Walter Benjamin Kolleg


Mediating the Ecological Imperative:
Formats and Modes of Engagement

Mediating the Ecological Imperative: Formats and Modes of Engagement

Retraite of the Research Forum at the Haus der Universität on December, 13 2019, with participants Darcy Alexandra (Sozial Anthropology), Sabin Bieri (CDE), Francesca Falk (History of Migration), Tobias Haller (Social Anthropology), Toni Hildebrandt (Art History), Ursula Kluwick (English Literature), Elena Mango (Dean of the Faculty of Humanities), Gabriele Rippl (Department of English / Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Humanities), Christian Rohr (Environmental and Climate History / Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research), Michaela Schäuble (Social Anthropology), Peter J. Schneemann (Art History), Yumi Suzuki (Philosophy), Jorge Torres De La Cerda (Philosophy), Anne Zimmermann (CDE).

The goal of this research platform is to investigate the way twentieth and twenty-first century cultural products respond to the ethical demands the ecological crisis places on our society and how these manifest in the formats that mediate them. These cultural mediations are part of a growing consciousness about the image politics of climate change and the role of “cultural sustainability” (Rippl). They are examined according to the principles of contemporary eco-aesthetics and new documentary ecologies. We take the notion of the “ecological imperative” of cultural products—an ethical stance toward human resource management built upon Kantian terms (Jonas; Spivak)—as a starting point.

This research platform builds upon the multifaceted discourse that the humanities have already produced through engagement with ecological and environmental themes. However, our work advances the state of the art by exploring the mediation of ethical demands in images, literary texts and eco-ekphrases, expanded artforms, and practices of social engagement. We ask how specific formats of cultural production work inter- and multimedially to evoke the ecological imperative. Our corpus differentiates between specific formats and modes from the disciplines of image studies, literary studies, art history, and social anthropology. We examine the potential of cultural products to inspire human beings to take action and acknowledge the demands of the ecological imperative. Due to our common expertise, we focus on the Americas.

Our research approach brings together researchers from the four disciplines mentioned above. By jointly developing methods and analyzing case studies, we actualize an interdisciplinary agenda that allows us to understand how complex twentieth and twenty-first century cultural production mediates the urgent ecological imperative. The close collaboration of word and image specialists establishes an analytical framework for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in the environmental humanities by conceptualizing four modes of mediation: 1) modes of display, 2) modes of materiality, 3) modes of temporality, and 4) modes of spatialization. Our scholarship engages with the ways in which cultural production, cultural practices, and cultural forms constitute and manifest the nexus between the aesthetic, the economic, the political, and the ethical in relation to the environmental crisis. Combining our core competences, we both rely on tried and true methodologies—including those of political iconography, intermediality and ekphrasis studies, the analysis of artificial environments in the artworld, and studies of co-creative filmmaking practices—and develop new, transdisciplinary approaches.

Our collective goals are driven by the urgency of the climate crisis and, to that end, toward negotiating our responsibility as researchers in the humanities. As a group, we assess and analyze the new ‘grand narrative’ of global environmental change. We do this across disciplinary boundaries by examining the discourses of the Anthropocene that structure contemporary political, scientific, and artistic genres. The questions at the core of our endeavor are ‘how do people make sense of their environment(s)?’ and ‘how do they act toward change?’ The inter- and multimedial constellations in and through which they do so vary and may include literature, photographs, performances, expanded artforms, and complex word-image configurations. Our common task—as we understand it—lies in the analysis of these cultural artifacts through the lens of the ecological imperative.


Prof. Dr. Gabriele Rippl, Department of English
Prof. Dr. Michaela Schäuble, Institut für Sozialanthropologie
Prof. Dr. Peter J. Schneemann, Institut für Kunstgeschichte


Prof. Dr. Peter J. Schneemann, Institut für Kunstgeschichte
Dr. Toni Hildebrandt, Institut für Kunstgeschichte


Dr. Hannah Baader, Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin / Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut
Prof. Dr. Jason De León, UCLA Anthropology
Prof. Dr. Peter Krieger, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM, Mexico-Stadt
Prof. Dr. Timo Müller, Amerikanistik, Universität Konstanz
Prof. Dr. Serpil Oppermann, Department of English Language and Literature, Hacettepe University Ankara
Dr. Katie Ritson, Rachel Carson Center, München
Prof. Dr. Alexa Weik von Mossner, Amerikanistik, Universität Klagenfurt
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Wolf, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut
Prof. Dr. Hubert Zapf, Interdisciplinary Center for Environmental Humanities, Universität Augsburg

Project Webpage