- Economic Sociology (risk and security in finance, neoliberalism, green/bio economy, energy transition)
- Political Sociology (security, biopolitics, governmentality, political theory)
- Science and Technology Studies (infrastructure studies, social studies of finance, life sciences and biotechnology)
- Environmental Sociology (naturecultures, new materialisms, environmental humanities, sustainability/resilience)
- Qualitative research (problematization analysis, genealogy, expert interviews)
- Sociological Theory (poststructuralism, ANT, critical theories, systems theory)
Post-Doc Project: Sociology of decarbonization
In my cumulative habilitation project I look at different sites of decarbonization: financial markets, the science of microbiology and the transition towards renewable energy. The investigation of these specific sites serves as a vantage point to address more general theoretical questions: Is the decarbonization of society really a "great transformation"? What are the challenges for sociological theory to take into account questions concerning energy and the entanglements between nature and society? Aside from a series of investigations into the socio-technical, political, and economic intricacies of the German energy transition I currently work on two projects and thus two sides of decarbonization: financial markets and the intersection of microbiology and agriculture.
“Carbon bubble” and “stranded assets” in finance: Making and managing carbon risks between climate protection and finance
The project examines social strategies to cope with risks and uncertain futures at the intersection of climate politics and finance. The project looks at the ways stakeholders from civil society, politics, and finance frame and cope with the effects of a transition towards a low-carbon economy in the financial sector. Empirically, the project focuses on controversies around the issues of “carbon bubble” and “stranded assets”, that is, the ecologically and economically controversial problem that a consistent implementation of international climate goals could contribute to a massive devaluation of the financial assets of fossil capitalism. The topic, which was first brought up for discussion by non-governmental organizations, meanwhile has also caught the attention of politicians and key players in the financial sector, raising the question of how to deal with the risks of a devaluation of carbon-intensive assets, so-called carbon risks.
In a first step, the project examines the cognitive and normative framing processes that have carved out “carbon bubble” and “stranded assets” as financial problem spaces. The project addresses finance not just as an economic but also as a political field of action and focusses on new forms of public engagement that strategically target the risk sensitivity of financial markets to enforce a climate protection agenda. In a second step the project analyses modes of calculating and controlling carbon risks. It asks how calculative practices transform the uncertainties concerning the financial ramifications of decarbonisation into a calculable risk category and how this plays out in financial risk management strategies. The project seeks to highlight the limits and paradoxes of financial risk management capacities in the face of climate change. This makes it possible to reflect on the assumption that reckoning with carbon risks in finance will substantially contribute to climate change mitigation efforts. It is after all questionable whether financial risk technologies, which emphasise risk spreading rather than risk avoidance, are particularly well suited to promote climate goals.
Symbiotic collectives (together with Prof. Sven Opitz, Marburg, funded by the Volkswagen-Foundation: Originalitätsverdacht)
The project examines the social and cultural implications of the symbiosis paradigm that has recently resurged in the life sciences due to the booming research on the microbiome. It asks how the manipulation of symbioses catalyses the emergence of bio-social relations. It focuses on two cases in which the biotechnological intervention in symbiotic relations between host animals and microbes addresses global problems: The modification of bovine ruminal bacteria seeks to reduce the methane production of global cattle populations. The creation of a symbiotic relationship between a bacterial species and a mosquito stops the latter from acting as a vector for infectious disease like dengue fever. The explorative case studies provide a particularly illuminating lens to study the emergence of a distinct mode of biopolitical intervention – symbiotic engineering – that creates novel relations between the living and the social on various spatial scales. By mapping these emerging symbiotic collectives, the project seeks to update concepts of sociality still prevailing in the humanities. The project mobilizes the concept of symbiosis to deepen our understanding of the hybridization of nature and culture. It therefore revisits the sociological use of the symbiosis concept by theorists like Robert E. Park and Niklas Luhmann and tries to arrive at a sociological understanding of symbiosis that takes into account the insights from millennial microbiology as well as the proliferation of symbiotic relations due to symbiotic engineering. The project thus combines explorative case studies with a theoretical concern: the analysis of symbiotic engineering with a theory of symbiotic collectives.
Dissertation Project: The Apparatus of Resilience. The Government of Catastrophes and the Biopolitics of Vital Systems (completed)
The dissertation project investigated the government of systemic risks and catastrophes. It traced security rationalities and technologies like preparedness and resilience that supplement the traditional security mechanisms of sovereignty, insurance, welfare and prevention. The new dispositive of security reacts to systemic risk threatening complex and interdependent socio-technical-natural operations and is at work in such diverse fields as financial market regulation, public health, logistics, environmental protection, energy policy, food security and counter-terrorism.