Dr Johannes Lenhard. Two of the Centre's postdoctoral researchers were based physically at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology: Deborah Jones and Samuel Williams. Documentation of all individual projects and collective activities was maintained at the Cambridge webpage.
The first major conference of MAX-CAM emphasized economic anthropology and was held in Halle in December 2019. Later activities were severely impacted by the Corona pandemic. A conference highlighting religion and religion, planned to take place in Göttingen in 2020, was reformulated as a series of online seminars. The final conference, in which the dimension of ethics dominated the agenda, was convened (following two postponements) in September 2022 in Cambridge. This marked the formal conclusion of the MAX-CAM programme.
MAX-CAM in the Institute’s Report for 2017-2019
MAX-CAM in the Institute’s Report for 2020-2022
The Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change (MAX-CAM) was hard hit by the pandemic, especially the meetings and mobility schemes originally envisaged. Its lifespan was extended until the end of 2022 to allow final activities in Cambridge to be successfully completed. The papers from the Halle conference of December 2019 were published according to plan in the Berghahn Books series Max Planck Studies in Anthropology and Economy (Hann 2021). Following his retirement in Halle, Chris Hann was a regular participant in Cambridge meetings of the Centre during those periods in 2021-2022 when the Covid virus retreated.
In November 2022, MAX-CAM Coordinator Johannes Lenhard prepared a final report for the University of Cambridge (excerpts):
The Max Planck Cambridge Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change (MAX-CAM) was established at the end of 2017 and began operations early in the following year. Funded in equal measure by the Max Planck Society (including the Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle and the Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen) and the University of Cambridge (including a grant from the Isaac Newton Foundation), Max-Cam was conceived as a research centre to be housed and managed primarily by the Department of Social Anthropology. The impact of Covid did not prevent the Centre from developing into a lively institution with a wide range of impact across the three partners and beyond.
The initial group of six postdocs (four in Cambridge, one each in Halle and Göttingen) was soon expanded with the appointments of affiliated researchers in all three partner Institutes, some of whom were supported by external funds. Following the first in-person workshop in Halle in 2019 (discussed in the previous MPI report), a virtual equivalent was organized in Göttingen in 2021. The concluding meeting in Cambridge in September 2022 was in-person and brought all MAX-CAM members together with an international and interdisciplinary group of guests to explore our core terrain: Ethics and Social Change: Economy, Religion, and Moral Transformation. We also organized a variety of (mostly in-person but also virtual and hybrid) events and smaller workshops at various locations within Cambridge. The postdocs met regularly (at least monthly) to discuss individual projects and also to monitor the Centre’s core agenda, namely to investigate new possibilities for linking the domains of ethics, economy and religion in anthropological research.
Significant collective publications include the special journal issue ‘Navigating investment universes: The ethics of decision-making on new frontiers of capital,’ which has been accepted by the Journal of Cultural Economy (edited by Anna-Riikka Kaupinnen and Johannes Lenhard, forthcoming 2023). The postdocs published almost 50 individual peer-reviewed journal articles and three monographs in this review period. Papers appeared in a variety of journals from top general anthropology journals (four in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, but also in Cultural Anthropology, Social Analysis, Cambridge Anthropology, Social Anthropology, Ethnos) and specialist journals (both for region and for field). We also published outside the boundaries of anthropological journals, including journals in geography (Environment and Planning D, Housing Studies), material culture, psychology, medicine and internet studies. Outreach and popularization were also taken seriously: we published more than 50 journalistic pieces and blog posts across the most influential anthropological media and beyond.
Over 70 papers were presented in academic conferences and as invited speakers at other universities. We organized panels - collectively and in sub-groups - at numerous major anthropology conferences, including the American Anthropological Association, the Association of Social Anthropologists and the European Association of Social Anthropologists. We also participated in many non-anthropology conferences in fields such as management studies, homelessness, finance, political economy and policy and technology.
Over the lifetime of MAX-CAM, more than 30 meetings were convened with invited speakers in Cambridge. The events followed different formats, ranging from book workshops (e.g. with Tim Rogan, Felix Stein and Anna Alexandrova) to internal workshops / seminars (e.g. with Nofit Itzhak and Devin Singh) and larger public lectures open to all. Our guests included distinguished scholars in economics (e.g. Deirdre McCloskey, Diane Coyle) and sociology (e.g. Donald MacKenzie, Eva Illouz) as well as anthropology (e.g. Caitlin Zaloom, Kimberly Chong, Daromir Rudnyckyj, Soumhya Venkatesan). We published podcasts and/or recordings of ten of these events to make them more widely available.
During Covid lockdowns we were obliged at times to switch to online-only events, but most were in-person. These (and the refreshments that followed) were greatly appreciated by colleagues in Cambridge and contributed crucially to the cohesion of the MAX-CAM community.
Hann, Chris (ed.). 2021. Work, Society, and the Ethical Self. Chimeras of Freedom in the Neoliberal Era. New York: Berghahn Books.