Remembering Elena Pulcini

It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of our Alumni Fellow Elena Pulcini. Elena was a Professor of Social Philosophy at the University of Florence. Beyond her role as an academic, she was also a public intellectual, a member of the Italian Green Party, and one of the first signatories of the Convivialist Manifesto, a call for the reinvention of the art of living together in a way that combines community, individuality, and sustainability.

She spent her fellowship at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research in 2014. Her project was entitled A Passion for Giving and combined two important foci of her work, namely the social and political relevance of the passions and the theory of gift giving in the spirit of Marcel Mauss. Embracing the human passions, including love, indignation, and fear, without taking them as given or static, was at the centre of her philosophy. She saw it as a pivotal task of our time to ‘(re-)learn’ to fear, to transform our individual and collective anxieties into an ability to recognize our common vulnerability and, thereby, learn to care. The notion of mutual care also implies overcoming the modern illusion of autonomy, both of the individual and of the modern nation state, as pointed out, among many other works, in her monographs Care of the World: Fear, Responsibility and Justice in the Global Age (Springer 2013) and The individual without Passions: Modern Individualism and the Loss of the Social Bond (Lexington 2012). Her most recent book-length publication, Tra Cura e Giustizia: Le Passioni come Risorsa Sociale (Bollati Boringhieri 2020), revisited the engagement with the passions, asking, ‘Why do we care for others even when we do not have any personal links with them? Why do we fight for justice even when we are not directly affected?’

As a social philosopher and a feminist scholar, Elena contributed a particular perspective to the Centre and brought it into a fruitful conversation with sociological and anthropological approaches to global cooperation research. Over the years, the exchange with researchers at the Centre and former fellows continued through mutual invitations to conferences, workshops and publications. Among other occasions, Elena returned to the Ruhr area for the Masterclass Gifts of Cooperation, a week-long event during which senior and junior researchers met at Zeche Zollverein world heritage site to discuss Marcel Mauss’s theory of the gift and its implications for global cooperation.

The ethics of care was not only pivotal for her research, but also at the heart of her teaching, mentoring and social commitment. It became palpable, above all, in her great capacity not only to diagnose and analyse, but also to listen and to encourage.

Christine Unrau