Cultural Ecology Research Group

What Is Cultural Ecology?

Cultural Ecology is a transdisciplinary research paradigm in ecocritical literary studies developed in previous publications by Hubert Zapf such as Literatur als kulturelle Ökologie (2002), Kulturökologie und Literatur (2008) and newly systematized in Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts (2016) and in the edited Handbook of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology (2016). It presupposes that cultural systems and phenomena are interrelated with ecological ones, and that they can thus be analyzed in ecological terms. Building on work by Gregory Bateson, Peter Finke, and Wolfgang Iser among others, the approach proposes a theory of imaginative literature that considers literature itself as a particularly powerful form of cultural ecology. Its central assumption is that literature acts like an ecological force in the larger cultural system.


As a medium of 'cultural ecology,' literature senses and symbolically corrects problematic developments within a culture; besides, it contributes to the continual creative self-renewal of language, perception, and cultural imagination. It is thus no luxurious, useless, or out-of-touch occupation, as current economic ratio would have it. Thanks to its capabilities for cultural criticism and cultural renewal, it fulfils a vital function in the spiritual self-preservation and the enduring evolution of our culture as a whole, and can thus be described as a sustainable form of textuality. An American reviewer describes the approach of cultural ecology and its triadic functional model of imaginative texts as “the most influential theory” among the “overarching theories and concepts for ecocriticism.” (Helga Braunbeck, „German Ecocriticism in Interdisciplinary Context.“ Monatshefte 111.1, University of Wisconsin Press 2019: 117-135, 117)


The approach has been used and further developed in recent publications such as the following:


Ökologische Genres: Naturästhetik – Umweltethik – Wissenspoetik (Ecological Genres: Nature Aesthetics – Environmental Ethics – Poetics of Knowledge). Ed. Evi Zemanek, Göttingen: V&R Academic 2018), which diversifies the generic range of cultural ecology by discussing manifold hitherto neglected genres beyond pastoral and apocalypse;


Green Matters: Ecocultural Functions of Literature. Eds. Melanie Braunecker and Maria Löschnigg, Amsterdam: Brill, 2019, which covers both general and specifically Canadian topics of ecoliterary studies between culture-critical and regenerative functions.


Roman Bartosch, Literature, Pedagogy, and Climate Change: Text Models for a Transcultural Ecology. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2019, in which the author proposes transcultural extensions of cultural ecology into postcolonial and posthumanist domains as a basis for new concepts of sustainable education in the age of climate change (esp. 2-30, 51-53)


Michael Basseler. An Organon of Life Knowledge. Genres and Functions of the Short Story in America. Bielefeld: transcript 2019, which uses „Hubert Zapf’s concept of ‚literature as cultural ecology‘, and particularly his triadic functional model of literature, [as] a useful framework for a notion of literature as a productive medium for generating, instead of merely representing or storing, life knowledge“(48)




The Augsburg Cultural Ecology Research Group

The Augsburg Cultural Ecology Research Group consists of Christina Caupert, Katharina Donn, Julia Fendt, Johanna Hartmann (meanwhile Halle), Milena Krischer, Alexander Lehner, Timo Müller (meanwhile Konstanz), Julia Rössler (meanwhile Eichstätt), Christopher Schliephake, Erik Redling (meanwhile Halle), Senta Sanders, Heike Schwarz, Kirsten Twelbeck, and Hubert Zapf. It discusses recent texts and theories of ecocriticism and cultural ecology in colloquia, workshops, and conferences. The group cooperates with international partners, e.g. with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich; the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies; the Environmental Humanities at Bath, England; the Environmental Humanities at Tallinn, Estland; the Environmental Humanities at Konstanz; and the Environmental Humanities at Bern, Switzerland.  


A wide range of publications by members of the research group examine theoretical aspects of the cultural ecology paradigm and its applicability to literary texts of different genres, periods, and cultural backgrounds. Members also serve on the advisory boards of Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment, the book series Lexington Ecocritical Theory and Practice, and the Elements in Environmental Humanities of Cambridge University Press.

The research group cooperates with the new Environmental Humanities Forum at the WZU (Wissenschaftszentrum Umwelt).


Recently published books

Zapf, Hubert. Ed. Handbook of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2016.