Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies
Futures of Sustainability: Modernization, Transformation, Control
In the last two decades, sustainability has become a guiding principle for states, organizations, companies, and social movements as well as a general ideal for social change. While sustainability seems to be an inevitable path of development, there is no consensus over the goals and visions of the future associated with this concept. Proponents of a “Green Economy”, for instance, regard economic growth as a prerequisite for sustainable development and advocate a modernization of society, which implies moderate adjustments towards a sustainable economy within the current institutional framework. Critics of this ecological modernization approach see the imperative of economic growth as an obstacle for sustainable development and instead support a fundamental transformation of society. A third perspective tries to solve the problems of sustainable development with wide- ranging politics of control, using concepts such as “ecological state of emergency” or enforcing resilience measures for vulnerable populations while creating safe enclaves for a privileged few.
These three possible trajectories of social change – modernization, transformation and control – are not fixed yet, but rather represent different and highly contested imaginaries of the future. These imaginaries then structure distinctive practices of sustainability in the fields of politics, the economy, civil society, and science. These practices in turn are interdependent with specific structures, such as material infrastructures or the ecological system of the earth.
The proposed “Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences” will use the theoretical concepts of imaginaries, practices, and structures to study the possible futures of sustainability, specifically modernization, transformation, and control, as well as possible interdependencies between these developments, from different social science perspectives. Our reflexive approach does not primarily centre on sustainability as a positive normative principle per se. Rather, it is a problem-oriented and critical perspective that addresses the paradoxes, contradictions, and dilemmas that result from it. It focuses on sustainability as a sociological category indicative for understanding socio-economic change, the emergence of new conflicts, inequalities, hierarchies, and justification patterns that result from including sustainable criteria into different fields, institutions, and value systems. Deciphering futures of sustainability does not aim at providing prognoses or forecasts, but intents to work out a diagnosis that asks how contemporary societies change when they are guided by imaginaries of sustainability.
The Centre will be established for four years (with possibility of extension), where we will focus on theory development and discursive work. In the first semester, we will focus on the concept of social imaginaries, followed by six semesters with a consecutive emphasis on the described possible paths of modernization, transformation, and control. In the last semester, we will then aim at developing analytical syntheses and further research questions. The Centre is inviting international fellows from the social sciences and humanities to contribute to the research, and will be organizing a variety of seminars, workshops and conferences.
More detailed information can be found in the following publications:
Frank Adloff und Sighard Neckel: Modernisierung, Transformation oder Kontrolle? Die Zukünfte der Nachhaltigkeit, in: Klaus Dörre, Hartmut Rosa, Karina Becker, Sophie Bose, Benjamin Seyd (Hg.): Große Transformation? Zur Zukunft moderner Gesellschaften, Sonderband des Berliner Journals für Soziologie, Wiesbaden 2019: Springer VS, S. 167-180, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-25947-1_8.
Frank Adloff and Sighard Neckel. “Futures of Sustainability as Modernization, Transformation, and Control: A Conceptual Framework”. Sustainability Science, Special Issue "The Politics of Making and Un-Making (Sustainable) Futures" Vol. 14. (2019): S. 1-11. ISSN: 1862-4065 (Print) 1862-4057 (Online) DOI: 10.1007/s11625-019-00671-2. Futures of Sustainability as Modernization, Transformation and Control