PhD Studies

– Transformations in the Perspective of Individual Learning and Communication –

1. Local Food Systems in / for Transformation: Spaces of Identity Work

PhD Candidate: Karoline Pöggel
Supervisors: Daniel Fischer and Matthias Barth

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Current food systems cause severe environmental, economic and social problems. The emerging discourse on food systems transformations, a topic that has received considerable attention in the last years, has provided a wide range of answers to the questions what sustainable food systems look like and how they can be developed. In a systematic literature review 210 peer-reviewed articles are analyzed and the results show that it is possible to identify several distinct approaches to food system transformation. Local food production and consumption have been identified as a central pathway to a transformation for sustainability in the food system. So-called local food systems (LFS) can be a means to address the shortcomings of conventional food systems because they tend to be characterized by short supply chains, direct and localized relationships with producers, and fresh, nutritious produce. LFS are also social spaces with distinct social dynamics, where individuals can live sustainable lifestyles and perform their identities. I propose a conceptual framework describing the relationship between sustainability and food identities in LFSs and related verification processes at individual and collective level. Complementing studies on the environmental and economic dimensions of LFSs, the proposed framework highlights the social interaction in LFSs and may explain why some LFSs succeed while others fail. In addition, it feeds into the discussion of a good life and needs in sustainability, where subsistence and safety are complemented by satisfaction of needs such as participation, affection, and identity. The case study on identity processes in LFS in Lüneburg will exemplify how consumption is sustainable when organized according to a holistic set of fundamental human needs and how the designing of consumption spaces as social spaces feeds in individual’s wellbeing and carries the potential for a transformation for sustainability.


2. Transformative Learning in Real-World Laboratories in the Textile Sector in México

PhD Candidate: Jorge Gustavo Rodríguez Aboytes
Supervisors: Matthias Barth and Daniel Fischer

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Global and local sustainability challenges such as the fashion-textile industry requires going beyond technical solutions and generating social transformative learning. Transformation processes toward sustainability entail transformative learning processes, outcomes and conditions, both at the individual and social dimension; nonetheless, little is known about to what extent this type of learning does take place in transformative settings toward sustainability (e.g., in the textile-clothing sector). Therefore, the general objective of this study is to elaborate a theoretical and operational framework for designing, implementing and evaluating Real-world Laboratories (RwL) based on a transformative learning perspective, taking the sustainable fashion-textile transformation in México as a case study. In order to accomplish the above, a robust conceptual ground will be settled through a systematic literature review and a case study will be conducted through qualitative research methods. It is expected that by promoting explicit transformative learning processes, outcomes and conditions in a RwL, it will be possible to detect the barriers and drivers in transformation processes that foster meaningful changes toward sustainability in the long-term.

– Transformations in the Perspective of Sustainability Management and Entrepreneurship –

3. Individual Change Agents for Sustainability & Transformation in the Clothing Industry

PhD Candidate: Maike Buhr
Supervisor: Stefan Schaltegger

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Individuals play a key role in the sustainability transformation of organizations, and through this, of markets and society. This research focuses on the role of individuals inside companies in contributing to a sustainability transformation of the clothing industry and aims to better understand how to increase individuals’ transformative potential. The clothing industry causes immense pollution and poor working conditions, uses resources intensively and in fast cycles. Companies are key actors in influencing an industry’s (un)sustainability, being involved in various phases of value and supply chains as well as disposal. In the recent past, researchers showed an increased interest in the role of individuals and how they affect a firm’s sustainability. Yet, the literature remains very disperse with regard to understandings and definitions of so-called change agents. To date, there is also no research that investigated in-depth, how individuals inside companies contribute to organizational and societal transformations toward sustainability. To address these research gaps, this PhD project proposes the overall research question of ‘How can individual change agents in companies enable the sustainability transformation of the clothing industry?’. In a first step, a systematic literature review was conducted, which distinguishes key understandings of individual change agents in scientific literature. The findings demonstrate that individuals are embedded in organizational and societal structures and thus act on different levels of change (individual, organizational, system). The finding on beliefs was investigated more in-depth in a qualitative study on belief systems, which demonstrates compelling similarities and discrepancies in the belief systems of sustainability managers. Further expected results are the identification of distinct processes and activities of individual change agents for the transformation of the clothing industry within a multiple-case study.

4. The role of entrepreneurial incumbents in advancing a sustainability transformation of the meat industry

PhD Candidate: Charlott Hübel
Supervisor: Stefan Schaltegger

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In line with the sustainable entrepreneurship research domain, this research departs from the argumentation that both startups in sustainable niches and industry incumbents in the conventional mass market can advance sustainability transformation through entrepreneurial activities. While previous studies have thoroughly considered the transformative potential of startups, the role of entrepreneurial incumbents and their interactions with startups for sustainability transformation has only been mentioned marginally. The objective of this research is therefore to conduct an in-depth empirical and conceptual analysis of the role of industry incumbents, individually and in interaction with sustainable startups, in advancing the sustainability transformation of industries – in this case the meat industry. In a first step, overall barriers to transformation and potential scopes of action are identified from a meat industry actor perspective. In a second step, specific entrepreneurial actions of one meath industry incumbent are analyzed in-depth, including multiple interactions with startups for alternative proteins. The empirical insights are used to develop a robust conceptual framework on entrepreneurial types and characteristics for the incumbent-driven sustainability transformation of industries.

– Transformations as a Process of Politics and Governance –

5. Scaling up Food Sovereignty: From Local to Global

PhD Candidate: Josefine Laudan
Supervisor: Julia Leventon

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Nature and humanity are faced with biodiversity loss and food insecurity. The majority of research into food security to date has focused on availability of food (Chappell and LaValle 2011, Glamann et al. 2015). However, given that enough food is available in terms of mere calories (Chappell and LaValle 2011), the question of why people are food-insecure is heavily related to issues of access to and distribution of food, and thus to political will (e.g., Lucas et al. 2014, Sunderland 2011). Dependence on world markets suggests that many people lack agency and sovereignty regarding food. In this context, food sovereignty is proposed as a way to deliver food security at local scales while protecting the environment via non-industrial farming methods and promote social justice and dignity (La Via Campesina 2011). However, Iles and Montenegro (2013), for example, note that food sovereignty could be more successful if it regarded itself as part of a larger system instead of restricting itself to the local scale (see also Alonso-Fradejas et al. 2015). With disconnected knowledge foundations, food sovereignty movements might be unable to actually influence important institutions (Agarwal 2014), Iles and Montenegro de Wit 2015). A key challenge is thus to relate food sovereignty to broader scales, and to examine if and how it could become a national strategy. Thus, my overall research question is: To what extent does local food sovereignty contribute to national food security, biodiversity conservation and social justice? For my research I take a mixed-methods approach, including e.g., a literature review, a questionnaire, but also semi-structured lead interview or focus group discussions. My research will provide a better understanding of how food sovereignty is able to contribute to food security, biodiversity conservation and social justice / agency on a local as well as on a national basis, and where boundaries remain. In more detail, it will provide, (i) an overview and current status of food sovereignty in the world, in form of clustered food sovereignty types, (ii) an in-depth analysis of how the five A’s of food security are met and to what extent food sovereignty works or does not work in two regions. Differences will be addressed, drawing on horizontal institutional interplay, and (iii) insights to what extent local food sovereignty could be upscaled to become a national strategy (drawing on vertical interplay).

6. Textile Transformation as a Political Challenge – Co-creation of Knowledge and Learning in Collaborative Governance

PhD Candidate: Felix Beyers
Supervisor: Harald Heinrichs and Julia Leventon

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The textile and clothing industry make up a large part of the world economy and represent significant challenges for the environment and humanity at the global level. As a result, collaborative governance networks have emerged that aim to find global governance solutions to social and environmental challenges. They consist of various actors to gain insights from all relevant perspectives. Collaboration, exchange of knowledge and negotiation can help to promote the joint creation of knowledge among the participants and lead to innovative solutions. A systematic literature review on inter-organizational networks and governance partnerships maps out academic literature and distinguishes modes of governance that aim to contribute to a sustainability transformation. A qualitative case study then focuses on learning processes in collaborative multi-stakeholder governance under the hypothesis that interaction and dialogue within governance networks can lead to innovative outcomes through the exchange of different perspectives, information and insights conducive to mutual learning. Thus, drivers and barriers for the joint creation of knowledge in collaborative governance can be identified. A final article then examines the role of science and potential of transformative research to contribute to knowledge co-creation within collaborative governance.

– Transformations as a Process of Transdisciplinary Negotiation –

7. Transformation toward Sustainable Food Systems – Overcoming Large Distance in International Food Supply

PhD Candidate: Hanna Weber
Supervisors: Daniel Lang and Arnim Wiek

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International food supply is often associated with negative externalities including injustices across the economic value chain, significant transport-related greenhouse gas emissions, as well as unfavorable working conditions. Large distances are relevant proxies for this situation, specifically, large geographical and relational distances. So far, little attention has been paid to emerging entrepreneurs that aim at overcoming these large distances to advance sustainability of food supplies. The objective of this research is to find sustainability solutions for overcoming large distances in international food supply and implement one in Lüneburg, Germany and one in Tempe, USA through transdisciplinary collaboration, in particular with food entrepreneurs, asking: How can large distances in international food supply be overcome to achieve ambitious sustainability goals? The research design consists of three parts. First, we review academic literature on transformation, food systems, and sustainability to identify approaches, which make change processes in the food system successful. Second, we describe five entrepreneurial approaches based on good practices for overcoming large distances in international food supply to foster sustainability. Third, we design and conduct two solution-oriented real-world experiments in Lüneburg, Germany, and Phoenix, USA for an in-depth study of selected approaches. With this study, we hope to provide scholars and practitioners with evidence on how to foster sustainable food supply through overcoming large distances and to create real-world impact, in particular in international coffee supply.

8. Transformation toward Sustainable Food Systems – Learning Processes for Implementing Sustainable Food Forests

PhD Candidate: Stefanie Albrecht
Supervisors: Arnim Wiek and Daniel Lang

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The dominant industrial food system in North America and Europe is characterized by unsustainable development, contributing to land degradation, water contamination, climate change, negative health impacts, as well as an unfair distribution of economic benefits. The transformation of this food system toward sustainability requires widespread innovations, and in particular the capacities to implement such solutions. The objective of this research is to develop a robust model on learning processes for implementing sustainability solutions, namely, food forests, based on good practices from around the globe and adapted to the specific context of the respective region. Food forests exist around the world and are one of the oldest ways of food production, mimicking natural ecosystems by using multiple layers including trees, bushes and groundcover. In this solution-oriented sustainability research with a transdisciplinary mindset, a comparative study will be conducted with two local real-world experiments, one in Arizona, USA (Tempe) and one in northern Germany (Lüneburg). To provide a base for understanding, a solution inventory of food forests based on interviews, site visits and document research is compiled. Through real-world experiences, interested stakeholders can (1) get familiar and exemplary experience food forests; (2) develop a robust vision and strategy; (3) implement the strategy and monitor outcomes. Finally, (4) the results are extrapolated to other levels and sites. This research expects to provide practical and scientific outputs along the learning processes, which cover several dimensions: good practices of global food forest cases; mutual learning in real-world experiments; methodological learnings for conducting real-world experiments and building implementation capacity; and outlook learnings of scalability and transferability of the results.

 – Transformation in Resource Use –

9. Sustainable Chemistry – Chances and Implications for the Textile Sector

PhD Candidate: Lisa Keßler
Supervisor: Klaus Kümmerer

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The textile sector is one of the most polluting industries in the world contributing up to 20% of the total industrial pollution of water resources (Kant, 2012). Once introduced into a process or product, chemicals or their transformation products are likely to remain a concern throughout the product’s lifecycle, and even beyond. The high amount of chemical residues is not only problematic in terms of resource use, but is also a threat to the environment, and consequently to human health. Fast production cycles, mostly taking place in developing countries, often come along with inadequate enforcement of legislation as well as a lack of properly equipped wastewater treatment plants (UNESCO, 2012). A transformation of the sector toward sustainability is needed more than ever. It should target both production processes regarding environmental and social consequences as well as perceptions of product lifetime and consumption patterns. Sustainable Chemistry (SC), encompassing the entire life cycle of chemicals as well as technical and social dimensions, offers a holistic framework to assess chemicals in the textile supply chain, their environmental effects as well as their social and economic aspects in relation to fresh water resources (e.g., Kümmerer, 2017; Blum et al., 2017). However, it is argued that (1) there is a lack of direction and prioritization in the field and (2) the concept has not reached all relevant research fields e.g., textile chemistry. Hence, in a first step the potential of SC for the textile sector was described and highlighted in a conceptual book contribution. Secondly, the current state of research of practices of Sustainable and Green Chemistry in the textile sector is examined by a systematic literature review. Based on the findings from the review, an experimental case study with one chemical substance class is going to serve as a proof-of-principle of benign chemical design for the textile sector. When facing highly complex sustainability issues along the textile supply chain, integrative concepts and solutions are needed. Here, SC can act as a beneficial umbrella concept for addressing those challenges regarding chemicals in the textile sector. The PhD thesis is going to provide the conceptual and theoretical basis, a collection of practical examples, experimental data for one substance class and the transfer of findings into practice.

10. Fairtrade: Going beyond Certificates

PhD Candidate: Julius Rathgens
Supervisor: Henrik von Wehrden

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Global trade arrangements have contributed to an emergence of complex value chains, which connect geographically distant regions through global markets. These trade arrangements can be highly exploitative toward producers and ecosystems in countries of product origin and perpetuate global disparities. In particular, issues of justice, information asymmetries as well as ecosystem degradation are related with global trade arrangements. Due to its inherent complexity and geographical distances, global trade arrangements inhibit straightforward governmental efforts. Private regulation schemes and alternative ways of trading evolved as market mechanisms evolved and claim to deliver answers to the abovementioned issues. The results of many empirical case studies show however, that private regulation schemes are ill fitted to advance global justice and biodiversity conservation. It is therefore questionable if private regulation alone is able to tackle the abovementioned problems. From a sustainability science perspective it is therefore expedient to investigate into factors that go beyond certification schemes. Therefore, the aim of my research is to work together with different actors and mixed methods along coffee values chains, in order to explore underlying factors that create impactful results for the social well-being of the producers, as well as the functioning of the ecosystems they rely on. Using the framework of the donut economy from Kate Raworth et al. (2012) I will try to implement these guiding principles into the context of global value chains in order to balance the aspect of social wellbeing with the planetary boundaries.

– Integration in Inter- and Transdisciplinary Research –

11. Developing Methods for Integration in Inter- and Transdisciplinary & Research processes: From Freire to Art-Based Research

PhD Candidate: Sadhbh Juárez-Bourke
Supervisors: Ulli Vilsmaier and Matthias Barth

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One of the defining traits of Transdisciplinary Research is the collaboration of different actors and integration of different knowledge-forms. There is increasing empirical evidence on the transformative potential of collaborative processes that integrate normative, affective and aesthetical elements. However, an understanding about why  these elicit such transformative potential, and how to implement them is dispersed across disciplinary boundaries, and has not yet been consolidated within the field of sustainability science. This requires further conceptual and methodological development, as well as re-thinking the role of researchers in such processes. In this context, Paulo Freire’s work based on transformative, integrative, non-disciplinary pedagogical methods may offer valuable insights for the design of transdisciplinary research processes. Freire’s work is explored at three levels: philosophical, pedagogical, and methodological. The research will provide specific methods supported by empirical data from workshop implementation for how to translate Freire’s body of work at each of these levels. A key element is the re-integration of the normative dimension into our processes of knowledge co-creation, based on the concept of dialogue.

12. Inter- and Transdisciplinary Research as Learning in Communities of Practice

PhD Candidate: Stefan Hilser
Supervisors: Matthias Barth and Ulli Vilsmaier

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To address today’s great societal challenges and achieve transformations toward sustainability we also need to transform the ways in which we do science. Here, transdisciplinary research is a growing field that aims for sustainability transformations in society and transforming the way sciences create knowledge. An educational and learning centred perspective on inter- and transdisciplinary research offers valuable contributions on how to best support such research. Therefore, the aim of this study is to answer the question:

How to best support mutual learning in inter- and transdisciplinary research?

To investigate this question this research is designed as an intervention study focusing on digital artefacts and discursive practice as a form of legitimate peripheral participation. First, we develop a learning framework and investigate a set of toolboxes with a focus on transdisciplinary methods and how they enable learning through discursive practice. Second, we will introduce a digital platform that is based on that framework and investigate how it can be used for communication within our research group and the wider inter- and transdisciplinary Community of Practice. Third, we will investigate how strategic questioning as a discursive practice can be used to support learning and interaction through the platform.