Heroines

In youth we are open for a wide range of influences. Heroines in children’s literature, picture book or cartoons look back on a long history as successful influencers. Creation, transmission and criticism of stereotypes are all part of the scientific reflection on heroines and heros. Nowadays, influencers have taken over picture books through the use of more compelling videos.
In the 1950s,1960s and 1970s picture books or cartoons dominated the influences before mass media like television became more absorbing, addictive and powerful influencers. Children’s books are passed on from one generation to next generation. The French-speaking world (and beyond BBC reference) has witnessed the success of the illustrated booklets of the young “Caroline” (Hachette) and “Martine” (Casterman) exploring the world. Parents passed on their collection to children and had their own parents read the stories to their grand children.
Well, that’s how intergenerational transmission of cultural heritage has worked for a long time. It describes the basic social mechanism. Nevertheless, new forms of influencing emerged with new technologies. Successful illustrated narratives like “Caroline” and “Martine“ were adapted as television series as well. In France you could chose your side of either explorations with Caroline and her group of animals or the adventures of Martine.
Ideally it would be an occasion for the families and friends to discuss pros and cons of each character and, thereby, become aware of what is a stereotype, at least at a later stage of the life course. Gender stereotypes have evolved and to observe 2 boys colouring Martine images in public (Brussels book fair 2024, image below) was a positive surprise. It almost felt like a real world experience of the AI-enabled Barbie explorations.

Wage Minimum

A wage at a minimum level is frequently lower than the minimum wage. Most EU countries have a legal minimum wage that should protect against poverty risks at low levels of wages. Over decades it has not yet been possible to raise all low wages to this level. Le Monde (Béatrice Madeline et Aline Leclerc) has published on April 3rd a comprehensive analysis of sectors and people concerned with this difficulty to make a decent living while earning the minimum wage. In France (La désmicardisation), as in many other countries, it is difficult to earn just a bit more as the minimum wage because both employers and employees may lose social benefits if they just earn some hundred € more than the legal minimum wage. For all those persons who do receive only a wage even below the minimum wage getting stuck in a poverty trap is very likely. The number of working hours is then often is the only option to make ends meet your needs. Put bluntly, you work additional hours and/or take a second job to complement the lack of earning a wage at the minimum level. Public procurement that makes the application of the minimum wage compulsory and controls this application effectively benefits society as a whole. Lots of infrastructure projects, urban and rural development receive public support. The conditionality to pay the minimum wage + X should be a „conditio sine qua non“. The millions of workers at the lower end of the wage distribution have a power at the ballot box, which continues to be underestimated in many European countries. The EP elections on June 9th will probably alert us about the lack of faith in a bettering of living and working conditions of those persons coping with wage minima.

Home Delivery of everything ! Working Conditions

Cancer Inequality

Inequality is a hugely important topic for societies. Inequality has many different dimensions and differential longitudinal patterns. New data in this field of social research are helpful to inform on possible ways to prevent increasing inequality. At the same time, it is important to reflect on factors that may reduce inequality in and between societies. Inequality in health is both an outcome of inequality experienced during previous stages of the life course as well as a factor in causing inequality in the evolution of the life course later on. Disentangling the factors is a difficult research issue.
A first descriptive pattern across Europe allows to get a snapshot impression of the status quo as a first indication of what health inequality looks like. Cancer is a major cause of mortality across Europe and by 2045 it is estimated to be the leading cause of mortality.
Without precisely analyzing the causal factors the overview across European countries allows to give a first impression on fields that need more policy attention and more in depth studies. The European Cancer Inequalities Registry and the ECIR Data Tool is based on data from 2019  (Link). The overview matrix by employment status reveals the highest prevalence of smoking among the unemployed (followed by the employed, not shown in figure) and the frequency of alcohol consumption is highest among the employed. Low physical activity is mostly prevalent among the retired.  This has consequences for cancer and gives hints to how an intensified prevention may work.
The OECD report (Link) based on these data and additional country case studies and policy data base reiterates the known prevention recommendations: Reduce smoking, alcohol consumption, air pollution as well as more physical activity. The dimensions of inequality are gender, age, employment status and most of years spent in education. The curing of cancer also suffers from inequities as to the amount of and access to screening of cancer. Cost coverage and shortages in medical personnel add to multiple sources of inequality in treatment of cancer within countries by regions and between nation states. The Lancet Public Health editorial contributes to the spread of the awareness among scientists and the medical profession.
(Image: ECIR data tool download 2024-2-22)

Greedflation

The teaching of economics and socioeconomic policies has to deal with the topics around inflation and economic inequality for centuries. Greedflation has become a newly coined term for the rise of inflation due to greedy firms who use a window of opportunity to achieve extra profit margins or windfall profits. At a time of perceived price rises in many sectors, sectors that have no cost increases might still try to push prices higher simply because almost everybody else does so. Higher profits then show up in the reporting season of enterprises quoted at the stock exchange and the increase in inequality between wage earners and shareholders will rise. Greedflation is a summary term for it. The ECB European Central Bank has mentioned this and Reuters has reported on it as well end of June 2023. Since then a wait and see strategy has been adopted. Now in February 2024 we witness the wider spread of extraordinary profits of big firms not only in the fossil energy sector but also bog banks. The economies and societies suffer huge losses and a massive redistribution of capital. Subsidies introduced to lower the shock of the coronavirus crisis and the Russian aggression are unpopular to be scaled back. Employees and their trade unions have a hard time negotiating adequate wage increases whereas most companies use the momentum of seemingly general price rises to push profit margins. The translation of this mechanism to the political economy risks to jeopardize the support for capitalism and market forces in general. Another wave of increasing inequality endangers the survival of democratic societies. Countries with only a short experience of the functioning of market economies are at a particular risk. Germany’s decline into dictatorship in the 1930s after the severe economic crisis should be remembered as a major threat. Greedflation is a very serious and very real threat which we have to address with economic and social policies rather than waiting until the European elections have passed. Time to act, the thinking has been done. Evidence accumulates to make the political case.

Adolf von Menzel, The Petition, Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

On Justice

Justice is a topic a bit like democracy. Most people deem it possible to simply state something is just or unjust, democratic or undemocratic, black or white. Rather than such a binary perspective it is often more helpful to take the pains to differentiate the many facets of each term and the complexity to categorize or to subsume a case under one or the other label.
Additionally, there is an evolutionary perspective on these topics. Individual cases evolve in form of trajectories. The binary view of justice or no justice might become more clear or more blurred. The exhibition of the “Topography of Terror” in Berlin offers a well established and documented view of the NS-terror during the years 1933-1945. The examples of horrific injustices throughout the exhibition are abundant. To perform justice is a much more difficult exercise and encounters lots of impediments.
In January 2024 Christl Wickert presented her extensive research in archives which she published in the Metropol Verlag 2022 under the title “Keine Gerechtigkeit. Die ungleiche Unterstützung des KZ-Überlebenden Fritz Bringmann und des SS-Mannes Walter Filsinger nach 1945”. (engl. title and image below). Christl Wickert follows the life courses of the young Fritz Bringmann, prisoner in KZ Sachsenhausen and Neuengamme as of 17 years of age, and the life course of the SS member as of 17 years of age and SS soldier Walter Filsinger. Their life courses crossed at the concentration camp Neuengamme near Hamburg and perhaps later again in Hamburg Bergedorf. Whereas Fritz Bringmann had to struggle to get compensation for his injuries during imprisonment, Walter Filsinger managed through multiple manipulations of documents and dubious support from administrators as well as medical doctors to obtain war victim benefits.
From life course research we know that early disadvantages are hard to compensate throughout the following decades. This juxtaposition of 2 cases localised in the neighbourhood of Hamburg demonstrates this with full force. Injustice at the early stage of the life course is not compensated but rather magnified through the handling of each case through the proceedings of “administrative justice” in the institution building in the first few decades of the Federal Republic of Germany. The “thick description” as a scientific method is a lesson in unfolding as well as later on unravelling injustice.

Kunstsammlung

Viele Kunstsammlungen in der westlich dominierten Kunstwelt haben nicht nur ein Übermaß an Beständen von Männern gegenüber von Frauen, sondern ein noch größeres Gefälle zwischen westlichen Kunstschaffenden und Kunstschaffende globaleren Ursprungs. Die Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen versucht in 2023, diesem Bias zu begegnen. Die Preisträgein des K21 Global Art Award an die Südafrikanerin Senzeni Mthwakazi Marasela (Image unten aus der Ausstellung K21) steht für starke Frauen, die mittels der Kunst, Geschichte und Geschichten erzählen und damit dokumentieren. Wir brauchen viele dieser Stimmen.
Der Kunstkalender 2023 bringt zudem über den Jahreswechsel hinaus „Isaac Julien“ in die Kunsthallen in Düsseldorf mit seinen beeindruckenden Filminstallationen. Immer unter dem Thema der Gleichberechtigung sind seine Werke eine unablässige Hinterfragung der von uns, der Gesellschaft, produzierten und sich ständig reproduzierenden feinen Unterschiede. „What freedom is for me”, so der Untertitel der Ausstellung, erlaubt den Perspektivenwechsel und, sich die Bedeutung des Freiheitsstrebens der „People of Colour“ zu vergegenwärtigen. Jenseits der Freiheit, als Abwesenheit von Unterdrückung, Angst und Ausbeutung ist Freiheit etwas zu tun, zu denken, sich auszudrücken die Nagelprobe auch der Gleichberechtigung. Unsere großen Ausstellungshäuser und Sammlungen sind sich ihrer Verantwortung bewusst geworden. Manche Museen erwachen gerade erst aus den Schrecken, die sie in ihren Sammlungen vorfinden. Im Interesse der Freiheit und Gleichberechtigung erwächst den öffentlichen Institutionen dabei eine Verantwortung, die immer schon da war, aber erst in den letzten Jahren intensiver angegangen wird.
Jede Sammlung ist selektiv, sonst wäre es wohl keine Sammlung. Den Waffen- und Trophäensammlungen der letzten Jahrhunderte müssen wir heutzutage Sammlungen hinzufügen, die neue Möglichkeitsräume erschließen und Empowerment befördern. Los, sammeln wir. Senzeni Mthwakazi Marasela 2023 K21clipvideo

Energy Ethics

Around the topic of energy there many ethical issues that urgently need sorting out. Carlos Diaz-Rodriguez and co-authors have provided a sound basis for such ethical considerations. To leave the disastrous path of energy provision through polluting fossil fuels and, additionally very risky, nuclear energy, they propose a departure from the principles and values that have guided us into a dead end. In their opinion we suffer from a mistaken belief to be able to control in extremis, through scientific methods, the forces of nature. In ethics this mistaken belief has roots in religious beliefs that mankind is mandated to make the earth subordinate to its own will. The authors propose to overcome this old paradigm with a new paradigm. This builds on the (1) “precautionary principle”, (2) justice as equity, (3) protection and the (4) principle of responsibility.
Most European readers of philosophy and social science are familiar with these principles. The virtue of the paper is to expose and juxtapose these principles in a clear format and a stringent application to the ethics of energy (production as well as consumption of it).
The precautionary principle is part of the European treaty on the functioning of the European Union Art. 191, but its implementation on energy issues reveals that it is a tiger without teeth. Younger generations across the globe are right to claim a more forceful implementation of this principle.
The perspective of justice as equity is bringing in later born generations as well into the balance costs and benefits of “cheap energy today” but huge costs of dismantling, repairing, stocking deferred to the future.
The protection principle refers to the loss of biodiversity and exploiting resources in areas of world heritage, for example.
The principle of responsibility goes beyond the judicial and economic principle that the person, company or state causing damage through exploitation of resources, and in producing energy with it, has to pay for repairing those damages.
As this is hard to achieve in real terms, there is an urgent need to reiterate the responsibility principle at all levels. Despite the inefficiencies of legal systems, the international legal order in particular, there is no way around than to insist on responsibility from the individual behaviour, company strategic goals as well as objectives set by nation states and international organisations. The Paris agreement and all COP XY conferences only prove the fact that irresponsibility continues to be a guiding principle.
Maximalist positions as well as continuing like decades before is failing people on earth. Organising a discourse on these ethical issues is a first step, but we have to be able to address negationists as well.
The missing principle so far is the solidarity principle. Without a firm commitment to intergenerational and international solidarity we shall remain unable to solve the ethical puzzle. It is high time to organise solidarity related to the field of energy.
(Image: “The fallen tree of knowledge” by Fabrice Samyn. Exposition in Yerres, France 2021-11)

Smurf SDGs

The smurf series of comics has been a world-wide success as children-books. Many adults enjoy re-reading some of their old comic books to their children or grand-children. Now let us try it the other way around. Our children try to sell us the concern for the environment by talking to us through the designs of smurfs, Schlümpfe or Strümpfe, as they are called in various translations. Maybe this way we are more open to take a serious look at the Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN. Easily accessible and getting us through an emotional connection might work better than tedious lengthy documents and statistics of continuous failure (e.g. on hunger) of most parts of the world.
Tell the story of the smurfs with the SDGs in mind. See how far you get in remembering the whole list of 17 stories. Build a narrative around each of the images. There is no way around getting nearer these goals for our very own survival as a species. Intergenerational communication works both ways from young to old as well as from old to young. Design your own characters, if you like, with the same SDGs in mind. Only this way we shall broaden the supporters for the goals beyond the expert circles of politicians and policy advisers. Happy drafting and rapid implementation! We can do it, if we want to.

Special

We all value special skills and specialists. In Berlin is a whole week devoted to the special event of the #SOWG. These are the special Olympics world games. Berlin is booming with special people all around. Already the arrivals of the athletes to Berlin tests the public transport system as much as private infrastructure to welcome persons with special needs. Rather than the waste that is produced for normal Olympic games the same incredible amounts of money should be devoted to make cities more welcoming to special people every day. We have become as societies so used to speed up things as much as we can that we have forgotten the value of allowing people to live their lives with their own speed and rhythm. Looking at the huge numbers of private sponsors for the SOWG it becomes obvious that many people care to support these special people on their journey. I am more willing to pay taxes for such efforts than the public money wasted for football, like TV-rights or stadium buildings. The joint experience of love and joy with these extraordinary persons makes us all happy and rich. Happiness is the new “wealth of nations”. Inclusion brings happiness to more than just the normal. We wish you all a happy #SOWG. The stars are you. 

Democracy is key

The ETUC congress in Berlin 2023 prepares the working agenda for the next 4 years. A lot of support across political parties is voiced in favour of the important role the ETUC plays in coordinating the European Trade Union Movement. The democratic forum of all delegates works before and during the congress on a comprehensive list of essentials for the movement. It is much more than about wages, as most people might believe. Of course, minimum wages and fair wages are always high on the agenda. The strength of the 2023 Berlin congress for me consists in the widespread and loud call to intensify democratic structures and broaden participation of workers at all levels. The power of the unions to fight for democracy is dearly needed in all European nations with the threat from far-right populist movements. Strengthening workers is the best way to foster democracy. Throughout the congress several support facilities have been mentioned like the SURE instrument as a step into a European labour market policy.
Public services have also enjoyed more popular support, since essential services were the jobs that kept our countries running during the COVID crisis.
A just transition to a green economy in a democratic spirit means taking everybody with us on this journey. Fighting poverty, inequality is still high on the agenda and most people are convinced that democratic societies are highly sensitive to injustices caused by education systems, remuneration systems, retirement systems and tax systems. Even industrial policy, to guarantee our independence and values, is also linked to essential workers cooperation.
Weak social policies erode the trust in our societies to handle crises. The engagement of trade unions is felt far beyond Europe. Gilbert F Houngbo (ILO), hopes that due diligence is rapidly implemented in Europe, because it will benefit workers well beyond Europe across the world.
Union leaders were arrested in Belarus and in many other countries where they stand for democratic values. Trade Unionist from Europe have shown their own commitment to fight for democracy and mobilize to convince more people and youth to join the movement. “Donner l’envie de s’engager …” (LeMonde 26-5-2023 p.28) “Raise the urge to get involved” – that is the democratic challenge.

Photo Album

There have been many attempts to write a history of photography. Susan Sonntag’s account of photography and photographers remains the most successful one in my opinion. It includes a critical view on the medium just as much as capturing the power-related element of images and particularly photos. “Ouvrir l’album du monde” traces the history of photography from 1842-1911 starting with the invention by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre of the “daguerréotype” (Great press dossier Link to pdf-file). The attempt to “de-center” the history from the dominating western perspective is interesting as it reflects the spread and acquisition of the new technology by various “ruling groups” across the planet. Images like photos served and still serve often as proof (so easy to produce fakes and fake news nowadays). Proof of variety of existence of species, mankind, land acquisition and landscapes. Images of religious ideation, frequently forbidden, have been captured on photos. Many photos use up-front and profile perspectives on the same face, like police registry or the ethnographic documentations. This puts the visitor in an awkward position of “complice” to the process, judgement or documentation effort of a ruling more powerful class or colonial occupier. Historical embedding is necessary to balance the voyeurism of the camera. The film “Der vermessene Mensch”, reviewed in The New York Times recently, is a timely warning, how science and photography have served to create hierarchies of people, despite the fact, that “all men are created equal”.

Bauhaus Haus

Zu den Ursprüngen des “Bauhaus” in Weimar gehört das Haus, welches die Feder von Georg Muche entworfen hat. Auch wenn das Bauhaus überwiegend mit Walter Gropius assoziiert wird, ist die Parallele von Georg Muche zu dem französischen Maler und Architekten Le Corbusier frappierend. Beide waren geprägt durch die eigene Malerei und Zeichenkunst. Die Entwürfe für Häuser oder Villen folgten Zeichnungen, die wiederum einer “cognitive map” mit Prinzipen der Konzeption und der Konstruktion folgten. Treu den Ansätzen des Bauhauses verwirklichte Muche bereits in 1923 sein Musterhaus. Modulare Bauweise, preisgünstige Erstellung, aktuelle Technologie, perspektivische Blickwinkel und Lichtspiel. Eine gewisse Parallelität zu der Villa La Roche und Jeanneret von Le Corbusier besteht nicht nur in der zeitlichen Dimension, sondern auch in dem Einfluß von kubistischem Spiel mit Perspektiven in Haus  und auf das Haus. Die von der Malerei herkommenden Architekten entwerfen ihre Räume mit “The painter’s eye“. Vielleicht kommt nicht zuletzt daher der Traum vom Eigenheim, der so prägend bleibt in ganz Europa und der westlichen Welt. Geprägt von den 1910er und frühen 1920er Jahren war kostengünstiges Bauen eine wichtige Rahmenbedingung. Relativ kleine Grundrisse, modular erweiterungsfähig, preiswerte Baustoffe sorgten trotz Schwierigkeiten für rasche Realisierungsmöglichkeiten. Eine gewisse deutsch-französische Parallelität drängt sich auf. LeMonde vom 6.4.2023 beschreibt ausführlich das Dilemma des 21. Jahrhunderts. Der Traum vom eigenen Haus wird für die nächsten Generationen schwieriger zu realisieren sein. Rohstoffpreise, Grundstückspreise, Arbeitslöhne, Kreditzinsen schnellen in die Höhe. Der Traum vom Eigenheim bleibt ein Traum älterer Generationen oder der glücklichen Erben solcher Häuser, fast unerreichbar für Durchschnittsverdienende. “Gemeinsam statt Einsam” ist die noch gültige Schlussfolgerung, die bereits Henning Scherf formuliert hat. Die neue Herausforderung für den Bau war, ist und bleibt die soziale Frage, der wachsenden Ungleichheit entgegen zu wirken.