The term “community” is one of those words that are simultaneously indispensable – can one talk about human affairs without referring to communities? –and irritatingly elusive. It is usually taken to mean “a group of people with shared interests and concerns”. The problem is that it is not clear how deep the sharing has to be in order to qualify a group as being a “community”. Intuitively, villages and religious orders certainly would, but how about the so called “scientific community”? Most of its members know no more than a miniscule fraction of the total group and, given the range of scientific disciplines, most would be hard pressed to have a serious discussion about their subject with the great majority.
Here, we pose the question: can the aggregate Fellowship of the Wissenschaftskolleg – the past and present members – truly be called a “community”? At first glance, it might seem that it is no more a real community than the scientific world: after all, most members know only a relatively small number of the total group, will never meet most of them and share professional interests with only a small proportion. Yet, perhaps, one should not be too quick to dismiss the idea that it is a community. After all, when someone was a Fellow meets someone else who was such, there is always the desire to know something more – what the experience was like for her/him, when she/he was there, and something about this person’s work. Inevitably, in such encounters, there is some sense of a bond.
Perhaps, however, the hallmark of a community is not shared interests or even experience but shared concern. Members of communities are motivated, at least to a degree, to help each other. In that respect, does the Fellowship comprise a community? And that question brings us (you perhaps are thinking, “at last”) to the point of this editorial. It occasionally happens that the Wissenschaftskolleg cannot lend its financial support to worthwhile efforts that concern the Fellowship because of constraints on the funding of the Kolleg. An example would be the autobiography of the late Yehuda Elkana (1934-2012). We would like to make this a house publication of the Fellows’ Club. Other cases that would be worthy of support, but which again cannot draw on the financial instruments of the Kolleg, concern Fellows who get into some kind of trouble. We feel it would be appropriate and desirable, if the extended Wiko community could provide some assistance in such cases. Indeed, when the Fellows’ Club was founded in 1984, it was precisely with this purpose in mind.
Accordingly, the chairpersons of the Fellows Club would like to create a fund for such diverse situations and have decided to issue an appeal to try to set one up. In two weeks’ time, you will receive a detailed letter from the Fellows’ Club describing the practicalities of such a fund and how you can contribute to it. There is nothing that we ask of you now in connection with this appeal but we hope that you will consider the matter.