SFB-Abschlusskonferenz: Keynote by Prof. Joel Mokyr (Northwestern)

Is secular stagnation a real concern? We should start with the observation that in the long run secular stagnation has been historically the “normal” situation. Most economies of the past “stagnated” in the sense that their growth rates were zero or negligible; growth has become the norm only in the past two centuries in the West, and for an even shorter period in Asia and elsewhere. In asking the question whether it would be possible that the clock be turned back and return to the stagnation of the past, we need to ask why sustained growth was absent through most of human history and what factors were responsible for the phase transition that turned the world from a stationary (stagnant)  state to one of sustained growth. I isolate three factors: population dynamics, rent-seeking, and limitations on human knowledge. All three of those are no longer in force. Long-run (secular) stagnation is therefore highly unlikely even if measured GDP growth rates may fluctuate. Yet this prediction is contingent on institutional and political factors being aligned with technological progress, which is becoming increasingly questionable. 

more information

Reflecting one’s own weakness and putting it into words almost always includes a certain amount of willingness to change. Or, to put it the other way round: for a historical formation, the willingness to develop its own abilities or to find new orientations towards the future quite often is linked to the establishment of a variety of discourses of weakness. 

more information

Researchers at the CRC

Who among us has not thought of knowledge about the weather as weak? We depend on weather knowledge for so many endeavours - to make plans for the weekend, to raise crops, or to fight wars - yet meteorological forecasts fail us time and time again.
In our project we analyse different ways of knowing about the weather in a time before meteorology was a scientific discipline, between 1750 and 1850. Before the European nations founded state-run meteorological research institutions a wide variety of knowledge claims circulated. Doctors, gardeners, farmers, priests, astrologers, mathematicians, naturalists all believed they had something insightful to contribute, and where not necessarily convinced that claims voiced by the other groups were equally valid. The resource weather knowledge thus lends itself perfectly to studying the complex interactions of mutual ascriptions of epistemic, sociocultural, and practical weakness as well as the situatedness of knowledge.

Linda Richter, Situated Knowledge: Forms and Functions of Weak Bodies of Knowledge (A 06)

SFB 1095 "Discourses of Weakness and Resource Regimes"

The transformation in the treatment of resources gives rise to the question as to the power of agency of the actors and is thus not only a core issue within historical research but is of major relevance for today’s societies. The Collaborative Research Centre 1095 Discourses of Weakness and Resource Regimes approaches this question by working on the assumption that discourses of weakness may have indicative and mobilising functions with respect to the problems in the handling and treatment of resources, whether they be material or non-material thus significantly influencing the behaviour of the players involved. Communication on the topic of weakness can impart that resources are lacking or will be required in the future in order to guarantee the reaching of goals. 

Read more…