The International Max Planck Research School for Moral Economies of Modern Societies offers an international, English-language PhD program in History, jointly run by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Technische Universität Berlin.
The PhD program of the IMPRS Moral Economies supports research projects to investigate the values, emotions, and habits that informed and inspired modern social formations from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. The relationship between modern history of emotions and the development, consolidation and transformation of morals stands at the center of the research focus.
Please note: All our PhD positions have now been filled and there will be no further application rounds for new PhD students.
The IMPRS Moral Economies aims to create a supportive and intellectually stimulating research environment geared towards the needs of young scholars. Intensive contact with advising professors, close exchange with other doctoral students, and encouragement of independent study are at the core of the PhD program. The IMPRS Moral Economies offers seminars, workshops, guest lectures and also supports research stays at our partner universities (University of Chicago and University of California, Berkeley).
Events at the IMPRS Moral Economies offer doctoral candidates and other young researchers the opportunity to engage in-depth with contemporary questions relevant to their research interests in an international environment.
On the level of knowledge, concepts, and ideas, we pose questions regarding the origins of moral values and the sources on which they draw. Those values are to be traced and analysed in different arenas: in the political as well as in the economic, social, and cultural realm. They inform how people view political power and how it should be structured, legitimized, and shared; they feed ideas of how political and social conflicts should be handled within a given society and between states; they are relevant to how economic orders are set up and resources distributed; they underlie notions of citizens' trust and solidarity and they inspire perceptions of the 'self' and the 'other'. As crucial sources of moral concepts, we identify a) philosophy and religion, b) science/'nature', and c) history/'tradition'. How do, for instance, religious notions tie into secular norms? What about the scientific evolutionary logic binding morality to questions of (racial) survival and reproduction? How do religious and secular-scientific arguments interact historically? When and in which circumstances do moral concepts, as they are elaborated by major intellectual and social actors, quote tradition and history as their main point of reference?
On the level of social relations and institutions, we explore how moral ideas and emotional concepts are transferred to practices and programs, for example, of human development and character formation or institution building. In what ways do they inform social movements like the labour movement or anti-Semitic organizations? How do ideas of international solidarity or Jewish world conspiracy become plausible and believed by great numbers of people? On which emotions do they thrive, what kind of feelings do they produce, and how is this translated into shared world views and political practices? Apart from social movements, institutions are a prominent site for moral values and emotions to be incorporated, mediated, socialized, and enacted. Family, schools, the church, political parties, health and justice systems, the army, and numerous other institutions all embody specific morals and emotional codes which they ask/force their members to accept and appropriate. In certain cases, these codes are agreed on, and converge; in others, they are contested and fought over.
Since one of the School’s major aims is to pluralize the notion of moral economy, it pursues questions as to how moral economies come to terms with each other, within and without a given society. Which tensions arise from divergent moral-institutional claims, and how are these tensions solved? Under which circumstances can moral economies be transferred from one institution to another, from one society to another? What kind of appropriation takes place here and how are these transferrals embedded in, and have an impact on, power relations? A case in point is the Holocaust: (how) has it come to serve as a universal paradigm inspiring global human rights policies infused by universal moral values? Or is it the opposite: in order to be accepted as morally important and legitimate, does a given political issue or project have to refer to a specific (Western) historical past imbued with the highest possible moral meaning?
Structure of the PhD Program
The PhD program of the IMPRS Moral Economies is divided into three stages: coursework (semesters 1-3), empirical phase (semesters 4-5), and completion (semesters 6-8). Stipends (currently set at 1365 €/month) are initially granted for a period of 2 years. A one year extension can be granted twice, contingent upon the positive evaluation of the project’s progress following the coursework and empirical phases, so that the total funding period would be 4 years. A supervision team consisting of one main supervisor, a second supervisor and a mentor is assigned to each IMPRS student. Generally, the main supervisor and the second supervisor are faculty members of the IMPRS.
Coursework Phase (semesters 1-3)
During the first phase of the PhD program, students take part in a variety of seminars designed to engage them with ‘moral economies’ as a theoretical concept and to help them define the methodological approaches of their research. They are encouraged to use the semester breaks in order to start practical research for their thesis and to locate archival material. During this phase students are provided with shared working space at the MPI for Human Development. General attendance times at the institute (during the semester) are Tuesday to Thursday from 10 am to 4 pm. Introductory Weeks The research coordinator of the IMPRS introduces the new students to the faculty of the IMPRS and to their fellow students. IMPRS students receive guidance in all administrative matters and are familiarized with the rules and regulations of the IMPRS and its program of study.
IMPRS students attend two introductory seminars designed to provide a common context for students from different academic backgrounds, thus developing cohesiveness among the students. - Introduction to Moral Economies and the History of Emotions - Theories and Methodologies in Historical Research The seminars are taught by different members of the IMPRS faculty and by researchers from the Centre for the History of Emotions at the MPI for Human Development.
Students intensify their engagement with the concept of moral economies and can further profit from Berlin’s vibrant academic community.
- IMPRS students take one course with a focus on moral economies. These are seminars taught by the IMPRS faculty, researchers of the MPI and/or one of the participating universities and are also opened (as a fast-track option) to MA students. Ideally, IMPRS students should have the opportunity to choose between two or more seminars. It is possible to substitute this seminar with other courses offered at one of our partner universities, contingent upon approval by the student’s supervision team.
- The IMPRS offers a regular weekly seminar, which is self-organized by the PhD students. Themes, practical exercises and reading material reflect the individual topics and interest of the students.
- Additionally, students can attend the research colloquia of their supervisors, seminars relating to their own research interests and other project-related courses (e.g. a language course).
Students qualify themselves further and gain skills in imparting knowledge in an academic context. They are encouraged to use semester breaks for scouting archives and collecting preliminary source material and data.
- IMPRS students in the 3rd semester regularly attend the research colloquium of their supervisors and present their work (or an alternative event, in case there is no research colloquium offered in this semester).
- Students further gain skills in imparting knowledge in an academic context by conducting sessions in the study program of the following year’s new cohort (e.g. by selecting texts and discussing them in the last 2-3 sessions of the seminar “Introduction to Moral Economies and the History of Emotions”).
- Students taking part in the academic exchange with the University of Chicago or the University of California, Berkeley during the 3rd semester should attend academic events offered at their host institution.
The doctoral candidates profit from Berlin's lively academic community. They are encouraged to attend seminars relevant to their specific research interests and to present research results at conferences. Students also profit from an international exchange program with the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley.
Each year, the IMPRS Moral Economies organizes an international summer school, which is also open to PhD students and young researchers from other universities. The summer schools consist of text work in small groups, presentations of ongoing research and talks by senior scholars.
All IMPRS students are encouraged to proactively engage in academic networks specifically related to their research topic and to attend further conferences, workshops and courses. To support this, each IMPRS student can apply for additional funds granted by the Max Planck Society (currently set at up to €2.500 per student). Applications can be submitted to the IMPRS coordinator, and are subject to approval by the spokesperson of the IMPRS (for more information see leaflet “Reimbursement of project-related expenditures”).
Exchange with US Partner Universities
- University of California (Berkeley), Department of History
- University of Chicago, Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
IMPRS students have the opportunity to spend one semester as “non-degree visiting students” or “visiting researchers” at one of the partner institutions in the US. The stay should generally take place during the course of the 3rd semester, with students participating in classes and other academic events at the host university. Depending on the individual work plan of the IMPRS student and her/his dissertation topic, a stay in the US during the archival phase is also possible. Students wanting to participate in the exchange should inform the IMPRS research coordinator and their supervision team about the exact timeframe of their visit as early as possible and establish contacts with professors and faculty at the host institution.
An application for the exchange program including the following documents needs to be sent to the IMPRS research coordinator:
- letter of motivation, stating the purpose of their visit
- research/study plan with timeframe
- research contacts and planned activities at the host university
- short recommendation by the principal supervisor