Harnack Principle in Gender Trouble—Women in the Max Planck Society

Margot Becke in the general assembly of the Max Planck Society (MPG), 1973. Photo: Archives of MPG, Berlin

In this talk, Birgit Kolboske discusses her book Hierarchien. Das Unbehagen der Geschlechter mit dem Harnack-Prinzip, which will be published this autumn in English as Hierarchies. The Max Planck Society in Gender Trouble. (Open Access Link)

Contrary to common belief, organizational structure is never gender neutral, and the Max Planck Society, one of the world’s most successful research institutions, is an organization whose employment structure and work culture featured a clear gender segregation. This is exemplified and impressively illuminated by two areas: the first is where only very few women were admitted to leading positions, namely science; and the second is where most of them worked most of the time, namely the office. The study analyses the obstacles women had to face over the first fifty years since the Max Planck Society was founded in 1948, and it discusses the changes that have been fought for, negotiated and achieved since.

Birgit Kolboske is a research scholar at the MPI for the History of Science in Berlin. Following a degree in Latin American studies and linguistics at the FU Berlin, she worked for many years as a journalist, translator, and editor in Mexico and New York. From 2014 to 2023, she coordinated the research program on the History of the Max Planck Society (GMPG) as well as its edition. In her current research project—»Apocalypse Frau?«—Birgit explores the dramatic backlash women face at the beginning of the twenty-first century manifested in reactionary stereotypes, misogyny, and the blatant curtailment of their rights by mapping and comparing sexual violence and abortion rights globally.

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