30 Years of ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Frankfurt am Main

Off into the present. Shaping the social-ecological future today

ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research celebrates its 30th anniversary in November. Founded in 1989 as an independent scientific institution in Frankfurt am Main, ISOE is today one of the leading institutes for sustainability research in Germany. With its conference on 28 November, ISOE invites you to take a critical look at the present and to recognize and make use of the possibilities for a socio-ecological future.

| Pressrelease
Dream Big (©CHBD/istockphoto)
Dream Big (©CHBD/istockphoto)

Environmental changes on an unprecedented scale are creating pressure to act globally. The conviction that transformations towards sustainable development are urgently needed has therefore long ceased to lead a niche existence. The question of how this can be done remains controversial though. Thomas Jahn, spokesperson of ISOE’s executive board, is convinced that “social-ecological transformations can only succeed and, in their inevitably turbulent phases, can only be endured if they are understood as joint projects for a better life. Transformation is something that is already happening today and is not starting only tomorrow”.

In the current critical situation, which requires rapid and consistent action in the face of uninhibited climate change and extinction of species, ISOE is concentrating on how an ultimately globally necessary need for action can take place considering what is locally possible. Research in the fields of water, energy, climate protection, mobility, urban areas, biodiversity and socio-ecological systems focuses on the social conditions of environmental change.

Research with tangible benefits for society and nature 

In order to develop specific solutions for sustainability problems, ISOE does not only work on purely scientific-technical solutions. Knowledge from natural and social science disciplines is incorporated into research, and non-scientific, socially available everyday knowledge is also methodically incorporated. Let’s take the example of sustainable urban development: the expertise of municipal companies, civic offices, businesses and citizens' initiatives is also taken into account. 

The transdisciplinary mode of research thus delivers results that are of specific use for socially relevant issues: In what way can individuals contribute to sustainable urban development through their mobility behaviour? What about the acceptance of recycled wastewater for household use? How can plastic packaging be handled in a sustainable way?

Pressure for change on science is growing 

The five founding members of ISOE were already convinced that critical sustainability research must always recognise the interactions between society and nature. “We wanted to overcome the technology-dominated environmental research of the 1980s and establish socio-scientific research that understands the ecological crisis as a consequence of societal interaction with nature,” recalls co-founder Jahn. ISOE was founded in 1989 as an independent non-university institute. As a result, scientists were able to concentrate intensively on the interdisciplinary cooperation that was not common practice at universities at the time. 

With the choice of the transdisciplinary research mode, ISOE was also ahead of its time. Today, the methods of transdisciplinary research which have significantly been developed by ISOE are regarded as quality standards, and the science of social ecology is now taught at universities. “The popularity of socio-ecological research is not least due to the fact that the pressure for change on science is growing and large sections of society are increasingly insisting on practical proposals for transformation processes,” observes sociologist Thomas Jahn. With the conference on 28 November, ISOE wants to focus on the possibilities that social-ecological research offers for sustainable transformation processes.

ISOE conference in anniversary year – an orientation for transformation processes

Using very specific examples from the fields of water, biodiversity, mobility and sustainable consumption, ISOE scientists will demonstrate approaches to sustainable development. The principles underlying this development are to be discussed with around one hundred guests from science, politics and civil society. The discussion will also provide an insight into the changing role of knowledge and science and is aiming to find answers to the question of what  science can and must do today to develop perspectives for action together with society as a whole. 

ISOE Conference “Off into the Present – Shaping the Social-Ecological Future Today” 
Thursday, 28 November 2019, Stadthaus Frankfurt am Main 

The conference language is German.