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68995-01 - Seminar: The Sustainabilization of the State: Theoretical Perspectives and Empirical Evidence across Countries 3 KP

Semester Herbstsemester 2023
Angebotsmuster einmalig
Dozierende Basil Bornemann (basil.bornemann@unibas.ch, BeurteilerIn)
Inhalt The state was a central reference point for political demands and scientific analyses dealing with the management of ecological challenges until the mid-1990s. Yet, it initially played a subordinate role in the discourse on sustainable development, which gained prominence from the early 1990s and soon became a new guiding idea in global environmental policy (and in other policy areas). The then-newly emerging governance perspective dominated theoretical and empirical analyses of sustainable development, pushing the state into the background. Given the complexity of the challenge, sustainable development was assumed to benefit, if not depend, largely on new forms of governance beyond the state, involving a variety of actors from different sectors and levels (Lange et al., 2013).
In recent years, however, the state has increasingly moved into the focus of attention in sustainability politics and research, and there is a growing interest in analyzing the role(s), functions, and impacts of the state in the context of sustainability transformations (e.g. Heinrichs & Laws, 2014; Hysing, 2015; Duit et al. 2016; Bornemann & Christen, 2019; Hausknost & Hammond, 2020; Christen & Bornemann, 2021; Mathis et al., 2022; SAGW, 2020). In this context, emphasis is put on the tensions between environmental demands on the one hand and issues of democratic legitimacy and capitalist imperatives on the other (see also Saretzki, 2011; Blühdorn, 2020; Bornemann et al., 2022). But the role of the state is also increasingly discussed in the context of post-growth approaches to sustainability (D’Alisa & Kallis, 2020; Koch, 2020) and in the field of social policy, where there is growing interests in the eco-social state and sustainable welfare (Coote, 2022; Jakobsson et al., 2018; Koch & Fritz, 2014; Gough 2016, 2022; Laruffa et al., 2022).
This renewed interest is based on at least three developments. First, there is a growing critical understanding of the central role of the (neoliberal) state in creating and perpetuating socio-ecological problems, a politics of unsustainability (Blühdorn & Welsh, 2008), which underscores that the state must transform itself if it is to end its complicity in generating the problems and make a positive contribution to sustainable development (e.g., Hausknost & Hammond 2020). Second, there is spreading disillusionment with the actual and expected future performance of (global) governance arrangements beyond the state in addressing particularly complex social-ecological problems (Park et al., 2008) that give rise to reconsideration and revitalization of the state’s role in sustainability governance. Third, the socio-ecological crisis has evolved – not least as a result of insufficient efforts in the past – from a future scenario to a reality in the here and now, prompting calls for a stronger and more authoritative steering role of the state to grow louder – sometimes with (approving or critical) reference to the (supposed) success of state-led transformation processes in capitalist autocracies such as China (Beeson, 2010; Willke, 2014, Wainwright & Mann, 2018).
Alongside this turn to the state in sustainability (governance) research, the state is also increasingly coming to the fore in other political and academic debates. In the context of anti-globalist discourses and movements calling – on the left – for a strong redistributive state, or – on the right – for an ethnically based nation-state, the state serves as a beacon of hope for ending an era of (neoliberal) globalization. The experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has also sparked a renewed interest in the state. Thus, on the one hand, the early phase of the pandemic demonstrated that states are indeed capable of more than has long been assumed; on the other hand, as the pandemic progressed, state actions have increasingly encountered legitimacy and capacity limits (Schröter, 2022). Politically, the rise of statist positions, which see a strong state also in climate and sustainability policy (see Bornemann & Christen, 2020), is challenged by libertarian counter-movements, which see any form of state intervention as an unacceptable restriction of individual freedom (see Amlinger & Nachtwey, 2022), as well as by emerging anarchist positions (spreading throughout radical social movements), which argue for a radical democratic decentralization of the state in the face of the worsening socio-ecological crisis (Shahar, 2020; Smessaert and Feola, 2023).
Overall, there is not only increased discussion about the functions and role(s) of the state in sustainability transformation but also about the state in general. As Paolo Gerbaudo (2021) argues, we are witnessing the end of neoliberal globalization: the neoliberal “exopolitics” of freedom, flexibility and opportunity in the global marketplace is increasingly replaced by an inward-oriented neo-statist “endopolitics” oriented towards issues of “sovereignty”, “protection” and “control”. Crucially, this “return of the state” (Garrard 2022; see also Mitchell and Fazi 2017) may involve progressive processes that reinforce democracy, sustainability and social justice, but it may also entail a rise in nationalist-xenophobic authoritarianism. Precisely like at Karl Polanyi’s times (Polanyi 2001), the countermovement through which society protects itself from the insecurity generated by liberalized market may take the form of democratic renewal and enhanced social solidarity, but it may also facilitate the rise of fascism, the increase of international tensions and ultimately war (Mouffe, 2022).
This constellation provokes new questions about understanding the sustainable state, its roles, strategies and ways of acting, as well as its possibilities and limits in shaping socio-ecological transformations in times of crisis.

Forms and functions of the sustainable state
- How can the sustainable state be conceptualized both in normative and descriptive-empirical respects?
- What do different state-theoretical traditions (liberal, Weberian, Marxist etc.) have to say about the sustainable state, its functioning and its formation?
- What are defining normative, structural and functional features of the sustainable state in contrast to concepts such as the “green state” and the “environmental state”?
- What forms of the sustainable state can be distinguished?

Transformations towards the sustainable state
- How do states become sustainable states, and how can the sustainabilization of the state be analyzed? Under which conditions do processes of state sustainabilization unfold – who and what drives the emergence of the sustainable state?
- What actors (companies, trade unions, social movements, NGOs, etc.) promote and hinder the sustainabilization of the state? What is the role played by citizen participation and scientific expertise in this transformation?
- What is the relationship between capitalism (and capitalist imperatives, such as economic growth) and the sustainabilization of the state?
- How do global challenges and governance interplay with national and sub-national contexts?
- What is the relationship between the (de-)democratization processes, the rise of populism and the sustainable state?

Implications and impacts of the sustainable state
- What are the consequences and (side-)effects of state sustainabilization?
- How does the sustainable state become manifest in and affect different policy areas, such as social, environmental and economic policy?
- What are the risks and potentials of an increasingly salient socio-ecological crisis for the development of a sustainable state?

Lernziele Students acquire theoretical and empirical knowledge to describe, explain and evaluate the emergence and transformation of the sustainable state.

In addition, they will develop social and communication skills to prepare and deliver social science presentations and to participate in social science discussions.
Literatur PLEASE NOTE: The following list includes the references cited above. It is NOT required that the literature be read in preparation for the seminar. The texts to be read will be announced from session to session.

Literature cited in the description:
Adloff, F., & Neckel, S. (2019). Futures of sustainability as modernization, transformation, and control: A conceptual framework. Sustainability Science, 14(4), 1015–1025. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-019-00671-2
Amlinger, C., & Nachtwey, O. (2022). Gekränkte Freiheit: Aspekte des libertären Autoritarismus. Berlin: Suhrkamp.
Beeson, M. (2010). The coming of environmental authoritarianism. Environmental Politics, 19(2), 276–294. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644010903576918
Blühdorn, I. (2020). The legitimation crisis of democracy: Emancipatory politics, the environmental state and the glass ceiling to socio-ecological transformation. Environmental Politics, 29(1), 38–57. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2019.1681867
Blühdorn, I., & Welsh, I. (Eds.). (2008). The politics of unsustainability: Eco-politics in the post-ecologist era. London: Routledge.
Bornemann, B. (2014). Policy-Integration und Nachhaltigkeit. Integrative Politik in der Nachhaltigkeitsstrategie der deutschen Bundesregierung. Wiesbaden: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-04901-0
Bornemann, B., & Christen, M. (2020). Verantwortung und Rolle des nachhaltigen Staats. In: Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAGW) Bulletin, 3/2020. Der nachhaltige Staat – L'État durable. https://doi.org/10.5281/ZENODO.4084656
Bornemann, B. and Christen, M. (2019). Sustainabilizing the government machinery? Exploring sustainability-oriented transformations of internal governance in Swiss cantons, in Hamman, P. (ed.) Sustainability Governance and Hierarchy. London: Routledge (pp. 115–135).
Bornemann, B., Knappe, H., & Nanz, P. (eds.). (2022). The Routledge handbook of democracy and sustainability. London & New York: Routledge.
Coote, A. (2022). Towards a Sustainable Welfare State: The Role of Universal Basic Services. Social Policy and Society, 21(3), 473–483. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1474746421000385
Christen, M. and Bornemann, B. (2021) “Staatliche Governance-Kapazität für Nachhaltigkeit: Konzeptualisierung und Anwendung eines Messinstruments in Schweizer Kantonen”, GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 30(4), 268–275. 10.14512/gaia.30.4.10
D’Alisa, G., & Kallis, G. (2020). Degrowth and the State. Ecological Economics, 169, 106486. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2019.106486
Duit, A., Feindt, P. H., & Meadowcroft, J. (2016). Greening Leviathan: The rise of the environmental state? Environmental Politics, 25(1), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2015.1085218
Eckersley, R. (2004). The green state: Rethinking democracy and sovereignty. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Garrard, G. (2022). The return of the state: And why it is essential for our health, wealth and happiness. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Gerbaudo, P. (2021). The great recoil: Politics after populism and pandemic (First edition hardback). Brooklyn: Verso Books.
Gough, I. (2016). Welfare states and environmental states: A comparative analysis. Environmental Politics, 25(1), 24–47. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2015.1074382
Gough, I. (2022). Two Scenarios for Sustainable Welfare: A Framework for an Eco-Social Contract. Social Policy and Society, 21(3), 460–472. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1474746421000701
Hausknost, D., & Hammond, M. (2020). Beyond the environmental state? The political prospects of a sustainability transformation. Environmental Politics, 29(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2020.1686204
Heinrichs, H. (2022). Sustainable Statehood: Reflections on Critical (Pre-)Conditions, Requirements and Design Options. Sustainability, 14(15), 9461. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14159461
Heinrichs, H., & Laws, N. (2014). “Sustainability State” in the Making? Institutionalization of Sustainability in German Federal Policy Making. Sustainability, 6(5), 2623–2641. https://doi.org/10.3390/su6052623
Hysing, E. (2015). Lost in transition? The green state in governance for sustainable development. In K. Bäckstrand & A. Kronsell (Eds.), Rethinking the green state (pp. 27–42). London and New York: Routledge.
Jakobsson, N., Muttarak, R., & Schoyen, M. A. (2018). Dividing the pie in the eco-social state: Exploring the relationship between public support for environmental and welfare policies. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 36(2), 313–339. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654417711448
Koch, M. (2020). The state in the transformation to a sustainable postgrowth economy. Environmental Politics, 29(1), 115–133. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2019.1684738
Koch, M., & Fritz, M. (2014). Building the Eco-social State: Do Welfare Regimes Matter? Journal of Social Policy, 43(4), 679–703. https://doi.org/10.1017/S004727941400035X
Lange, P., Driessen, P. P. J., Sauer, A., Bornemann, B., & Burger, P. (2013). Governing Towards Sustainability—Conceptualizing Modes of Governance. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 15(3), 403–425. https://doi.org/10.1080/1523908X.2013.769414
Laruffa, F., McGann, M., & Murphy, M. P. (2022). Enabling Participation Income for an Eco-Social State. Social Policy and Society, 21(3), 508–519. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1474746421000750
Mathis, O. L., Rose, M., Newig, J., & Bauer, S. (2022). Toward the sustainability state? Conceptualizing national sustainability institutions and their impact on policy-making. Environmental Policy and Governance, n/a(n/a). https://doi.org/10.1002/eet.2032
Mitchell, W., & Fazi, T. (2017). Reclaiming the state: A progressive vision of sovereignty for a post-neoliberal world. London: Pluto Press.
Mouffe, C. (2022). Towards a green democratic revolution: left populism and the power of affects. London: Verso Books.
Park, J., Conca, K., & Finger, M. (eds.). (2008). The Crisis of Global Environmental Governance: Towards a New Political Economy of Sustainability. London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203929100
Polanyi, K. (2001). The great transformation: The political and economic origins of our time (2nd Beacon Paperback ed). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
SAGW (= Schweizerische Akademie der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften). (2020). SAGW-Bulletin 3/20: Der Nachhaltige Staat – L’État durable. Bern.
Saretzki, T. (2011) ‚Der Klimawandel und die Problemlösungsfähigkeit der Demokratie‘ in: Schüttemeyer, S. (Ed.) Politik im Klimawandel: keine Macht für gerechte Lösungen? (pp. 41-63). Baden-Baden: Nomos.
Schröter, E. (2022). Der Staat in der Pandemie – Herausforderungen, Instrumente und Interessen im Policy-Making-Prozess. In H.-J. Lange (Ed.), Politik zwischen Macht und Ohnmacht (pp. 539–566). Wiesbaden: Springer.
Shahar, D. C. (2020). Anarchism for an Ecological Crisis? in Chartier, G. and Van Schoelandt, C. (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Anarchy and Anarchist Thought. London: Routledge (pp. 381– 392).
Smessaert, J., & Feola, G. (2023). Beyond Statism and Deliberation: Questioning Ecological Democracy through Eco-Anarchism and Cosmopolitics. Environmental Values. https://doi.org/10.3197/096327123X16759401706533
Wainwright, J., & Mann, G. (2018). Climate Leviathan: A political theory of our planetary future. London New York: Verso.
Willke, H. (2014). Demokratie in Zeiten der Konfusion. Berlin: Suhrkamp.


Teilnahmebedingungen Previous knowledge of sustainability concepts and the field of social science sustainability research is an advantage.
Unterrichtssprache Englisch
Einsatz digitaler Medien kein spezifischer Einsatz


Intervall wöchentlich
Datum 19.09.2023 – 19.12.2023
Zeit Dienstag, 12.15-14.00 Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Datum Zeit Raum
Dienstag 19.09.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 26.09.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 03.10.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 10.10.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 17.10.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 24.10.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 31.10.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 07.11.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 14.11.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 21.11.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 28.11.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 05.12.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 12.12.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Dienstag 19.12.2023 12.15-14.00 Uhr Soziologie, Hörsaal 215
Module Modul: Kernbereich Gesellschaftswissenschaften (Masterstudium: Sustainable Development)
Modul: Resources and Sustainability (Master Studiengang Changing Societies: Migration – Conflicts – Resources )
Modul: Ungleichheit, Konflikt, Kultur (Master Studienfach Soziologie)
Vertiefungsmodul Global Europe: Staatlichkeit, Entwicklung und Globalisierung (Masterstudium: European Global Studies)
Vertiefungsmodul Global Europe: Umwelt und Nachhaltigkeit (Masterstudium: European Global Studies)
Leistungsüberprüfung Lehrveranst.-begleitend
Hinweise zur Leistungsüberprüfung The assessment includes an oral (lecture, in a group) and a written (report) part. Details will be announced at the beginning of the seminar.
An-/Abmeldung zur Leistungsüberprüfung Anmelden: Belegen; Abmelden: nicht erforderlich
Wiederholungsprüfung keine Wiederholungsprüfung
Skala Pass / Fail
Wiederholtes Belegen nicht wiederholbar
Zuständige Fakultät Philosophisch-Historische Fakultät, studadmin-philhist@unibas.ch
Anbietende Organisationseinheit Fachbereich Soziologie