Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics Fellows-in-Residence Program: "Political Economy and Justice"

The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University invites applications from a broad range of researchers and practitioners who will work over the course of the year on pressing issues in ethics. Faculty in arts and sciences and professional schools, postdoctoral scholars, practitioners, and researchers from industry, government, and NGOs are eligible to apply.

For the 2018-19 academic year, the theme at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics will be Political Economy and Justice.

Priority will be given to early career scholars and practitioners whose work closely aligns with this theme, but we reserve some "open" slots for senior scholars and practitioners, and for exceptionally competitive applicants whose work in ethics falls outside this scope. The goal will be to craft a cohort in which "thematic" fellows and "open" fellows will all find valuable intellectual partnerships to support and spur their work.

Applicants who engage in scholarship of broad social and political importance from cross-cultural perspectives, and demonstrate a commitment to the public dissemination of their ideas may be interested in our Berggruen Fellowship opportunity. We particularly welcome applications for the Berggruen Fellowship from researchers and practitioners addressing great transformations that impact the world today in connection with our theme of Political Economy and Justice (e.g. artificial intelligence and the future of work, the ethics of bioengineering, crises of legitimacy in political and social institutions).

Candidates for the Berggruen Fellowships will be asked to indicate this interest on the application form, and are strongly encouraged to apply in teams of two or three. Team applications must be submitted individually, with each separate application indicating the names of the other team members.

All Fellows-in-Residence will be expected to devote the majority of their time to their individual projects and to participate in regular work-in-progress seminars. In addition, Fellows will be invited to participate in the Center's programming, which includes public lectures, themed seminars and reading groups, conferences, workshops, and less formal discussions.

Political Economy and Justice

Almost no one any longer defends “unregulated capitalism.” But what passed for communism has been tried and has failed; Europe has largely backed away from at least one vision of “socialism” as a model; and in the U.S. there is high frustration with government regulation even as there is high frustration with economic and political arrangements that have worked poorly for lower and middle income Americans over recent decades. Where is political economy to go, and how do decisions about political economy intersect with understandings of justice, legitimacy, human flourishing, ethics, and moral commitments?

Capitalism is not a “single-level system” consisting merely of property rights and markets but a “multi-level” system of economic governance involving economic markets that are embedded in institutions created and governed by political authority, accountable to political markets, resting on social norms, and instantiating specific values. Most public firms are hierarchical organizations with carefully structured decision rights and autocratic tendencies (stemming from espoused goals related to wealth maximization and related capital market and product-market performance metrics). As pressing as ever is the question of how principles of legitimacy and justice, of rights, liberties, and a just distribution of resources, can best be served through structured hierarchies of decision-makers set up to serve, primarily, capital market and product market constituencies. Can answers be found along this path?

At the same time, views under the general heading of “socialism” are attracting renewed interest from philosophers and the general public. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ideological development of China, socialist views are implemented in many versions around the world. Some philosophers have argued that much further-reaching versions than are currently implemented are both institutionally possible and even required to bring about true human flourishing. Others have argued that the cultural penetration of capitalism is the root cause of many social evils from terrorism to widespread loneliness in mass-societies. How should we assess these arguments? How do they relate to efforts to re-imagine capitalism or a mixed economy?

Because of the widespread sense that economic problems are connected to political problems, the issues of political economy and justice are also closely connected to the topic of democracy, as both a theoretical and practical question. With sharp divisions about what ought to be done—compare Trump supporters with Sanders supporters in the U.S.; Leavers to Remainers in the Brexit vote and so on—politics can look intractable, and current trends are ugly and dangerous in many ways.

Merely recognizing these facts does not answer the questions of whither political economy nor of how to define justice and legitimacy in relation to economic questions. Sustained, hard-hitting, multi-disciplinary conversation is necessary.

We expect that serious conversations about the intersections of political economy and justice will take up issues of human flourishing, ethics, and moral commitments; of democracy, system governance, and legitimacy; of corporate governance and legitimacy; of alienation and consumerism; of labor and quality of life; of social, political, and economic equality and opportunity; of inclusion and sustainability; of globalization, cosmopolitanism, and tribalism. We do not begin with a pre-conceived view about whether solutions lie in capitalism, socialism, or a mixed economy. Our goal for the next two years is to craft a conversation that will help us deepen our collective understanding of political economy and human well-being.


Applicants must have a PhD, professional degree, or a minimum of 5 years of equivalent professional experience, and any discipline or professional field will be considered. Those who have previously held a yearlong residential Fellowship at the Center are not eligible; this limitation does not apply to former Undergraduate Fellows or former Graduate Fellows. The Fellowship-in-Residence Program runs the course of the academic year, typically from the beginning of September through the end of May and is open to all applicants who meet the above criteria, regardless of citizenship.

Application Requirements

To apply, you will need to complete an online application form which includes submission of the following (pdf, .doc, or .docx versions are acceptable):

  • Cover letter stating your background and interest in the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics Fellows-in-Residence Program
  • Three professional references
  • Recent writing sample
  • Research proposal
  • CV
Application date
15 Nov 2017
1 academic year
America United States New England
Humanities Philosophy Social sciences Economics Law Political science
Required post-doc experience: 
between 0 and 99 years