Working Groups

Working group

Here you can find an overview on the 27 work groups we offer to you at ISWI 2017. Every group deals with a certain aspect of ‘global justice’. You will only be able to participate in one group, so take your time for deciding which you like best (you can state your three top preferences).

1 What is Justice?

2 How can we achieve Justice?

3 Where does Justice apply?

4 Cultural Groups

1 What is Justice?

1.1 Purpose and Need of Justice

There are many possible reasons for 400 students from all over the world to come to a little town called Ilmenau to talk about global justice. Maybe they already have a vague idea of this rather abstract term, or maybe they want to find out more about what justice is and how it is defined and interpreted by different people from different backgrounds. In this group, you can discuss, expand on and debate questions such as: What is global justice? Why should we pursue it, or why not? Would a world that, without exception, gives each person the opportunity to develop freely be considered just? Is there a contradiction between freedom and justice? Is it possible to bring justice to every single layer of our society? How would an ideal society look? What significance would justice have in such a world? Would it have any other consequences for our lives? To whom can we apply the term ‘justice’? What responsibilities do we have, not just towards other human beings but also to our offspring, other living creatures and the environment?

1.2 Psychology and Sociology

Conflicts, disputes and wars based on food, possessions, land and power have driven human interactions since the very beginnings of human society, often allowing the ‘strong’ to consolidate their position of power at the expense of the ‘weak’. But to what extent are competing, jostling for power and harming others for our own gain evolutionary instincts? Are humans actually inherently just? In this group, you can investigate the suitability of human beings for a globally just society. You could discuss human tendencies such as greed, envy and dissatisfaction on the one hand and acceptance, tolerance and solidarity on the other hand. Furthermore, you can examine the influence of our society on our perception of (in)justice, the manner in which each person’s individual conception of justice is formed and how factors such as social status, education and cultural background affect our morals; as well as the effect of people’s different systems of values on global justice. Finally, you can think about potential solutions to global injustice. What individual conditions are required to achieve and maintain global justice? What role do nationalist, racist and sexist attitudes play?

1.3 Philosophy

Throughout history, philosophers have debated the idea of justice, the debt owed by humans to society and ways of balancing individual and group interests. The concept of justice as a virtue and a philosophy has undergone considerable evolution from the earliest works of Aristotle to the more recent theories of Rawls. Along the way, it has been shaped by societies, religions and governments, and it continues to be refined to this day. In this day and age, with increasing interdependence in our society, economy, personal life and environment, the broadening and enhancement of our philosophy of justice deserves more attention. A new school of philosophy, combining the thoughts of various schools all around the world, is emerging along with our world’s increasing connectedness. There are many new and old questions which need exploring, such as: Is global justice really possible or plausible? Does increasing justice necessarily mean restricting individual freedoms? In this group, you can take a fresh new look at an individual’s obligation to contribute towards equality in society. Some possibilities for inspiring philosophical debate are thought experiments and review/study of ideas from history.

1.4 Lessons from the Past

Studying history allows us to learn useful lessons to guide our present and future actions. It is important to make people conscious of the reasons for and the consequences of historical events in order for them to evaluate their own actions with these events in mind. There is a huge variety of historical events which could serve as inspiration for your group work. These include the French Revolution, the supporters of which demanded “liberté” (freedom), “égalité” (equality) and “fraternité” (fraternity) by means of bloodshed and violence; the centuries-long fight for the abolition of slavery combined with the continuing demands for the equality of coloured people and ethnic minorities; and recent events such as the Arab Spring. With regard to global justice, you could discuss questions related to the success and failure of the peaceful coexistence of different cultures, and what lessons can be learned from various historical attempts to bring about a more just society. Furthermore, you can discuss the significance of history and its recording. Bertolt Brecht, a famous German writer, once wrote in “The Trial of Lucullus”: “It is always the winner who writes history, not the loser.” To what extent does this apply? In what ways can history be manipulated for just or unjust purposes? How can historians ensure that they work as objective authorities? Can an excessive focus on history even be detrimental and hinder progress and open-mindedness?

2 How can we achieve Justice?

2.1 Justice through Human Rights

Human rights, a collection of general basic rights that apply to all humans in the same way and aim to prevent extreme injustice, are incorporated in a declaration of the United Nations. In this group we would like to consider the history and background of human rights and their formulation. Also, the current state of human rights around the world can be discussed. To what extent are human rights implemented around the world? What kinds of mechanisms exist for ensuring human rights and how could they be improved? What role do humanitarian organisations play and what means do they use to work towards the attainment of human rights? Results from development geography could be used to quantitatively describe the distribution of resources, power and potential for development. Current and alternative ethical models could be compared and contrasted critically. Are human rights the right way to bring about global justice? Do humans become just through the presence of such standards? Thought experiments can also be discussed in order to exemplify potential conflicts and create new perspectives.

2.2 Everyday Actions

Globalisation shows to us the interconnectedness of all human beings around the world. Besides the many positive effects of the growing global network, media now provides us with daily news of catastrophes, wars and conflicts all over the world. In a globalised world, in which so many aspects and parts of life are intertwined, the odds are slim that such problems are solely based on local sources but need to bee seen in a broader conntext. We sympathise with vicitms of catastrophes and violence, and often feel overwhelmed, not knowing how to help exactly. Yet, responsibility must not be transfered to higher institutions, just as our actions should not be limited to sympathy and possibly a donation or two. The goal of this group is to think of possible everyday actions as a sort of guideline to the individual in their everyday lives. A potential principle might be to think globally and act locally. How can we implement usefull forms of action into our everyday lives, preferably in a way that is accepted and even copied by other human beings of our society? Which way is there to communicate such ideas and principles to our environment, and of what help might the internet and other technologies be? Participants of this group might exchange thoughts and ideas about global justice in daily situations, and could find out whether or not some of the ideas they come up with might even be applied on a greater scale than the local one. Furthermore, they shall have the opportunity to evaluate the usefullness and feasability of different actions. Based on ideas which the participants collect, they could even start a campaign or write down a guideline for self-initiative.

2.3 Crime and Punishment

In order to ensure cohesion and to handle conflicts and crises in a society, rules and legislations, as well as consequences for their violation, are needed. Obviously, it is difficult or impossible to come up with complete or correct laws that cover every person or possible situation. In this group, you can discuss the discrepancy between the laws of nations and institutions and various people’s definitions of what is morally right. For example, human rights such as freedom of speech are curtailed in some countries, where criticism of those in power is not tolerated. Is it justified to break laws that do not fit with one’s own interpretation of right and wrong? What about laws that infringe on the rights of individuals? And how should we interpret actions that violate local laws but have a positive effect on a global scale, such as blockading coal-fired power stations and oil rigs? Furthermore, you can discuss different approaches to dealing with crimes. Is locking people up behind bars the most effective way of getting criminals to reintegrate into society? Or are there other ways of re-integrating delinquents? What changes would a society have to make in order to realise these alternatives? Are there people that, by nature, are not able to integrate harmoniously into society, and if so, how should society proceed with them?

2.4 Sharing is Caring

The concept of sharing one’s possessions with others is not a new one. Even the first hunter-gatherer societies shared food and tools. Today, it may seem as though the widely-spread idea of capitalism promotes amassing as much wealth as possible for oneself without giving anyone else a share. But many new and innovative ways of sharing goods are now being created, such as carsharing, couchsurfing and crowdsourcing. Also, new technologies allow us to share more and more information with more and more people. Websites and video tutorials promising to teach anything from cooking to computer programming are popping up like mushrooms. It is easy to see the appeal of being able to use goods and services to their full extent and gain access to goods and knowledge that would otherwise be inaccessible or prohibitively expensive. But how far can the idea of sharing be extended? Are there negative sides too? In this group, you can discuss various historical and modern ways of sharing, various interpretations of the concept of sharing, advantages and disadvantages of sharing, as well as ways to improve the concept and use it to help attain global justice.

3 Where does Justice apply?

3.1 Organisation of Society

What came first: The chicken or the egg; economy, politics or law? The intertwined nature of these systems makes this question hard to answer. However, a certain hierarchy does become apparent on closer examination. The economy has a large influence on politics and global events, and governments are able to change laws more or less easily. Corruption and monopolies, which can subvert democracy, can spring from imbalances between economic, political and judicial interests and from the dominance of one system with respect to the others. In this group, you can think about how political and legal systems should be structured to ensure global justice and prevent corruption, bearing in mind the holistic structure of society on all levels, from local to global. You will have the chance to critically examine various models of economic, political and legal systems, be they purely theoretical or already in use in certain countries. Are they compatible with the idea of global justice? In what ways can they be improved? Also, you can examine the results of case studies and development geography, as well as coming up with and examining various utopian models of ‘perfect societies’ and discussing their feasibility.

3.2 Economic Systems

A banana is more than just a piece of fruit. It is part of a dense network of economic transactions that spans the globe, connecting local production and consumption with the global economy. In discussing the global economy, you could think about the role and privileges of the rich and powerful. Are certain economic processes reliant on monopolies of power? Where does corruption come from? You can think about ways in which economic systems can be made more globally just. Are ideas such as a universal basic income for all or an economy based on resources instead of money possible, feasible or useful? What responsibilities do states, entrepreneurs and consumers have with regard to working towards a more just economy? What consequences does an uneven distribution of resources have for the world and the climate? What would a society look like whose highest priority is no longer economic growth? You will have the chance to investigate current economic systems as well as alternatives in terms of their compatibility with global justice. Also, you can look at data from indicators such as the Human Development Index, which helps to visualise the discrepancy in the living standards of people around the world.

3.3 Environment

In general, it is society’s weakest that suffer the most from injustice. This does not only include socially and politically disadvantaged humans, but also animals, plants and our environment. Environmental pollution, exploitation of resources, deforestation, soil degradation and extinction of species are all links in a chain of unequal distribution, imbalance and injustice. In many places, consequences such as natural disasters and pollution have a detrimental effect on people’s daily lives. Indigenous peoples and local species are dispersed when their environment becomes less and less hospitable. Today, awareness of environmental issues is increasing, as people become more conscious of the effects of their actions, but we still have a long way to go. In this group, you can discuss causes of and potential solutions to environmental issues. What responsibilities do we have with regard to the protection of the environment? How do our local actions affect the environment as a whole? What restrictions and interventions are appropriate for protecting the environment? You will have the chance to discuss global justice in terms of not just humans, but also nature and the environment as an interconnected whole. You can also get creative and develop a campaign to spread awareness and inform others of the results of your group work.

3.4 Health and Healthcare

Our highest good is not just life itself, but a fulfilling and meaningful life. Healthcare aims to ensure that this good is available for as many people as possible. But, as in any human industry, injustice is present in the healthcare system. Some people have more opportunities for quality healthcare than others, due to wealth, location and other factors. The health industry has a desire to turn a profit and, thus, a motivation to increase prices and restrict access to healthcare. In this group, you can examine the extent to which the healthcare system is just. To what extent is the value of human life reduced to how much money they have? Is it possible to extend equal access to healthcare to all human beings, and what would a healthcare system look like that is independent of individuals’ financial means? Is medical research helped or hindered by the money and vested interests of wealthy corporations? And to what extent should individuals themselves be able to decide what kinds of treatments they receive? You can also discuss ethical questions such as human and animal testing and stem-cell research, as well as the work of organisations such as Doctors Without Borders.

3.5 Just Distribution of Resources

The human population is rising constantly. According to the UN, approximately 9.2 billion people will be living on Earth by 2050. Some parts of the world are seeing massive shortages of critical resources, while other parts of the world produce massive amounts of waste. Surely, a globally just world would necessarily make resources available to all humans equally. In this group, you can investigate the extent of the imbalance in the distribution of resources today as well as potential solutions to these issues. How can the gap between different parts of the globe be bridged? How can and should the global north change their consumption patterns to allow living conditions in the global south to be improved? What laws would need to be established and how would societies and mindsets have to change in order to achieve this? Does our existing idea of appropriate living standards need changing? One important aspect of the distribution of resources is the availability of food and nourishment. Nowadays, more people die of obesity than of malnutrition. Could a redistribution of food resources change both of these statistics? What steps would have to be taken to achieve this? What role do economic and political interests play in the situation we have today? You will also have the opportunity to come up with alternative models for more a more globally just distribution of resources which could reduce starvation and poverty.

3.6 Gender Movement

We are all born with at least one gender, and society in many cases dictates how different genders are raised and what particular behaviours and predilections correspond to each gender. This system often disregards or disadvantages certain members of society. LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) people do not conform to the traditional binary system of gender and sexual identity. Women, who make up more than 50% of our population, are routinely discriminated, both openly and subconsciously, by a patriarchal system that also has negative effects on men. Queer, feminist and other movements aim to reduce this discrimination and raise awareness of alternative points of view. In this group, you can discuss the current progress of such movements with regard to the present situation of discrimination against women and non-traditional genders and sexualities as well as how the present issues can be solved. Is demanding equal treatment before the law enough, or should more be asked of society? Is true gender equality really possible, in spite of the clear binary segmentation of genders apparent today? If so, how can we work towards it? Is educating people enough, or should additional laws such as gender quotas be (at least temporarily) imposed? You will have the opportunity to discuss what is a highly emotional and ideologically influenced topic in a rational way and ask volatile questions in order to develop ideas and concepts for applying human rights to people of all genders and sexual orientations.

3.7 Sustainable Tourism

Travelling is an educational experience that can give people many new impressions and ideas. The constitution of human rights of 1948 recognises the right to recovery, leisure and holiday. Ways to spend one’s holiday are nearly endless and only limited by monetary reasons, especially for citizens of industrial nations. Tourism represents an important source of income for many countries. But many package deals and all-inclusive holidays leave little to no profit in the hands of locals in the visited countries.  Even so-called ‘voluntourism’, where citizens of more affluent nations volunteer their services in developing areas, can have unintended negative consequences when the volunteers lack the necessary skills to make a real and lasting difference. In this group, you can discuss the consequences of various kinds of tourism and how it can be made more sustainable. Is it just to board a plane, and so cause damage to the environment, for leisure purposes? To what extent is this human right made use of by all people, and how can this situation be improved? Against the backdrop of the UN Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development in 2017, you could develop some guidelines for making people aware of the consequences of their leisure trips and how they could add a degree of sustainability to their holidays.

3.8 Migration and Integration

Migration is defined as the permanent change of residence and often takes place due to personal reasons. But in many cases migration is the result of flight. Currently there are around 60 million people seeking refuge, the highest number since World War 2. They are running from violent conflicts, human rights abuse and political, ethnic and religious persecution. Natural disasters also provoke people to leave their homes. Usually this is limited to movement within the borders of their country or between neighbouring countries, but more and more people are risking the journey to faraway places, often without the intention of coming back any time soon. What possibilities do these refugees have for being integrated into the society that is taking them in? Is limiting immigration to maintain living standards and security in a country ever justified against the humanitarian obligation to support those in need as far as possible? What responsibilities do countries, especially those industrial ones that export weapons, have with respect to those displaced by war? What long-term consequences does mass migration have? What, if anything, should be done about things such as parallel societies in receiving areas? How can disparate political and religious views be consolidated? To what extent is the freedom to move around the world part of a globally just world?

3.9 Education

Establishing global justice in education first requires the availability of education for everyone. This availability forms one of the Millennium Development Goals as formulated by the UN. In this group, you can discuss the current progress towards this goal and potential ways to come closer to it. What arrangements would have to be made around the world in order to spread education around the world, especially to young women and other minorities? How can global educational systems permanently secure a just and lasting education for all? What role do new technologies that allow knowledge to be spread all around the world within seconds play? You can also discuss the overall concept of education. Does more education necessarily bring with it a higher level of development? Should education be seen solely as a starting point for a career and a place in the economy? Or should educators also have a responsibility to provide people with a diverse range of knowledge which allows them so formulate their own worldview and grow as individuals? How important are skills such as critical thinking, ethics and morals? How can an education system ensure that it produces human beings capable of thinking and seeing through prejudices and dogmas?

3.10 Technology

The industrial revolution brought huge changes to 19th-century society, introducing a new era of production, manufacturing and trade. Nowadays, the Internet is revolutionising communication and the transfer of knowledge, bringing with it seemingly endless possibilities. Production processes are increasingly being automated and menial jobs replaced by robots. In this group, you can discuss the role of such technologies in working towards global justice. How can these technologies help in supplying every single person on this planet with food, clothing and housing? How can the negative environmental effects of a more and more technologically dependent society be reduced? And how will technological development affect society when more and more work is done by machines? How can we ensure that negative effects are neutralised? What can we do about the dark sides of further technological development, such as the increased potential of governments and corporations to infringe on the privacy of individuals or the development of autonomous weapon systems? Is all technological development useful? What about space travel, which has no immediate positive effect on life on Earth? Is it possible to solve the problems we have on Earth while simultaneously reaching for the stars?

3.11 Media and Communication

A daily issue of the New York Times contains more information than the average citizen of 17th-century England was exposed to in their entire lifetime (Richard Wurman, 1989). We are exposed to a seemingly endless flow of information from traditional and online media each and every day. The Internet allows even the smallest and most trivial pieces of information to spread around the world like a wildfire, and brings disparate groups of hearers/viewers together like nothing that has gone before. Social media has a powerful position in the world which allows anyone with Internet access to contribute to discussions about politics, society and lifestyles; and it is normal for many people, politicians and celebrities (and even the odd animal) to be active on social media. But how easily can information on the Internet be manipulated by the companies that run search engines and social networks? Do traditional media even have a place in our future? In this group, you can examine these questions as well as thinking about ways in which media can be used to help bring about global justice. For example, you can think about the role of social media in organising protests and other real actions that bring about real change. But you could also think about ways to inform others of the dangers of media, such as a pamphlet or other message

3.12 Rights of indigenous people

Nearly everywhere on our planet, there are indigenous peoples who prefer living in their own community than integrating into the society of former colonists and conquerors. Many people in developed areas imagine their life to be simple and free of the stress that accompanies modern life. But there are many examples which contradict this wishful thinking. There is a huge amount of discrimination against indigenous peoples, who are often forced to leave their homes and, in many cases, lack the opportunity to be a full part of society and its judicative structures. Numerous attempts have been made to support and help them, such as the work of human rights organisations and neutral observers. In this group, you can discuss the current situation of indigenous peoples all around the world. Where does injustice against them come from? Is it only governments and large corporations who are at fault or are all people, including the indigenous peoples themselves, part of the problem? How can their situation be improved? How do special scholarships or seats in parliament help, and how can they be justified? How can the interests of several different peoples be balanced?

4 Cultural Groups

4.1 Fine Arts

Art can inspire, provoke and challenge like no other medium. The work that artists do to represent their ideas about life and society is invaluable to us. Yet, in general, they are not entitled to the same wages and privileges as people in supposedly more “constructive” professions; and they are questioned as to the relevance of their work. Also, injustice is a feature in the art business, with many peoples’ art remaining unseen or unappreciated. Many artists are faced with a decision between staying true to themselves, producing the art which they want to; and gaining more money and recognition by producing more easily digestible art. However, art is also a powerful tool for combatting global injustice, due in part to its ability to present social issues in a very direct form. Modern technologies and media now allow art and the messages in it to reach larger audiences. In this group, you can investigate the issues and injustices inherent in today’s art business and think of some possibilities for fixing them. You can look at some possibilities for bringing about global justice through art. Also, you can use the conference motto to inspire your own pieces and display them during the conference and at the closing ceremony.

4.2 Music

Music plays a huge role in many people’s lives. It can evoke a wide range of emotions, inspire thoughts and aid in relaxation and self-discovery. It is also very well-suited to combatting societal issues, due to the fast-paced and wide distribution of songs which allows messages contained in them to spread between large numbers of people very quickly. On the other hand, the same factors allow prejudiced and bigoted opinions to be spread just as easily. Injustice is also prevalent in the music industry, with minorities often discriminated against and a small number of stars earning huge amounts of money while most musicians struggle to earn a living and gain recognition. Illegal distribution of music is also hurting the industry. In this group you can investigate the justice and injustice in the music industry and the ways in which it can be used to promote or hinder global justice. How can a balance be found between consumer friendliness and proper compensation of artists’ work? What challenges and opportunities do streaming platforms present? Also, you will have the opportunity to write and practice your own music, and perform it at the closing ceremony or as a flashmob during the conference. You can bring your own instruments or ask the team to provide you with some.

4.3 Literature

Literature offers an abstract and creative way to focus on social and political disadvantages and wrongs. In novels, short stories or poems, authors adress injustice, sometimes alienated, and thus criticise. Which literary works deal with global injustice? How much of an influence do they have? How does the written and read word help to make the world a more just one? Based on the motto of this conference “Global Justice – A Fair(y) Tale?”, participants may want to dive into fairy tales, in which injustice often is strongly polarised by “good” and “evil”, and may even provide you with parallels to actual ongoing processes in the world. In what way do fairy tales from different cultures differ? Participants of this group can, for instance, discuss the educational influence of fairy tales on children and adults. Is it possible to find different interpretations of a fairy tale? How are different metaphors used in genres and subgenres other than fairy tales? Participants are invited to create their own texts, and thus to creatively express their ideas about global justice. Their poems or stories might even be presented at the closing ceremony of the ISWI 2017.

4.4 Theatre

Theatre is an age-old medium which uses simple means to be entertaining, touching, critical and thought-provoking at the same time. Social injustices are often touched upon in dramatic performances which represent feelings and emotions in creative ways. In this group, you will be able to talk about your own theatrical experiences as well as the situation of theatre where you come from. You can discuss plays and playwrights that inspire you and deal with current events or the concept of justice. How is justice represented in plays, and what role might theatres play in establishing justice? You will also have the opportunity to create your own play, possibly analysing social/political injustices in a dramatic, comical or critical way. The many opportunities for non-verbal communication in plays may allow you to overcome language barriers and create a universally understandable piece of art.

4.5 Dance

Be it the fury and passion of a tango, the joy and ecstasy of a Charleston or the peace and harmony of a slow waltz, dancing allows people to express a very wide range of emotions. Ballet and free dance allow whole stories to be told, while dances such as capoeira are also forms of social protest. Dance is a universal language which is perfect for bringing together people of different cultures and getting mutually active to work towards global justice. In this group, you can analyse and try out various dance forms. You could come up with your own choreography to embody the ISWI 2017 motto and present it at the closing ceremony. Also, you could try motivating other participants to dance with you by means of a flashmob.

4.6 Photography

A picture says more than a thousand words. Photography combines documentation with art, so a picture represents information and memories as well as feelings and moods. This makes photography a great way to capture an atmosphere or important moment. The right photograph can also display uncomfortable situations and motivate the viewer to take action. The work of this group is full of artistic activity, but is also a very important means of capturing ISWI 2017’s most important and impressive events. You are welcome to bring and use your own cameras and can take photos which the documentation group can use for their conference brochure, cooperate with the organisation committee to provide photos of the week, publicise your work in a photo exhibition or share them with the world on the internet or with other media.

4.7 Documentation

The ‘job’ of the documentation group is to produce a documentation brochure to capture all of the many great memories produced during ISWI 2017. This can include descriptions of the events, presentations, discussions and results of the conference, as well as of the group work. The aim is to give a copy of this brochure to every participant and thus allow them to look back on the week. In this group, you will be able to collect information about the conference activities themselves and use photos from the photography group. Also, they can cooperate with the PR and Design teams of the organisation committee for public relations activities and help document the conference on social media. Furthermore, you can cooperate with the student radio ‘ISWIradio’ and student television ‘ISWIsion’ to carry out interviews and possibly make a documentary. Of course, you are welcome to bring your own ideas for documenting the conference as well.