​Digital Forum 2021

-        Digital forum:

·    Digital forum I (February 15th, 2021): two lectures by two Iranian famous professors and further discussions:

Dr. Papoli Yazdi: "Good life and Transition from Tradition to Modernity"[i]

Dr. Veisi Hesar: "The General Economy of Happiness in Qalandariyya Cult: a Semiotic perspective"[ii]

·    Digital Forum II (March 1st, 2021): discussion on a paper suggested by German students “Bullshit Jobs" by David Graeber[iii]

·    Digital Forum III (March 15th, 2021): a presentation by Iranian students "the impact of Covid-19 on tandem projects in Iran [iv]

·    Digital Forum IV (March 30th, 2021): a presentation by German students "Life worth living? Non-human Animals and the Good Life" and further discussions[v]

[i] Good life and Transition from Tradition to Modernity

The meaning of words such as happiness, leisure, and good life has been changing during history from the past to now.

There are four main frameworks that people have lived according to for thousands of years.

1.  Theological framework: it allocates specific time and space to doing religious duties in traditional life. People in this framework believe that good life is that of obeying the religious orders. It means serenity, not welfare and financial prosperity since people maintain their real award will be given in the other world.

2.  Natural framework: people used to see nature as a gift not wealth, a gift from God that should be respected. However, from the modern human perspective, nature is wealth and should be extracted as much as possible (recently the maximum extraction has been replaced with optimum extraction). Human in the traditional era had to be adapted to nature and accept its rule, while human in the modern era has used the technology to overcome the power of nature. The picture of paradise in religious beliefs, as an example, varies in various climates.

3.  Social frameworks and kinship: the social norms were of importance because people were collectivist and people used to be supported in their community or family. The communal responsibilities were prior to individual responsibilities. Happiness for the traditional collectivist human was in being adapted in the group of people, while modern individualist human sees happiness in being independent on others and not being interfered by others. In the traditional era, the individual responsibility begins after death that people should be responsible for their behavior during their lives.

4.   Governmental framework: the governments, in the traditional era, used to be responsible for security not the welfare, housing, and etc. people belonged to the family in the past and they belong to the government now. The centralized governments in the modern era are responsible for their people's serenity. People's classification, in the traditional era, was according to religion and ethnicity, while it is now according to economic criteria.

There used to be trust in the traditional era which was the main reason for human serenity. The certainty came from trusting in religious leaders, which made people not doubtful about the laws and meaning of happiness.


The participants and the lecturers discussed the post-modern critiques to geography and also about the current position of Iran in the path of transition from tradition to modernity.

[ii] The General Economy of Happiness in Qalandariyya Cult: a Semiotic perspective

Qalandars are wandering ascetic Sufi dervishes, who are called Jahel or Looti in the modern era. The followers were homeless people wandering and wearing a special kind of cloak (called Khergheh). They were obsessed with the idea of being marked with others to challenge the norms and to be blamed by other people. This behavior was so as to purify their soul and their actions have intrinsic values (immanent theology).

They used to be known as people who believe in nothing (disbelievers).

The idea of happiness for such people is completely different from the common interpretations of happiness.

Theoretically, the subject and the world are inseparable and the focus is on the combination of subjectivity and reality.

From a semiotic perspective, the same environment can be turned to different umwelts with different organisms. For instance, people, animals, and insects have different attitudes toward the same thing.

An organism produces its own umwelt/ sign by the semiotic careers.

The subject (organism) including preceptors and effectors do functioning by four semiotic causes: 1. Identificative 2. Designative 3. Appraisive, and 4. Prescriptive.

Happiness (from Qalandaryya perspective) is an evaluative stance of the organisms toward themselves. Hence it attributes apparaisive organ of the organisms.

Being happy for something is different from happiness. The first is a relational quality which is about an external object, while the second is the quality of the subject itself (the subject evaluates itself as happy). The happiness is a meta-linguistic statement made by the umwelt about itself (Buddha smile).

There should be a mediating sign according to which the umwelt evaluates itself as happy, a nodal sign. The organism perceives itself as happy using these nodal signs.

If the relative value of an umwelt increased to the degree that can be exchanged for the nodal sign, it is happiness.


The participants and the lecturer discussed the replacement of utilitarian perspective with practical interests and the connection of Qaladaryya as an example with the given theory. The followers of Qalandaryya sacrifice all the values without making new values so as to be happy and it is the idea that makes them different from others. 

[iii] First Block: General opinions, thoughts and experiences

o   Discussion Questions:

Main Argument: Graeber "Bullshit Jobs"

·       What are your general impressions of the text?  What is Graeber's main argument? 

·       Does Graeber's definition about pointless jobs resonate with our experiences and everyday world (e.g. essential workers in the Pandemic, unpaid care work)? 

Work Ethic in light of a “Good Life"

"The feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extremely convenient for them [the ruling class]". 

·       a. How does a neoliberal work ethic shape what "work" is "valued" pertaining to a "good life"? How are societal power relations kept upright through the notion that those who work "bullshit jobs" are doing something for a "good life"? 

·       b. To what extent is work part of a good life; and how can we define a 'meaningful' or 'fulfilling' job?

o   Contributions in the Plenary Discussion:

o   We should be careful not to underestimate agency, people balance their jobs with the rest of their life and it would be reductionist to argue that 'bullshit jobs' were designed to be bullshit jobs.

o   Critique of the text: Does Graeber want to apply this argument to the US economy only or does he find it suitable on a global level? His argument was politically charged and not fully explained. Can we apply his analysis to student-teacher relations? Which homework is considered a 'bullshit activity'? Are teachers/professors who assign little/no homework rated better by students? What is your definition of meaningful/valuable homework?

o   Students' perspectives: it depends on whether we students feel that the homework helps develop one's knowledge and academic interests further or not. When the teachers put no effort into the preparation of classes, assign no tasks and end sessions early, participation does not lead to an increase in knowledge and feels meaningless.

o   In Europe, we need to differentiate between productive and reproductive (mostly unpaid) labour. What is considered work? Further critique of the article: Graeber's use of the term 'ruling class' tends to be essentialist.

o   Income defines whether jobs are valued by society, not the content of or the values represented in the job. Especially in countries with unstable economic systems, money is prioritised and valued more than the question of meaningfulness.

Second Block: Domination of the ruling class, takeaways for the DAAD project and outlooks

o   Discussion Questions:

Domination and Power of the ruling class

·       “The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger." – is that the case? Experiences?

DAAD Project

·       Does Graeber's definition about pointless jobs resonate with our experiences and everyday worlds? Is what we do in our daily student lives or this DAAD tandem work also a bullshit job?  What is the point, the purpose, the gain of this project?

·       What can we learn about 'values' and the 'good life'? What are the 'take-aways' for our tandem projects?


·       What is our utopia regarding future worlds of labour? How can we create a world where we "work less" and have more time to blossom as humans and collectively?

·       Graeber's concept discusses the concealment and non-visibility that the captured wealth of the ruling class does not flow to or reaches actual system-relevant workers.  

·       How can this concept be applied in terms of the international division of labour, which continuously exploits countries of the "Global South" neocolonially? In short: How can Graeber's concept be thought structurally and transnationally within a wider context? 

o   The organisers decided to keep this discussion in the plenum to stimulate a livelier debate.

o   Contributions in the Plenary Discussion:

o   Takeaway: Graeber's analysis can be connected to feminist theories of care and to ecologies of care as the undervalued basis of socioeconomic systems. Care work reflects dreams and desires of a liveable environment; therefore, we can use feminist care theories as a counter-concept to neoliberal notions of work.

o   The question of whether a “happy and productive" society poses a danger to the system is an excellent one and is related to a society's ideology. Is consumerism the reason for the emergence of bullshit jobs? No, because Graeber states that most bullshit jobs are not in the production sector.

o   The general problem of the article is also depicted in the documentary “Social Dilemma" – but what is missing in the article are answers to the questions: How did we reach this situation? How can we change it?

o   In rural areas, most people work in production and agriculture but migrate to cities for more stable incomes – hereby, bullshit jobs are created.

o   Both the film “The Big Short" and the book “Requiem for the American Dream" pose that today's economic system cannot be conceptualised as capitalist any longer, because production has lost its central role.

o   Proposition to discuss the question if the DAAD project is a bullshit job/activity

o   Our discussions and exchange with students from another country are very illuminating and fruitful, but the project's title “Dialogue with the Muslim world" is pointless: It does not capture the meaningful essence of our conversations.

o   To discuss this question, we would have to find an objective idea of social values.

o   The value of the project could be to re-think the good life transnationally.

o   Is there a historical example of a society that has achieved a collective blossoming?

o   Author Edward Fischer differentiates between subjective and objective factors of the good life. We should go beyond this duality and see how both are interconnected.


This presentation includes three sections of  Alternative  lifestyle  (Shelters  and  charities),  Ecology  (rural  livelihood),  and  aesthetic practices (wedding ceremonies)" and evaluates the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on them from different viewpoints.

Discussions and conclusions:

·       There are various differences between shelters in Iran and Germany. As there are not several shelters in the city (Isfahan), the homeless can stay in one shelter as long as they like, while they are not allowed to stay in one shelter for more than one night and they have to go to another one for the next night. Public thoughts in Iran are worried about the sanitation cares in shelters such as washing hands with soap, while in Germany public thoughts (and campaigns) always question how people in shelters are protected against covid-19 while a large number of people have to sleep in the shelter together.

·       In some cases, the bad news from social media (mainly about the vaccination) makes people depressed and affects their perception of the good life.

·       It was recommended to "rural livelihood" project to get deeper into one section for instance about the consumption of saffron as medicine for infection to the virus

·       It is recommended to "Shelters and charities) project to investigate how poor people from lower classes protect themselves in times of such crisis?

·       It is suggested to the "wedding ceremony" project to use a sort of structured way for collecting data.

·       It was questioned "what are the elements that must be performed even during the pandemic? In Iran Nikah (Islamic marriage) and public announcement are necessary and should be done.

·       Furthermore, it was questioned "Do you recognize any changes that may continue after the pandemic?

1.     There has been a considerable rapid adaption to digital courses and access to the infrastructures needed for them that might continue after the pandemic.

2.     Iranian used to hold very big funerals and wedding ceremonies with numerous guests which were really expensive. People get used to organizing smaller parties and funerals to save some money that we hope to continue after the pandemic. It seems that there is a similar situation in Germany, too.

3.     The elderly's access to digital infrastructures and social media has increased dramatically which is predicted to continue afterward.


Presentation of the content of the 4th digital forum:

In this fourth and final digital forum, the student group from the Goethe University in Frankfurt present on the subject of non-human animals and the good life. The presentation starts with depicting one of the largest slaughter houses in Europe, Tönnies. The slaughter house claims that the notion of “the good life“ also plays an important role in the company. Tönnies celebrates itself as an open enterprise that supposedly cares about animal welfare, with animals being able to get a shower and hear music before being slaughtered. Yet Tönnies is widely known for corruption, workers abuses in light of the larger question of how hearing music before being slaughtered is really in the sense of a “good life“ or in fact deeply cynical and morbid.

Pertaining to the question of human and non-human animal relations and the declaration of human rights, the question arises of what kind of dignified life non-human animals are entitled to. For a long time there has been a human exceptionalism that dominated anthropological inquiries. Here non-human animals are depicted as passive beings. An important framework is the question if non-human animals are: good to eat (as material and economic resources for humans) , good to think with (role in human culture and schemes) or good to live with (in the frame of an animal turn with no more binary between human animals and non-human animals). Donna Haraway offers insight into the species turn and the banality of the anthropocene. Haraway argues that neoliberal individualism leads us down deadly paths and argues that we must learn to think again. Looking at spiders: these animals weave webs that are always in the making and always in the dying. Spiders are the framework for tentacular thinking, meaning in Latin to feel. Haraway argues here for a grieving with, caring and telling a new story that decenters the narrative of the anthropos. Humans, she argues, must realize their own limitations in the sense of a multi-species well-being. Another vital term in this context is that of speciesism. The term depicts the belief that one species is more important than another. Animal Rights Watch is an activist group that calls for animal rights (as beings with rights), not only animal welfare (which merely wants to improve the situation of non-human animals that does not radically question that non-human animals are “used“ for humans). Here the question is raised what “good life“ for non-human animals can mean if the focus is on non-human animals having a “good life“ prior to being prepared to be slaughtered.

The discussion is opened with the following quote and question: “What about animals slaughtered for our consumption? Who among us would be able to continue eating pork chops after visiting a factory farm in which pigs are half-blind and cannot even properly walk, but are just fattened to be killed? And what about, say, torture and suffering of millions we know about, but choose to ignore? Imagine the effect of having to watch a snuff movie portraying what goes on thousands of times a day around the world: brutal acts of torture, the picking out of eyes, the crushing of testicles -the list cannot bear recounting. Would the watcher be able to continue going on as usual? Yes, but only if he or she were able somehow to forget -in an act which suspended symbolic efficiency -what had been witnessed. This forgetting entails a gesture of what is called fetishist disavowal: "I know it, but I don't want to know that I know, so I don't know." I know it, but I refuse to fully assume the consequences of this knowledge, so that I can continue acting as if I don't know it."- Slavoj Zižek (2012) What does this mean for our conceptions of a “good life"? Who do we Willfully exclude?