1st Preparation Workshop

Is the world the limit? Human cooperative bias and the possibilities for global cooperation

13th September 2011

The workshop of the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), on 13th September 2011 in Bonn was co-organised by the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) and the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI) Essen.  

Solving the world’s most pressing problems – from climate change to famine – requires a great deal of cooperation between nations. But how likely is it that countries come together to tackle these complex issues? Reading the daily news gives one little reason for optimism. World leaders talk about the importance of cooperating, but in practice the interests of individual countries prevail.

While cooperation among nations seems impossibly difficult, scientists studying human behaviour have noticed that people are actually very good at cooperating at an interpersonal level. In fact, that we evolved to cooperate effectively appears to be one of the main reasons of our success as a species. Children cooperate from a very early age, even before they can walk or talk!

Why are we good at cooperating individually, but very bad at doing it at a global scale? Are our paradigms about global governance simply wrong? How can we use our knowledge about human cooperative behaviour to understand the failures of international cooperation, and to propose ways to make it more effective?

These are some of the questions that prompt the new Käte Hamburger Kolleg “Political Cultures of World Society”, a Centre for Advanced Studies in Global Cooperation, which is supposed to open in 2012 in Duisburg.

Preparations for the Kolleg are well underway. On 13th September, a diverse group of scholars met in Bonn for a workshop to explore what different disciplines have to say about cooperation – and what important questions remain to be answered. At the table were social scientists discussing the global political and financial regimes, evolutionary biologists showing how and why animals cooperate, and experimental economists talking about the neurological and behavioural aspects of cooperation.

Such different disciplines do not usually talk to each other. But, as the workshop showed, this type of dialogue is not only possible, but essential to better understand the limits – and possibilities of international cooperation.

Workshop Documentation 

Workshop Programme

Further information as well as interview clips can be found here.