Research programme “Frankfurt Social Ecology”

The very term reveals it: Applied research is inconceivable without basic research. And ISOE follows this maxim with its “Frankfurt Social Ecology” research programme. But what is the function of this programme at ISOE, how is it brought to life in daily research?

In general, research programmes should help to formulate further hypotheses about the object of research and to structure research processes in order to test them methodically. This also applies to social ecology. It allows us to ask specifically how societies regulate their relationships with nature and at what point there is a danger that these will not develop sustainably. It also helps us decide what kind of knowledge we need and how we have to integrate it in order to answer this question.

But our programme goes even further. We don’t just want to better understand such ‘societal relations to nature’. We also want to use this basic knowledge to show how these relations can be shaped in a sustainable way. And this is precisely what we are doing in our transdisciplinary research projects on societal problems such as supplying the population with clean drinking water or the loss of biodiversity. Taking these specific cases, we generalize what we have learned, and are thus constantly expanding our social-ecological knowledge base.

Social ecology combines understanding and shaping which places special demands on the process of research and the scientists involved. In other words, we are both analytical observers and participants in social transformation processes. For scientific work, however, it is crucial to separate these two roles, that is, to distinguish between the descriptive and the normative. Our research program provides the means to accomplish this self-reflexive and (self-)critical task.


Egon Becker, Thomas Jahn (Hg.) (2006): Soziale Ökologie. Grundzüge einer Wissenschaft von den gesellschaftlichen Naturverhältnissen. Campus Verlag

Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects. Special Issue Sustainability 2017, 9(7)

Diana Hummel, Thomas Jahn, Florian Keil, Stefan Liehr, Immanuel Stieß (2017): Social Ecology as Critical, Transdisciplinary Science – Conceptualizing, Analyzing and Shaping Societal Relations to Nature. Sustainability 9(7), 1050