Berlin, Germany

Environmental Social Movements

when 20 July 2024 - 17 August 2024
language English
duration 4 weeks
credits 5 EC
fee EUR 1300

As every year sees record global temperature spikes and climate modelling predictions turn from bad to worse, climate change has emerged as a primary new arena of political conflict in Germany and beyond. Today’s climate activists are young, well-educated, and understand the immense dangers posed by anthropogenic climate change. Through lobbying efforts, educational campaigns, and direct action, they confront governments that have proven unable to limit CO2 emissions and usher in the green energy transition. While the public largely supports the goals of the climate activists, their spectacular, and often disruptive methods have garnered widespread criticism in the German media and beyond.

The goal of this course is to familiarize students with the breadth of local struggles for climate action through a mixture of critical readings, case studies, and excursions. Indeed, German social movements offer a unique vista on the successes and failures of environmentalism, given the country’s rich history in environmental activism, coupled with its role as European economic powerhouse, based on its car industry. Taking a broadly historical perspective in its first part, the course begins by establishing the background against which current German environmental movements can be understood. We will examine the early nature conservation movement and interrogate the relationship between environmentalism, democracy, and economic development. Discussing the climate skepticism of current authoritarian regimes, we will ask if environmentalism is necessarily democratic. Moving into the postwar period, we will examine the role of image-making for climate activism, focusing on the galvanizing power of the first image of the Blue Planet, and studying its effects on the early German Green Party.

Moving from historical contextualization to present-day environmental struggles, the second part of the course shifts from theory to practice. We will study the strategies, goals and objectives of current social movements and citizen initiatives, including Berlin Autofrei (“Car-Free Berlin”), Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and Die Letzte Generation (“The Last Generation”). From lobbying efforts to direct action, the course examines the different approaches adopted by these organizations, contrasting the strategy of the “long march through the institutions” (Rudi Dutschke – student activist and prominent figure in the 1968 student protests) with that of disruption and civil disobedience. To conclude the course, we will survey the wider political struggles advanced by these movements, from reducing the number of cars in Berlin, to limiting air traffic or transitioning to a green economy, and examine the punitive, collaborative and reformist state and market responses that these social movements elicit.

Course leader

Dr. Peer Illner

Target group

The course is designed for students from different academic backgrounds and does not require pre-existing specialist knowledge. Thematically, the course speaks to students with an interest in climate change, social movements, activism, and social change. While there are no special prerequisites for the course, students should enjoy critical discussions and critical readings, and demonstrate a willingness to come prepared and read the course materials in their own time. This is a great course for students interested in careers in academia, the media, and the NGO sector.

Credits info

5 EC
ECTS credits

Fee info

EUR 1300: course fee
EUR 300: program fee