Dr. Steffen Hamborg

+49 441/798-2066

Dr. Jędrzej Sulmowski

+49 441/798-4690

Running time

April 2019 to March 2022


Transformation by Community

Subjectification processes in the context of sustainable development

In the sustainability discourse, community-based initiatives have been increasingly present for several years, e.g. in the form of eco-villages, transition towns, green cities or solidarity-based agriculture. It is often precisely communities like these that are addressed as actors. They are intended to test transformation processes on a small scale and develop solutions to the challenges of the future declared as such, thus paving the way for a sustainable future - for society as a whole. At the same time, initiatives related to the topic of "sustainability" often design themselves explicitly as communities. Research has so far failed to take sufficient account of the complexity of both the concept and the phenomenon of "community" in the context of sustainability: at times communities have been unquestioningly ascribed the ability to act and the potential to initiate change. Others considered "communities" simply as a negative counter-model to a society of responsible subjects.

For some years now, however, we have been striving for a differentiated perspective, to which our project also feels committed. With the project "Transformation through Community" we want to offer a theoretically guided as well as empirically founded discussion about the emergence and impact of sustainability communities. Using three current initiatives as examples, we would like to reconstruct what makes communities attractive for politics, science and practice. On the other hand, we want to sound out whether the communities have transformative potential and what this potential consists of. In cooperation with the three practical initiatives, we want to provide perspectives and knowledge for politics and society, as well as for the communities themselves: How do communities develop as collective subjects of sustainable development with the help of artefacts and technologies? What are the intended and unintended effects of these communities, both internally and externally? How are these effects to be assessed with regard to the sustainability-oriented transformation of society?


The selected empirical cases - Escheroder "gASTWERKe", Dorfgemeinschaft Oberndorf and Solidarische Landwirtschaft Oldendorf e.V. (all located in Northern Germany) - are to be analysed using five different approaches, namely discourse analysis, praxeology, history, feminist economics and psychology. In the course of the project, these academic perspectives will regularly enter into dialogue not only with each other, but also with the communities studied, in order to inform and challenge each other - across disciplinary boundaries, points of view and types of knowledge.

The joint project promises to shed light on the conditions under which communities form themselves into collective subjects, the extent to which they develop transformative power and the social and political consequences associated with this. In this way, it will enable a reflective approach to the processes of collective subjectivation in sustainability-related scientific, social and political practice.

(Changed: 2020-09-01)