Society and Law

Society and Law

Meeting the challenge of unknown infectious diseases at a broader, societal level, while maintaining democratic decision making and ethically acceptable practices

Outbreaks of unknown infectious diseases have a social signature: the spread of the disease is mediated by social contacts, and, typically, different strata of society are differently affected. Depending on the structure of the society, there will be a huge impact on social life as a whole. The fight against, and containment of, a pandemic may then require fast and radical measures with tremendous side effects on all parts of society. This leads to ethical dilemmas and severe conflicts, both for individuals and for politics. The patterns of democratic deliberation change and broad participation may be temporarily suspended, thus challenging the legitimacy of political decisions.  

The aim of the Ethics and Policy cluster is to investigate social factors influencing a pandemic, social consequences of wide-spread infectious diseases and actual and possible societal reactions to these threats with the ultimate aim of informing and guiding future decision making. We combine the perspective of social science (e.g. comparative analysis of political reactions in various countries; modeling; …) with methods from legal analysis and ethics.  

The focus is on different subsystems of societal organization and their mutual relationships and interactions: 

  • politics vs. administration in decision-making and implementation 

  • scientific experts vs. democratic institutions (translation of scientific findings, role of experts, standards for evidence) 

  • central state vs. implementing units (compliance) 

  • individuals vs. state (individual compliance, individual responsibility, social consequences of Covid response measures) 

We take into account the perspectives of ex ante (preparedness) and post hoc (long-term consequences).

For enquiries, please contact Prof. Dr. Dr. Claus Beisbart (

Cluster Chair and Co-Chair

Cluster Members