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Current projects:

Land subsidence after the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake – Risk awareness and responses of local residents in Sendai, Japan

Gefördert durch das Forschungsstipendium der Hanna Bremer Stiftung in der Frithjof Voss Stiftung für Nachwuchswissenschaftlerinnen der Geographie 2021

This project investigates coastal natural hazards with a focus on land subsidence, a hazard which is still largely under-researched compared to short-term extreme events and steric/eustatic sea level rise. This neglect is surprising, since subsidence is a very significant contributor to relative sea level rise in many regions of the world. Considering the substantial socio-economic impacts of subsidence, such as damages on buildings and infrastructure and increased risks towards coastal flooding and tsunamis, there is an urgent need to bring subsidence studies to the forefront of coastal hazard research and to study human responses. Enhanced knowledge on socio-economic vulnerabilities and adaptation pathways is crucial to guide disaster risk reduction strategies.

However, adaptations to subsidence have also been hardly studied in human geographic natural hazards research. The few existing studies refer to governmental measures, while an investigation of the adaptation strategies of local populations has largely been missing so far. This project addresses this research gap by examining local population adaptation strategies and improved ways of incorporating community initiatives into state and local disaster preparedness.

Ansprechpartnerin: Lisa-Michéle Niesters


Evaluation EnerAct - Energy system transformation and social megatrends - specific approaches to action

Ein durch die Stiftung Mercator gefördertes, vom Wuppertal Institut geleitetes Projekt erforschte in den letzten Jahren die Wechselwirkungen zwischen der Energiewende und gesellschaftlichen Megatrends (Digitalisierung, Urbanisierung, Demographischer Wandel etc.). Das Konsortium aus Forschung und Praxis entwickelte dazu in einem transdisziplinaren Ansatz in vier konkreten Teilprojekten Maßnahmenkataloge, Handlungsempfehlungen und Pilotprojekte. Diese sollen auf regionaler und kommunaler Ebene einen Beitrag zur Energiewende leisten und gleichzeitig die gesellschaftlichen Megatrends berücksichtigen bzw. gezielt adressieren. Das vom Geographischen Institut der UzK durchgeführte Evaluationsprojekt beschäftigt sich mit der Frage, inwieweit EnerAct nachhaltige Strukturen und Akteursnetzwerke für die Energietransformation in NRW schaffen konnte.

Contact: Kimberley Hindmarsh, Boris Braun

DFG-funded project: TRANSOCAP II: Building adaptive capacity through (trans-) local social capital – sea level rise and resilience of coastal communities and households in selected Indonesian second-tier cities (SPP 1889 Regional Sea Level Change and Society 2019-2021)

TRANSOCAP II focuses on coastal communities in second-tier Indonesian cities, which show high socio-ecological vulnerabilities towards sea level changes and coastal hazards. In the Global South, social networks play an important role for successful adaptation processes of local communities and households, especially in situations where governmental disaster risk reduction is insufficient. Through networks of trust, people are able to organize the access to loans, remittances, information, and knowledge, which are valuable resources for response capacities, adaptation, innovations, and social resilience.

The central research question is: How are (trans-) local social networks formed, and how does the resulting social capital function as a resource in collective adaptation of local communities in socially and culturally diverse second-tier cities against flooding and sea level rise?

The project understands social capital also as a translocal phenomenon with the aim to overcome the predominant local and place-based focus within hazard research. We are planning to investigate the structure and quality of local and translocal social capital in the Indonesian regional urban centers of Surabaya (Java), Denpasar (Bali), and Padang (Sumatra). These cities extend the case study areas of the first funding period (Jakarta, Semarang, and the rural districts Kendal and Demak). The main assumption of TRANSOCAP II is, that translocal social networks play a stronger role in Surabaya, and especially in the diverse cultural contexts of Denpasar and Padang, than compared to the former study areas Jakarta and Semarang. A further methodological extension of the first funding period is a more detailed analysis of social networks by adding a networks analysis to the applied mixed-methods approach, which further entail focus-group discussions, a questionnaire household survey, and expert workshops.

Contact: Konstantin Gisevius, Lisa-Michéle Bott, Boris Braun

Further information: TRANSOCAP II, SPP 1889

DFG-funded project: TRANSOCAP Building adaptive capacity through translocal social capital: Sea level rise and resilience of coastal communities and households in Indonesia -- within the SPP 1889 research project Regional Sea Level Change and Society (2016-2019)

Adaptation to coastal flooding and storm surges is a major challenge for the low lying coastal areas of Indonesia. The situation is further aggravated by land subsidence rates up to 15 cm/yr in some areas of Jakarta and Semarang. In this situation, research on adaptation and coping processes towards past, current, and future coastal hazards and sea level rise is crucial to understand socio-economic impacts and adaptive responses of coastal communities and individual households. This project is based on the central hypothesis, that translocally anchored social capital plays a key role for building adaptive capacity. Through processes of migration and trans-local networking, people establish social interactions and networks of trust that link coastal rural areas to regional urban centres, megacities, and foreign localities. Through these networks, individuals and communities have access to remittances, loans, mutual help, information, and knowhow that may become valuable resources for community resilience and innovative adaptation.

The project aims to decipher the relations between translocally organised social capital, rural-urban interactions, and adaptive capacity. The goal is to analyse how the (translocal) social capital of coastal communities is structured and how it enables the endowed people to cope with short-term hazards (e.g. cyclones and floods) as well as to adapt to the slowly emerging and less perceivable sea level rise.

Central research questions:

  • How do local and translocal social networks generate social capital?
  • How does social capital foster adaptation processes of households and communities towards sea level rise and coastal hazards in interlinked rural and urban settings?
  • How can social capital reduce socio-economic vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of coastal communities/households towards sea level rise, subsidence and coastal hazards?
  • How can collective action and bottom-up initiatives contribute to an effective hazard management?

As this study has a translocal focus, we will apply a multiple place-based approach carried out in rural and related urban areas on Java, Indonesia, in particular in rural areas of Central Java, in Semarang as the regional urban centre, and in Jakarta as the national megacity. Both studied cities are particular vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal hazards. They experience high population pressure on exposed urban settlement areas and both cities are faced with high land subsidence rates (fig. 2, 3). A mixed-method approach will be applied, starting with a qualitative study in 2016, including focus group discussions, key informant and expert interviews in Semarang. Based on the qualitative results an extensive household survey will be conducted in different urban and rural study areas in 2017.

Contact: Lisa-Michéle Bott, Boris Braun

Further Information: TRANSOCAP, SPP 1889

DFG-funded project: Standards 2.0. Livelihoods of Indian smallholder farmers between global and domestic value chains for organic and fair trade agri-food products (2016-2019)

Smallholder farming is regarded as the backbone of agriculture and food security. Particular scrutiny in recent academic debates, also among economic geographers, has been given to the implications of the agri-food globalization for small-scale or smallholder farmers (SHF). One prominent issue is the rise of standard regulation and certification systems, including private food standards, and the ongoing debate about whether these standards display a barrier for SHF in the Global South and hamper livelihood improvement and poverty reduction, or if they could induce product and or process upgrading mechanisms (exclusion debate).

It is often argued that alternative marketing strategies, such as organic or fair trade farming, can improve SHF livelihoods by increasing income due to premium prices offered in these market segments. Traditionally, organic and fair trade production in countries of the Global South has been export-oriented, driven by increasing demand in the Global North. However, recent developments indicate that markets for these types of products are growing also in countries of the Global South, and in the BRICS countries in particular, where demand of the upper- and rising new middle class for more sustainable and healthy foods are growing. This may imply that produce from these countries that was previously targeted for export markets can now be redirected or increased to meet own domestic demand. This project aims to examine this recent development by the example of India, where small-scale structures dominate the agrarian system. At the same time, double-digit growth has been observable in the domestic organic market and is expected for Fair Trade products.

Outcomes of the empirical study proposed here contribute on both conceptual and practical levels. Conceptually, the main argument made here is that (global) value chain analyses can benefit by more explicit and fruitful linkages to livelihood and convention theory frameworks. Practically, it shall reveal relative advantages of access to and participation in domestic as opposed to export production, presumably characterized by different quality understandings and governance structures, for SHF-livelihood outcomes. By analysing the examples of inclusion of SHF in two distinctive value chains (Organic as a more established movement and fair trade as a relatively new momentum of alternative food movement), we can compare dynamics at different stages of market maturity.

Contact: Amelie Bernzen, Shantonu Abe


DFG-funded project: Economic and social drivers of land use change in coastal Bangladesh -- within the BanD-AID research program “Bangladesh Delta: Assessment of the causes of sea level rise hazards and integrated development of predictive modeling towards mitigation and adaptation” (2013-2016)

Bangladesh, a low-lying and densely populated country, faces recurrent flooding, potentially aggravated by sea level rise and more frequent and intensified cyclones resulting from climate change. Growing demographic pressure and a one-sided focus on economic development has led to a rapid degradation of the natural ecological system and an increase in the vulnerability of the coastal zones. However, the social and economic processes leading to land use change, deforestation, land degradation and salinization are still not fully understood. The rapid transformation from natural forests and rice paddies to shrimp ponds, for instance, is not only triggered by domestic decision-making, but also by integration in global supply chains and the logics of external markets. Other problematic land use changes in coastal Bangladesh are due to increasing food demand. Cropping is changing from single to double and from double to triple crops in a year, resulting in an overexploitation of surface and ground water. New economic activities such as shrimp farms are continuously expanding and engulfing traditional crop lands, displacing traditional land users and small farmers. Resilience in the past has been based on family and village networks, which are being eroded by these changes. New settlements emerge in highly exposed locations (e.g. “chars”). In the long term, these processes undermine indigenous coping and mitigation strategies as well as social bonding which, in the past, have been important mechanisms for coping with floods, cyclones, and storm surges.

Geographers and sociologists at the University of Cologne and at Ohio State University seek to unravel the complex economic and social reasons behind these developments. Overall, the BanD-AID program is run by an international, cross-disciplinary team consisting of natural and social scientists. Partner universities are located in Cologne, Bonn, Toulouse, Columbus, Perth, Dhaka, and Rajshahi. A full overview is presented on the LOICZ website.

Contact: Boris BraunAmelie Bernzen


DFG-funded project: GreenRegio: Green building in regional strategies for sustainability: multi-actor governance and innovative building technologies in Europe, Australia, and Canada (2013-2016)

Cities have increasingly been identified as the optimal scale to mitigate action on climate change. While urban areas produce a large share of greenhouse gas emissions with the building sector being the single largest contributor, the sector is also seen to hold greatest potential to lower emissions based on the low cost of retrofitting existing or constructing new buildings, the availability of technologies, and transition to green energy supply and demand ( Additionally, local actors such as municipal governments have considerable influence over local land use, carbon control policies and transitions towards a green economy. One significant opportunity for cities to become climate change leaders lies in green building (e.g., energy efficient buildings) and the way the build environment interfaces with urban structures and services (e.g., “smart growth”).

The project aims at analyzing the role of city regions as potential strategic managers of sustainability transitions focusing on innovations in green building. It seeks to trace how green innovations and technological change in green building emerge and develop over time in selected cities including Vancouver (CAN), Brisbane (AUS), Freiburg (GER) and Luxembourg (LUX). In particular, it focuses on the role internal and external actors and events play in promoting innovations and their adoption. The focus goes beyond purely technical innovations and tries to integrate procedural, organizational, funding and other innovations, routines and regulations and their contribution to regional carbon control policies.

Contact: Sebastian Fastenrath


DFG-funded project: “Airports as foci of real estate development and employment: small scale analyses in Australian metropolitan areas” (Short title: “Airports as new urban centres”) (funding period: 2012-2015)

In recent years, airports and adjacent areas have often been focal points of new multifunctional urban nodes. These centres have obtained significant regional importance for property development, as locations for major companies, and for employment. Models of airport-led urban development, such as the “Airport City”, “Aerotropolis”, “Airport Corridor” and “Airea”, can be useful to describe and analyse the characteristics and implications of the resulting shifts in the urban economic system. However, there is scope for further sophistication of these models, especially with regard to environmental issues, local specifics and quantification of crucial processes. Airports not only induce economic growth in adjacent areas, but often also promote uncoordinated development. This frequently leads to unsatisfactory outcomes for the city as a whole and spurs local conflicts. Moreover, airport-induced development can be inconsistent with the goals of sustainable urban development set by planning authorities.

The main objective of this project is to describe and explain the physical and functional structures in the vicinity of major airports. In order to analyse the complex relationships between airports and cities, small-scale quantitative analyses of building activity, employment and commuter-patterns will be conducted. Moreover, we are planning to interview key actors from urban planning authorities, state governments, real estate developers, airport operators and airport-related companies, taking into account the complex nature of explanatory factors. Our empirical findings will help to improve the existing models of airport-led urban development. Five Australian metropolitan areas have been chosen as study areas for the quantitative analysis, namely Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra. Australian cities offer excellent research conditions regarding the specific characteristics of urban form, functional configurations, institutional settings and data availability. The qualitative survey will focus on Sydney and Brisbane, utilising their different urban characteristics and airport layouts.

Contact: Fabian Sonnenburg

How to retain skilled workers/professionals and support family-friendly firms in the Rhein-Erft-district (2013-2016)

Team:  Boris Braun, Dania Bartels, Amelie Bernzen

Contact: Dania Bartels, Boris Braun

BMBF-funded project: "Re-Islamisation between State Influences and Global Muslim Networks"

part of the competence network Crossroads Asia

The aim of the competence network is to look at specific causal and functional connections – figurations – which are localized in Crossroads Asia, but can stretch beyond the bounds of the geographical region or be confined to smaller areas within this region. The objective is not to construct a new ‘region’ on the dividing line between the areas covered by classic South Asian and Central Asian Studies and areas which have hitherto been the domain of regionally-focussed Iranian studies. This new Area Studies-perspective makes it possible to focus on specific spaces constituted by human experience, imagination and actions in contexts which are thematically defined in each case. The regional expertise within the competence network covers Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kashmir, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Northern India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Xinjiang. Those involved contribute disciplinary perspectives from cultural studies and linguistics, ethnology, history, political science, religious studies, sociology, human geography and interdisciplinary development research. The range of methods deployed includes textual and discourse analysis, ethnographic field studies, survey methods, network analyses and archive research. Collaboration between scholars engaged mainly in pure research and scholars with decidedly applied research interests holds out the prospect of yielding fertile transdisciplinary work, especially in the light of the close connections currently obtaining between theory and empirical research on current and relevant primary themes such as ‘conflict’, ‘migration’ and ‘development’.The project "Re-Islamisation between State Influences and Global Muslim Networks" deals with the actors of re-Islamisation, their involvement in translocal networks, their aims and activities and their relation to the state. Within the field of geography the project is linked to post-socialistic transition studies, which deal with social and spatial changes after 1989 in the concerned countries. Focusing on both, the negotiation of power within the states and the analysis of religious networks, the project contributes to geopolitics and geography of religion. The case studies of preference shall be Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Contact: Petra Tiller

Completed Projects:

DFG-funded project: The impact of institutional conventions on product quality management in global supply chains. The example of organic food imports in Germany and Australia (ImPOrt) (funding period: 2010-2012)

Poverty reduction through Social Business?

"Forschungsverbund Transnationale Netze" FORTRANS : Intercultural risk management of societal demands in transnational networks

DFG-funded project: Urban environmental quality as a result of bargaining - industrial firms as agents of environmental governance in India and Bangladesh (funding period: 2008-2010)

Natural hazards and climate change in Dhaka: future trends, social adaptation and informaldynamics