Ph.D. Program "Rethinking Environment"



We are pleased to announce the formation of the joint Augsburg-Munich International Doctorate Program „Rethinking Environment,“ with the University of Augsburg as host institution and the LMU Munich as collaborating institution. Funded by the Elite Network of Bavaria, this program invites graduate students from all over the world and from a broad range of fields to explore the topic “Rethinking Environment: The Environmental Humanities and the Ecological Transformation of Society” in an intellectually inspiring environment that brings together the international and regional expertise of its many partners and networks. The program’s speaker is Professor. Dr. Matthias Schmidt (Human Geography, Augsburg), its deputy speaker Dr. Simone Müller (Global and Environmental History, Munich). The faculty consists of twenty professors from the humanities, the social sciences, but also from economics and the environmental health sciences.


Based at the Environmental Science Center WZU (Augsburg) and the Rachel Carson Center (Munich), the program offers a unique opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. degree under the supervision of faculty from both universities: each Ph.D. student will be supervised by an interdisciplinary team of three. The program is continuously supported by international guest professors, experienced practitioners, and creative artists/writers whose work focuses on environmental topics. Students perform collaborative research, take advantage of the scholarly expertise and excellent public networks of both locations, and participate in inter- and transdisciplinary scholarship that can help find solutions to today’s pressing environmental problems. We offer positions (two-thirds of a full position) to twelve Ph.D. students. Seven of these positions will be based in Augsburg, five in Munich. There is also a limited number of places for associated members. “Rethinking Environment” starts in October 2021.


The Doctoral Program’s Theme and Structure

In line with Ulrich Beck’s paradigm of a “reflexive modernity,” the environmental damage that has been caused by humans, and its multiple side-effects, have moved beyond human control. Having reached and even exceeded the natural limits posed by our planet’s self-sustaining systems, we are in urgent need of a critical analysis of the transformation processes that have emerged as a consequence of human interactions with what we call the “environment.” The changes we are facing now are not limited to what some believe to be narrowly definable ecological problems; their impact on human societies and cultures is equally immense. As becomes visible in movements like Fridays for Future and many initiatives and cultural events, also on a local level, many people believe that in order to create a sustainable future, we must revise the ways we think about humanity’s relationship to other species and the environment we live in. This includes a critical awareness of the economic divides and social hierarchies that facilitate, speed up, and increase the vulnerability of the global poor, who call for environmental justice as a responsibility of the wealthy nations. These very complex issues are core concerns in both the humanities and social sciences. Analyzing human thought, contributing new perspectives, and inspiring mental adaptation processes are among the most important competencies that these presumably “softer” disciplines can offer.


The Environmental Humanities at the Environmental Science Center (WZU) in Augsburg and at the Rachel Carson Center (RCC) at Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilian-University are among the most distinguished institutions, not only in Germany but world-wide, that have shaped these debates. Not only have they contributed important publications and teaching concepts; they are also known for their extraordinarily large and multifaceted network both within and outside of academia. By bringing together these two distinguished research centers under the umbrella of the Elite Network of Bavaria, we hope to create synergies that greatly benefit our Ph.D. students.   


The International Doctorate Program aims at examining the ecological transformation of society along the lines of these three research areas: 


  • The transformation of established disciplines and cultures of knowledge — what are the opportunities and challenges that we face when engaging in inter- and transdisciplinary scholarship in the Environmental Humanities? What are the scholarly and methodological implications faced by the academic disciplines and knowledge cultures that participate in our doctoral program? How can interdisciplinary work in the Environmental Humanities retroact fruitfully on traditional academic disciplines?  
  • “Transformation” as a core topic in the Environmental Humanities – reflections on and analysis of competing concepts and discourses on transformation; regional case studies about past and present ecological transformation processes.  
  • Ecological knowledge and transformative practice – building active connections between academic research and the larger culture/society as added value for the doctoral program.  

These three areas of learning and knowledge production also structure the program as a whole and serve as common reference points for all participants. This also applies to our innovative teaching formats: while there will be standard lecture courses to provide all students with a shared vocabulary and interdisciplinary skills that are needed for this program, most of the teaching and learning happens in intensive workshops some of which will take place in Bavarian conference centers, including the Environmental Research Station “Schneefernerhaus” on the Zugspitze mountain.



Das Schneefernerhaus © Kirsten Twelbeck