At IRI THESys, science communication aims not only to disseminate, but to connect and integrate stakeholders from society, academia, policy and beyond. Through various methods such as events, exhibitions, press work, IRI THESys works to increase awareness, engagement and participation with transformation research. IRI THESys also collaborates with the university-wide communication initiative Open Humboldt which connects Humboldt University researchers to a wider audience with projects such as the new sustainability portal Humboldts17. To check out some examples of past outreach events from IRI THESys, see THESys Public Lectures and  Member Lectures below.

Public Lectures

At THESys Public Lectures, internationally renowned guest speakers are invited to share their research both to the IRI THESys community and the general public. Experts discuss key components of transforming human-environment systems towards sustainability. Many of our public lectures are available on our YouTube Channel.

Member Lectures

THESys Member Lectures give THESys Members the opportunity to present their work in the context of IRI THESys. The lecture series acts as an internal stage where Members present their research interests and questions, methodological tools and data, conceptual framework and theories to their colleagues.

Dagmar Haase

Resilient cities under climate change – Facts, concepts, models and reflections

The lecture illuminated some key aspects of cities under climate change and the effects of green infrastructure and other nature-based solutions implemented to face heat and drought. There was also shed light on the vulnerability of both urban residents and the ecosystem that should serve them, as both are living systems. This complex mutual social-ecological relationship is the core of the resilience of cities in the urban era of the 21st century. In the lecture, facts based on models were set against prevailing urban ecological concepts and resulting novel theoretical considerations of urban ecosystems of the future were brought to stage.

Tobias Krüger

Water security – for whom?

In this lecture, Tobias sketched how he came to work with the notion of water security (or should we rather say insecurity?). He began by discussing the normative commitments of contemporary water security definitions based on unpublished work with Johannes
Himmelreich when he was at IRI THESys. A risk-based definition will be singled out as particularly problematic drawing on work with Mark Zeitoun and others. This part links to his long-standing interest in uncertainty models. He then explained how Karen Lebek turned him onto water insecurity through her work with marginalised rural communities in South Africa. This gave him the opportunity to showcase how they brought ethnographic field work and statistical modelling into innovative dialogue. Finally, Tobias outlined how they brought all these insights, and wider experiences with interdisciplinary education at IRI THESys, together in the design of our new ‘Water Security for Whom’ project funded by the Volkswagen
Foundation. Together with Rossella Alba, Laura Betancour Alarcon, Joerg Niewoehner, Patrick Hostert and partners in Colombia and Brazil he will be researching inequalities around three multi-purpose dams in Colombia over the next 3-4 years.

Ignacio Farías

Urban vibrations: how physical waves come to matter in contemporary urbanism

Cities have turned into critical zones of the contemporary: arenas where the interdependence of environmental processes, infrastructural arrangements and human lives is increasingly apparent and disputed. Research in anthropology, science and technology studies (STS) and other fields on health hazards and environmental disasters in urban areas has been crucial in unearthing invisible forms of environmental injustice and slow violence. In this presentation, Ignacio Farías focuses on a mostly overlooked type of environmental issue, airborne waves, and explore how solar heat and environmental noise ‘come to matter’ in contemporary urbanism. This involves understanding how physical waves become associated with specific materials, bodies and devices through which they are felt, known or manipulated, as well as how they become matters of public concern and urbanistic intervention. The theoretical and governmental challenge waves pose relates to their ontological indeterminacy, as waves are not entities, but intensities that propagate through things. Addressing this challenge is crucial for reassessing the material politics of the Anthropocene as entailing contested practices of materializing abstract or imperceptible environmental disturbances.

Bettina König

Sustainability innovations – a case for science to contribute to regenerating agrofood systems and regional development

Sustainability innovations were discussed by Bettina König as important contributions which are needed for a great transformation not only within policies and the economy but for all societal spheres. Their complex nature beyond technology is a challenge to navigate innovation processes across disciplines, sectors, regions, etc. At the start of the pandemic, sustainability scholars discussed whether the COVID-19 pandemic could be a window of opportunity for a ‘deep transformation towards sustainability’ (Schot, 2020). In the light of this, this presentation introduced three strands of thought in Bettina’s current research that could contribute to this discussion: 1) Studying the pandemic from a sustainability perspective and reflecting this, 2) understanding and describing different formats of linking science to society and 3) implications from these two aspects for sustainability innovation research in linking agrofood systems to regional development. Throughout the lecture, Bettina highlighted her different projects including the ginkoo project and the Logbook of Change, as well as her collaboration with the Theatre of the Anthropocene.

Prof. Dr. Jonas Ø. Nielsen (HU Berlin/ IRI THESys)

Integrated geography and human environment research

Globalisation, complexity, and environmental problems challenge traditional boundaries between disciplines, methods, activism and science, humans and nature. In this talk I will highlight the relevance of integrative geography in a world defined by connectivity and problems that scientists need to help solve.

Dr. Ina Säumel (HU Berlin/ IRI THESys)

Co-creation of multifunctional landscapes?
Lessons learnt from edible cities and beyond

This lecture presented the main areas of interest, projects and experiences of the research group Multifunctional Landscapes including the goal to support the development of healthy, biodiversity-friendly and sustainable productive (urban and rural) landscapes. This includes positioning in the debates on multifunctionality of landscapes, holistic visions of landscape sciences, popular topics such as ecosystem services and so-called nature-based solutions. Based on extensive fieldwork and large datasets, the lecture tries to derive some lessons learnt using almost no complicated diagrams. We scientists are not the “experts” who explain to others “non-experts” how the world looks like and how to change the world. On the contrary, we learn from other knowledge regimes and are – hopefully – part of an inclusive community of knowledge, practice and cosmologies. People drive transitions.

Prof. Dr. Jörg Niewöhner (HU Berlin: Institute of European Ethnology/ IRI THESys)

‘Evidence-based democratic deliberation’.
Global environmental change research and the challenge of socioecological cohesion

The latest expertise by the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU 2019) develops the idea of ‘evidence-based democratic deliberation’ in order to square the reality of planetary boundaries with democratic due process in late liberal societies. This assumes a specific relationship between science and society, namely that scientific knowledge making precedes democratic deliberation in broader society. I want to argue in this talk that focusing exclusively on this approach runs the risk of proliferating an emerging polarisation of societies into those who recognise science as a necessary contribution to an enlightened debate about planetary environmental change and societies’ options, and those who regard science as part of an elite establishment that could not care less about ‘ordinary people’. To counteract this dangerous ‘us/them’ framing, I suggest that global environmental change (GEC) research needs to conceive of its own knowledge as ‘situated’, acknowledge epistemological pluralism and ontological multiplicity, and find ways of generating a broader sense of shared ownership of GEC knowledge. Scientific practice needs to contribute to socialecological cohesion if it wants to contribute to a great transformation.

Prof. Dr. Claas Nendel (ZALF)

Predicting the future of agriculture by understanding human-environment interaction

Agriculture is one of the oldest coupled human-environment systems and as the primary source of human nutrition, it is still of major concern in our rapidly changing world. Claas Nendel uses mechanistic simulation models to explore how agriculture in different regions of the world changes in response to changing environmental, social and economic drivers. G x E x M is the magic formula for strengthening agriculture in its manifold responsibilities for a sustainable living. In his talk, Claas highlighted a few examples that demonstrate the research concept, and outline the next milestones along this research agenda that embraces more than 1000 scientists around the world.

Prof. Dr. Tobia Lakes (HU Berlin)

Exploring spatio-temporal dynamics of agricultural land use intensity in Brandenburg

In her talk, Tobia discussed her research which focuses on spatial analyses and modeling techniques for studying human-environmental systems. The methods she applies are a combination of spatial statistics, GIS analyses, spatio-temporal modeling, machine learning and data integration, such as remote-sensing and qualitative data.

Gretchen Bakke (IRI THESys)

Pivoting toward Energy Transition 2.0

In places with highly developed electrical infrastructure (grids) the integration of renewable means of making electricity has been surprisingly fraught. Even supporters of renewable power struggle as variably made electricity and distributed generation confound the logics of contemporary grids. Infrastructure in this transition is materially incalcitrant, while its resistance to change is often read as political or ideological. In her talk, Gretchen Bakke detailed the infrastructural, cultural and business structures and cultures that make a renewables revolution difficult to accomplish. She pointed to likely scenarios for strong, resilient, and smart electrified futures and welcomed the elephant into the room, as energy transition 2.0 – the total elimination of fossil fuels from energy systems – overwhelms and complicates the many successes of transition 1.0 (all those renewables) that has already come so far. This presentation draws on Gretchen’s 2016 book The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between America and Our Energy Future – an entertaining yet careful study of the historical, infrastructural, business, and legislative contexts of the energy transition in the US. She moved beyond this, however, to also consider the implications of a phase-out of fossil fuels for contemporary electricity systems.


Photo Credit: Elisabeth Eichler, Santtu Laine and Karolina Spolniewski, 2015