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Volkswagen Foundation Symposium for Breakthroughs in Social Sciences & Humanities

Volkswagen Foundation, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Falling Walls Foundation | Arline Geronimus, Ilona Magdalena Otto, Laura J. Martin, Matthias Braun, Paul Behrens, Pumla Gqola, Sergei Nirenburg, Sudeshna Das, Lena Hipp, Alena Buyx

In cooperation with our partners, Falling Walls is hosting this unique format to connect researchers in the social sciences and humanities from all over the world. The symposium gathers the 2023 Winners in the Social Sciences and Humanities category as well as experts and early-career researchers to discuss the most pressing issues and recent breakthroughs in sociology, cultural studies, and humanities.

The event is cohosted by our partners Volkswagen Foundation and WZB Berlin Social Science Center.


Arline Geronimus

University of Michigan

Arline Geronimus is a Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and Institute for Social Research. She studied Political Theory at Princeton University, and trained in Public Health and Medicine at Harvard University. Elected to membership in the National Academy of Medicine, she originated Weathering Theory, positing members of oppressed social identity groups pay a high price in their health as they engage structured injustice and persevere in their daily round. Pointing to collective strategies marginalized groups employ to mitigate, resist, or undo the adverse impacts of weathering for community economies and caretaking systems, she considers the stakes and trade-offs these strategies reflect and the perturbations normal public policy often causes in such autonomous protections. Her framework offers a roadmap to social healing.

Ilona Magdalena Otto

University of Graz

Ilona Magdalena Otto holds the Professorship in Societal Impacts of Climate Change at the Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change, University of Graz, Austria. Her research focuses interventions that are likely to spark rapid social changes necessary to radically transform the interactions of human societies with nature. Her work on social tipping points, human agency, and carbon inequalities pushed the research frontiers, has been increasingly reflected in public policies, and motivates many individuals and organizations to join the climate movement.

Laura J. Martin

Williams College

Laura J. Martin is a historian and ecologist who studies how people shape the habitats of other species. She is the author of Wild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration (2022) as well as numerous scholarly and popular articles on the biodiversity crisis. Martin is an environmental studies professor at Williams College and a former fellow of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, the Stanford Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Science Foundation. She is currently working on a book that reveals how synthetic herbicides have reshaped life on Earth.

Matthias Braun

University of Bonn

Matthias Braun is leading the chair of social ethics and ethics of emerging technologies at the University of Bonn. He is a visiting research fellow at Oxford University as well. Formerly he has been conducted research in Marburg, Bergen, Maastricht and Erlangen. His research addresses questions of solidarity and justice, vulnerability and political ethics. A particular focus is on the ethical and governance challenges of new technologies as for example Digital Twins, Big Data and AI in Health). He is Principal Investigator in the Collaborative Research Center “EmpkinS”, funded by the German Research Foundation and has recently been awarded with an ERC Starting Grant.

Paul Behrens

Leiden University

Paul Behrens (UK) is an author and Associate Professor at Leiden University. His research and writing on climate, energy, and food, has appeared in scientific journals and media outlets such as the BBC, Thomson Reuters, Politico, Nature Sustainability, Nature Energy, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature Food, and Nature Communications. His popular science book, The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: Futures from the Frontiers of Climate Science (Indigo Press, 2021) describes humanity’s current trajectory and possible futures in paired chapters of pessimism and hope. Paul won International Champion in the Frontiers Planet Prize in 2023.

More events with Paul Behrens

Wed | Nov 08, 2023 | 02.00 PM - 03.00 PM Berlin Time

Falling Walls Circle – Round Table: Planetary Boundary Science: Advancing Science to Save the Planet

Pumla Gqola

Nelson Mandela University

Pumla Dineo Gqola is professor of Literary and Cultural Studies and South African National Research Foundation Chair in African Feminist Imagination at Nelson Mandela University. She is a graduate of the Universities of Cape Town (South Africa) and Warwick (United Kingdom). Gqola graduated with a DPhil in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Munich (LMU) in Germany. Her seven books include the landmark study, _What is slavery to me? Postcolonial/Slave Memory in Post-apartheid South Africa_ (Wits University Press, 2010), the 2016 Alan Paton Award winner for Non Fiction, _Rape: A South African Nightmare_ (MF Books, 2015), and _Miriam Tlali: Writing Freedom_ (HSRC Press, 2021) on the pioneering Black feminist author. Her most recent book, _Female Fear Factory_ (2021, MF Books; 2022, Cassava Republic Press) was short-listed for the South African Literary Awards and received the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) 2022 Non Fiction Best Book Award.

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Thu | Nov 09, 2023 | 10.15 AM - 10.30 AM Berlin Time

Pumla Gqola: Breaking the Wall of the Female Fear Factory

Sergei Nirenburg

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Sergei Nirenburg is Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science and Co-Director of the Language-Endowed Intelligent Agents (LEIA) Lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, USA. He was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine and earned his PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. He has led R&D teams of up to 80 in various areas of AI, computational linguistics and cognitive robotics. Dr. Nirenburg has co-written four and edited six books, and published over 250 refereed papers. His next book, Agents in the Long Game of AI, co-authored with Marjorie McShane and Jesse English, will be published next year by MIT Press. He served as editor for two professional journals and has organized over a dozen international conferences and summer schools. Since 1984 he has given over 125 keynote lectures, tutorials and invited presentations in 30 countries.

Sudeshna Das

Indian Institute Of Technology Kharagpur

Sudeshna Das earned her PhD from the Centre of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, India. Her doctoral research concentrated on AI-driven Gender Bias Identification in Textbooks. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Biomedical Informatics, School of Medicine, Emory University, USA, where she is part of the Sarker Lab. Her research interests lie at the intersection of AI and Social Good, with a particular focus on gender equity in education and healthcare. Prior to her doctoral research, she studied computer science and engineering, leading to an MTech from the National Institute of Technology Durgapur, India, and a BTech from West Bengal University of Technology, India.

I want to build AI-based technologies for removing barriers in education and healthcare. I want this because we cannot afford to perpetuate socioeconomic inequities in the applications of AI-based technology. I can do this because I have extensive experience developing AI systems that address social biases and promote inclusivity.

More events with Sudeshna Das

Wed | Nov 08, 2023 | 09.00 AM - 10.00 AM Berlin Time

Falling Walls Circle – Plenary Table: The Implications of AI for Science: Friend or Foe?

Lena Hipp

WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Lena Hipp holds the research professorship “Work. Family, Social Inequality” at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and and is Professor of “Social Inquality and Social Policy” at the University of Potsdam. She received her PhD at Cornell University back in 2011, after having worked as a policy advisor in the German Parliament between 2003-2005.

Alena Buyx

TUM Institute of History and Ethics in Medicine

Alena Buyx is Professor of Ethics in Medicine and Health Technologies and Director of the Institute of History and Ethics in Medicine at Technical University of Munich.
Professor Buyx is a medical doctor with degrees in philosophy and sociology. Her research spans the whole field of biomedical and public health ethics and questions of solidarity and justice.

In addition to research and teaching, Professor Buyx is active in the political and regulatory aspects of biomedical ethics, sitting on several high-level national and international ethics bodies concerned with policy development and implementation. She is a member of the German Ethics Council since 2016 and has been its chair since 2020.

More events with Alena Buyx

Wed | Nov 08, 2023 | 09.00 AM - 10.00 AM Berlin Time

Falling Walls Circle – Plenary Table: The Implications of AI for Science: Friend or Foe?


About the Venue
Holzmarkt – Säälchen
Holzmarktstraße 25
Berlin, Berlin 10243 Germany

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