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Meet the Fellow: Yannig Luthra

Strategic Cooperation, Social Freedom and the 
Consequences of Philosophy at a Distance

Philosophy is the age-old tradition to ask fundamental questions, to engage in critical discourse and to present rational argument. Since antiquity this has happened often in dialogue to map the process of ‘how we come to know‘. Junior Fellow Yannig Luthra and his hosts, Professor Cristina Borgoni Gonçalves (Epistemology) and Professor Gabriel Wollner (Political Philosophy), on their collaborations and on linking well-tried and novel modes of work.

What is your joint research about?

Yannig Luthra: With Cristina I share a project about different ways of thinking about cooperation between people. The dominant way is to see cooperation as a mutual beneficial coordination and so people involved have to find some plan that works for them. In addition, we are interested in the concepts of play and talk and other relational kinds of interaction that exhibit cooperativeness between people.

Cristina Borgoni Gonçalves: Our leading question concerns what it means to think about cooperation in strategic terms and to link that to the Philosophy & Economics programme in Bayreuth. To give an example: we had a look at parenting books that apply game theory to parenting, i.e. how you can manipulate your child to do what you want. This implies a way of cooperation that is guided by a strategic mindset; and there are other books that accept the autonomy of the child, so cooperation has to work differently. So cooperation is complex and that is not represented in the leading notion put forth by economic theory, which has a lot of explanatory power to model behaviour; but if we want to look at people’s interaction in a more humane way, we need to find a different, currently unexplored notion of cooperation.

YL: The second axis of my Junior Fellowship takes place with Gabriel Wollner in that we are interested in shared agency
or shared practical life as an important social ideal and how this is connected to ideals of freedom and liberty.

Gabriel Wollner: We have two areas that overlap: Yannig is writing a book that emphasises the social dimension of freedom, how freedom is something that is possible between people, acting together in a particular way. And I’m interested in political and economic institutions where the standard question is: Is it a just institution that succeeds in delivering welfare to everyone? But the better question is actually: Is this the kind of institution that makes the right kind of collective action possible? As we cooperate through institutions, e.g. markets, the state, or property rights regimes, do they facilitate the right kind of collective action? And what is collective action and how are we applying this standard to institutions? I consider this a promising avenue for assessing institutions, and also a promising vantage point to revisit the history of political theory. So Yannig and I can connect through the relation of social freedom and joint action of people in a political context.

Photo Dr Luthra, Prof Borgoni Goncalves and Prof Wollner

Regarding the pandemic, but also with respect to Brexit and resurging nationalisms across the globe: What do international research and mobility mean to you?

YL: It is nice to have more access to conversations with colleagues in a place, but you do not necessarily need to go to another country to meet people; with Brexit for some people international research mobility is certainly impeded, and I appreciate the Fellowship of the Bayreuth Humboldt Centre as a way to counter this new reality of Brexit.

GW: Covid and Brexit are two different things: Covid will go away at some point, hopefully. But the Brexit effect is more lasting: sending students to the UK for graduate studies in particular to the UK is becoming more expensive and also less attractive, as they develop a bad image of the UK, again in connection with the pandemic. In philosophy, it has certainly become more difficult to cooperate with British universities as longstanding partners.

How do you adapt your work to the current challenges? How does philosophical dialogue take place these days?

CBG: Yannig and my work has suffered because we couldn’t meet in person which we consider essential as travelling and being present add a different quality. We are also working on that extra energy level, which we can’t keep up forever. Finally, I see the hard impact in terms of gender: as we learned, women have produced way less papers during the pandemic, so there’s an obvious disadvantage with an increasing gap. Nevertheless, we have a very active semester; Yannig has been attending all of our workshops and forums including our Philosophy Breakfast, and he has really become a member of the department with the Fellowship.

GW: We had bilateral discussions while reading and commenting on each others’ work, and we are also involved in an online workshop series in the philosophy department called “BaRoC“ with Erasmus University Rotterdam; this semester it was dedicated to the research theme “The value of collective action and social freedom” and Yannig was already one of the featured speakers. We certainly see the beneft of online meetings: As Zoom and online formats have become more widespread, we could open up the audience and discussion. The links to the workshops, for example, went sort of viral and we had unexpected researchers joining from New York or elsewhere. We actually sort of came back to this romantic stereotype of philosophy: I happen to live in Berlin for some days of the week, as Yannig is right now. So with the current restrictions, we resumed to the age-old practice of the philosophical walk, of course complying with the distance of 1.5 m in the park of Schloss Charlottenburg. We have enjoyed the views in the park and at the same time discuss each others’ philosophical views, immersed in thought and reviving this millennium-old conversational tradition.

Mirjam Horn-Schott

This interview is part of our series "Meet the Fellow/Meet the Grantee" and was first published in the Bayreuth Humboldt Centre Prospectus 2021

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