The Human Sciences Section

The Human Sciences Section of the Max Planck Society comprises a total of 22 Max Planck Institutes at 17 locations in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg. The range of topics covered by the institutes extends from the intellectual development of man and his social coexistence, through the economic and legal order and cultural history, to the artistic expression of man's spirituality.

The institutes differ greatly in their knowledge objectives and in their research methods. These range from interpretative, comparative procedures in law, history and the arts, to qualitative and quantitative measurement methods in the empirical social sciences, to experimental investigations in psychology and the neurosciences, which form a bridge to the natural sciences. Interdisciplinarity and the combination of different research foci characterize the individual institutes. The accelerated globalisation has considerable consequences for the economic, social and political conditions of action in Europe.

The challenges posed by EU enlargement and the transformation of European societies into a knowledge society call for a sound understanding of the underlying processes and their framework conditions in the humanities and social sciences. Accordingly, important topics for research are the effects of these processes on growth and employment, the prerequisites for successful innovation and the scientific foundation of social integration processes.

The Human Sciences Section is divided into the research fields of Law, Law and Economics, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Cultural Sciences and Humanities.

1. Law

The research perspectives of the Max Planck Law Institutes are comparative law, international law and historical law. The research topics of the legal institutes are typically aimed at comparative law, inter- and supranational law, the harmonization of law, especially from a European perspective, the steering potential of law and politics and their role in modern societies. They provide insights into the already existing stock of legal solutions to social problems, functional legal and extra-legal alternatives as well as proposals for the further development of the law. In addition to this horizontal comparison, the vertical analysis of the interdependencies between national, international and supranational levels of law and law-making moves into the research perspective. The entire spectrum of law in the form of private law as well as public and criminal law is covered. The five law institutes of the Section are characterized by a high degree of internationality and interdisciplinarity due to their research questions and comparative law perspective. The comparative and international legal orientation of the Max Planck Institutes of Law and the specific competence they have acquired in this field have led to a great demand in politics and society for scientific advisory services on domestic and foreign legislation and for the provision of expert opinions for courts and authorities.

2. Law and Economics

The research of the Max Planck Law and Economic Institutes is of great social relevance. These four institutes combine research from legal and economic perspectives and form a separate field of research. Research topics include the financing of social systems, competition as a control instrument in health care, the effects of social law regulations on economic behaviour or the protection of patent or copyright law.

3. Social and Behavioural Sciences

The research of Social and Behavioural Science Max Planck Institutes focuses on the explanation of collective and individual action in its dependence on institutions, situations, social change and the life histories of individuals. The social science-oriented institutes examine the actions of collective social actors in their respective historical, cultural, social and political contexts.

4. Cultural Studies

The research of the historically working cultural studies Max Planck Institutes is focused on the preconditions and contexts of origin of culture and meaning and thus on the investigation of the formation of cultural forms within which knowledge, values, opinions, concepts or even art are produced. In the research field of cultural studies, it is particularly true that the problems define the methodology and not vice versa. There is thus no binding set of methods and techniques that could characterize the research work of those institutes. What they do have in common, however, is the conviction that research into human culture requires a comparative approach. The fields of work and topics of the institutes assigned to this field of research are very different. They range from the architecture of the Italian Renaissance to the dynamics of experimentation in modern microbiology, from the secularisation of modern Europe to the emergence of the scientific persona.

5. Humanities

Successful research in the field of Humanities requires highly networked cooperation between disciplines in the humanities and natural sciences. For example, genetic or neuroanatomical foundations of human behaviour must be investigated in terms of their interaction with its cultural foundations, or differences between biographical developmental trajectories in old age must be explored against the background of current health conditions, family constellations or even social or economic conditions.

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