Dr. Steffen Hamborg

+49 441/798-2066

Dr. Jędrzej Sulmowski

+49 441/798-4690


Community designs as modernity’s places of longing

Community designs as modernity’s places of longing

Researcher: Dr. Johanna Rakebrand
Head: Prof. Dr. Thomas Etzemüller

This subproject looks at the current phenomenon of the “sustainability community” from a historical perspective. The differently designed life in community is understood as a reaction to the challenge of modernity and as an expression of its (experienced or perceived) deficits. Drafts of “sustainability communities” can thus be understood as a sign of the relationships between humans and nature, of humans among themselves, and of humans to themselves, which are identified as charged. “Sustainability” and “community” thus appear as attractive promises of the possibility of healing (supposedly) disturbed relationships.

The subproject asks when and where phenomena occurred that appear structurally similar to those that today are labelled with the term “sustainability community”. In exemplary investigations, the subproject attempts to describe the time- and environment-specific manifestations of these phenomena and explores the motives, conditions, and contexts of their emergence. The subproject is also interested in the extent to which an utopian potential has been attributed to these communities externally. “Sustainability communities” can thus be understood not only as the concrete practice of a few, but also as a projection screen for many, which has contributed to the establishment and popularisation of certain, especially ethical and aesthetic readings of, for example, changes in the environment, economy, or social coexistence. The subproject explores the longings and ideas that fed these ascriptions and aims at tracing the ways in which this potential was mediated and received. Written, visual, and musical sources will be examined using cultural-historical methods. The aim is to historically classify the fascination and rise of the “sustainability community” in order to better understand the current phenomenon.

Between liberation and subjection, escapism and pioneering spirit

Ambivalences of subjectivation in the context of communal life, work and economic plans

Researcher: Dr. Steffen Hamborg
Head: Prof. Dr. Thorsten Raabe

Today, joint projects appear in many respects to be promising designs for dealing with critical conditions in the growth society (“Wachstumsgesellschaft”). Not least the prominent invocation as ‘pioneers of change’, which has been added to the well-known figure of ‘dropouts’, gives discursive expression to this social projection. As places (of longing) of a solidary coexistence, ‘alternative’ communities arouse, for example, hopes for a (at least partial) liberation from the economic constraints of growth capitalism, for a reduction or elimination of social and ecological destructiveness, for possibilities of direct participation in the organisation of collective issues, and for closeness and connectedness in immediate social relationships. At the same time, participation in community ‘eco-projects’ is in turn inevitably linked to a subjection to certain ways of doing, being, and speaking which are constitutive of the community in question and which can sometimes even lead to radical forms of group-focused misanthropy. Moreover, in the reality of a contingent, nascent world, communities are constantly challenged to update (and possibly modify) their fiction of unity, to reconcile claim and reality, and to engage in debates on this. In addition to moments of liberation and subjection by communities, this also raises questions about the possibilities, necessities, and limits of dissidence within communities.

In view of these ambivalent relations of education and subjectivation, the subproject poses the question from a discourse-analytical perspective: To what extent do invocations of the ‘communal’ in the context of a crisis of social natural conditions open and close spaces for individual and collective liberation movements? The subproject thus attempts to contribute to the elucidation of the conditions for and possibilities of autonomy gains as an object and goal of social transformation. What remains to be empirically clarified is when, how, and where the ‘network of necessities’ (Lessenich) inscribed in the subjects of the growth society is loosened, consolidated and tightened or replaced by other self-constraints with reference to ‘community’.

Reflexive creation of an alternative normality

Communities as niches for establishing and testing social practices

Researcher: Dr. Jędrzej Sulmowski
Head: Prof. Dr. Thomas Alkemeyer

Social transformations do not happen by themselves, but have to be ‘made’. From a practical-theoretical perspective, they depend above all on whether people’s everyday practice changes. However, everyday actions are largely beyond the control and influence of individuals. Rather, they are conditioned by infrastructures and social practices that are so familiar to us that we have settled into them as if we were in a familiar home. These familiar environments and habits include, for example, historically developed and economically instrumented forms and ways of living and eating, food supply and disposal, personal hygiene and work, mobility and leisure behaviour. Most practices of everyday life have become so well-rehearsed and taken for granted that they are hardly ever questioned. However, there are exceptions: At least some of the lifestyles considered normal in the societies of the Global North have been increasingly problematised and questioned over the last five decades in terms of their social and ecological costs. Collective and individual actors – trans- and supranational organisations, state institutions, civil society organisations, individual activists – have been publicly advocating a change in these lifestyles ever since. Some of them are focusing on changes in individual behaviour, for example in consumption; others are aiming at the establishment of infrastructures and practices that promise to enable a resource-saving, greenhouse gas-reducing, integrative, and just life.

The subproject illuminates precisely this area of tension: It ethnographically focuses on collaborative initiatives which, according to their self-understanding, oppose resource-wasting, emission-intensive, and/or market-mediated practices. It is interested in three questions: First, it examines the extent to which these initiatives form niches of an alternative life, which in turn develops its own (niche-) normality for its inhabitants. Secondly, it will be investigated what conditions – regarding the socio-demographic composition of the group, the organisation of work, the decision-making, the regulation of entry and exit, institutional ties, the political or ideological orientation, etc. – are required in order to live an alternative normality. And thirdly, we ask what significance the recourse to semantics and lifeforms of community has for being able to establish, stabilise, and spread alternative practices in the first place – and to what extent these practices in turn condition the self-understanding of being a community.

By answering these questions, the subproject contributes to shedding light on the opportunities, limits, and concomitants of a transformation through initiatives that understand themselves as communities. This is particularly relevant against the background of the diagnosis of the times, which states that informal ‘community policies’ would increasingly compensate for the erosion of state social and environmental policies. In the light of this diagnosis, communitarian bottom-up initiatives appear not only as drafts of an alternative normality, but also as players in a state top-down agenda of transformation.

Doing community – doing sustainability (?)

Feminist entrepreneurship perspectives on transformative sustainability communities

Researcher: Juliane Friedrich
Head: Prof. Dr. Stephanie Birkner

The subproject examines the transformative elements of an (un)doing community with a special focus on the interplay between practices of gendering and entrepreneurship.

Starting from the assumption that the social structure community is something that is done, this subproject is particularly interested in the interweaving of sustainable social (especially with regard to gender) and sustainable economic (especially entrepreneurial) practices.

The subproject is characterised by a research attitude that is oriented towards cultural analytical approaches. The empirical studies of the subproject are particularly interested in the interdependence of contents and meanings of terms (concepts) within the field. Methodologically, guideline-based interviews, focus group surveys, qualitative and quantitative text analysis, and participatory observation are planned.

The subproject is thus characterised by an interdisciplinary feminist perspective that investigates and produces answers from cultural studies and economics regarding the research topic of (transformative) practices of the doing community in the context of doing sustainability.

The individual and the sustainability community

Psychological perspectives on the conditions and effects of participation in sustainability-oriented communities

Researcher: Lena Schmeiduch
Head: Prof. Dr. Karsten Müller

What experiences do individuals make in a sustainability-oriented community? Why do individuals decide to actively participate in a sustainability-oriented community? And how do experiences in and identification with the community affect their commitment to sustainability?

The subproject “Psychological perspectives on the conditions and effects of participation in sustainability-oriented communities” deals with the experience and behaviour of individuals as active members of a sustainability-oriented community in different phases of this membership from a process-oriented perspective.

Of interest here is the interaction of individual factors such as emotions, cognitions, motives, attitudes, and individual values, as well as situational factors resulting from membership in the community, such as collective values and normative influences. A special focus is the investigation of affects and emotions.

On the basis of the analyses, furthermore, a deeper understanding of how and to what extent sustainability-oriented communities develop creativity and creative power in search of a sustainable future shall be developed.

A wide range of quantitative and qualitative methods will be used. These include interviews and surveys, focus groups, text analyses, social media analyses, and methods from the field of experience sampling such as diary surveys and event reconstruction methods.

(Changed: 2021-03-01)