Promotionsprogramm "Transformationsprozesse in Europäischen Gesellschaften"

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Angela Firmhofer

Angela Firmhofer



Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
Institute of European Ethnology
Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich


Further Information

Dissertation Project

“We are not waiting for the great transformation to come! We are part of it!” – Pioneers of change and the creation/development of (a) „culture(s) of sustainability“ in the European cities of Munich, Barcelona and Copenhagen

Research project

My dissertation project is based in Munich, Barcelona and Copenhagen. I focus on civil society movements, participation and the co-creation process of a sustainable city by citizens (bottom up) instead of looking at top down processes by international, national, regional or local governments. I want to find out if and how different urban civil society actors discuss, communicate, generate and transform environmental, economic and social issues and if they – by organizing different projects – create (a) “culture(s) of sustainability” in their cities. As concrete fields of research, I’ve chosen two NGOs or eco-/social-entrepreneurs and the Transition Town initiatives in each city. The chosen interview partners hold an important role as founders, leaders, ‘masterminds’ or important actors within these initiatives/organizations. These initiatives and organizations are centered around the following topics:

  • Sustainable work- and lifestyles (f.e. social- and eco-entrepreneurship, circular economy, eco-design, eco-tourism)
  • Education for sustainable development, communication (f.e. non-violent communication)
  • Sustainable and participatory city development (f.e. urban gardening, permaculture)

Furthermore, my research project shall shed light on the following topics with regard to the interviewees within their initiative/organization:

  • Values, worldviews and ideas of man
  • History of becoming founders, leaders etc.
  • Most important topics and contents of projects
  • Ways of learning of new knowledge and skills within and for the initiative/organization
  • Possibilities of participation and co-creation of new ideas and projects
  • Ways of cooperation and collaboration within the initiative/organization and with other initiatives and institutions in the city
  • Building and using social networks (locally, regionally, nationally, internationally)
  • Dealing with personal issues and conflicts within the initiative/organization and in a collaboration or cooperation process with other initiatives and institutions in the city
  • Relationship to the city / Importance of the city within the work and everyday life of the interviewees
  • Pending problems in the city concerning social, economic, ecologic and cultural sustainability.

Relevance for science and society

Since not later than 1992 sustainable development has been declared as a global issue and has been placed on the agenda on several political scales. For more than ten years the so called “culture of sustainability” has already been discussed, but the definitions still lack tangibility and perceptibility. What could this “culture of sustainability” be? Or shouldn’t there be „cultures of sustainability“, not only one?

For answering these questions I have decided to conduct a comparative research project within the three European cities of Munich, Barcelona and Copenhagen. These three cities have already been decorated or at least nominated for being „sustainable cities“: Munich as “City of the World Decade for Sustainable Education” in 2012, Barcelona as finalist of the „European Green Capital Award“ 2012/2013 and Copenhagen as „European Green Capital“ 2014.
In cities, human beings with different cultural identities and social status live densely together. Cities imply specific communities and urban cultures. The city as a concept or design of lifestyle and living together is publicly discussed and communicated by the people. Investigating these concepts and designs offers the possibility for an international comparison between European cities without leaving the originality and diversity of each city behind.

Besides I want to fortify research projects focusing civil society movements, since one of my hypotheses is that a cultural change cannot only be realized from top down – by governments, the European Union, the UN and other global players – but that this change has to be shaped by the citizens themselves. Therefore another hypothesis is that persons like my interview partners might be the so called “pioneers of change” which have been defined as to be important in a transformation to a sustainable culture and/or society (see f.e.: Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen: Welt im Wandel. Gesellschaftsvertrag für eine Große Transformation. Berlin 2011).

Research design

My research project is based on the Grounded-Theory-Methodology and the Multi-sited-Ethnography-Approach. My theoretical background is a selected mixture of several concepts from various disciplines: Social and Urban Anthropology, Cultural and Urban Geography, Environmental Ethics and others.
Apart from expert interviews as well as historical and empirical investigations in the cities I have conducted 60 interviews and several participant observations in the three cities at several times between 2013 and 2014.

Research focus

Culture(s) of sustainability, pioneers/agents of change, transition and transformation research, education for sustainable development, social- and eco-entrepreneurship, civil participation and city development, communication, social psychology, qualitative research methods, interdisciplinary research.

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Burkhart Lauterbach