Workshop | Mental Infrastructures of Modern Fossil and Bio-based Societies | 19 & 20 May 2022

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The aim of the workshop was to analyze mental infrastructures in modern societies that are both a prerequisite and a determining factor for the character and course of a socio-ecological transformation. We aimed to find answers on how people’s basic mindsets, attitudes, and general perceptions are shaped by fossil-industrial infrastructures, and how they can and must change in the course of transformations toward post-fossil, bio-based economies. As one of the participants, Éric Pineault, put it: “Fossil infrastructures and habitus play an important role in shaping the possible and the impossible.”

Experts from different disciplines from Germany and abroad enriched the workshop. In their presentations they referred to mentalities, value systems, desires, behavioral patterns and cultural aspects and considered societies and social groups. Different framework conditions, such as the politically promoted energy transition or bioeconomy, societal crises or capitalism were also taken into account. Thus, the workshop participants gained many new aspects and approaches for their own research work.

Session 1 “Fossil Mentalities”

Matthias Schmelzer, flumen, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena

One could say we are living in the cement age. Cement is the world’s single most used material enabling the spread of the construction material concrete. With concrete as a material comes a fossil imagery which can be understood through the dream of the printed house formulated by Thomas Edison. Plastic materials like concrete make it possible to shape the world after capital needs – they create landscapes of accumulation.

Tere Vadén, BIOS Research Unit, Tampere University & University of Lapland

Despite their self-perception as modern and enlightened, fossil-capitalist societies have great difficulty recognizing and operationalizing relevant knowledge. These blind spots concern e.g., the life cycle and origin of materials as well as the illusion that we are independent of nature. These knowledge gaps have unintended (negative) consequences like the climate crisis or ubiquitous plastic waste. We lack knowledge about origin and synthesis (syntytieteo): the knowledge of how things (both material and mental) interrelate. With Syntytieteo we would know where plastic in our daily life comes from, which tracks it takes and how we can avoid its negative consequences.

Session 2 “Energy Transitions and Mentality Transformations”

Julia Zilles, Sociological Research Institute Göttingen

Using cleavage theory, Julia Zilles compares collective identities and mentalities of opponents of local energy transition projects on the one hand with participants of Fridays for Future and the global Climate Strike on the other hand. Here, she analyzes how both groups perceive themselves and each other. While contrary in many attitudes, in their self-conception both groups act in the name of science and for the common good – including nature / the environment. Both are disappointed with political leadership.

Alice dal Gobbo, Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Trento

The neoliberal denial of politics leads to an emphasize of consumer choices as the last sphere of individual control. The neoliberal way of working the problem of sustainability – changing attitudes and behaviour – neglects social structures, accountability, responsibility, and the question of how free consumer choices really are. In ten case studies in Northeast Italy, Alice Dal Gobbo investigated how people redirect and rethink their desires in the light of the Covid-19 crisis. The question “What is it that makes a good life for me?” was found to lead to a reduction in materialist appropriation, an increase in joyful affection and new alternative energy-assemblages.

Keynote „The enduring metabolic structures of fossil capital and the social ecology of the imaginaries advanced capitalism“

Éric Pineault, L’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM

Éric Pineault points out that fossil mentalities are highly influenced by how we view energy and which types, amounts and availability of energy we consider normal. These ideas of and expectations towards energy should adapt to a viable society. Reflecting on transformation he asks: How do we reintroduce practices of subsistence into our lives?

Keynote „Desiring Energy: Toxic Fantasies of Fuel, Freedom, and Work“

Cara Daggett, Virginia Tech, USA

Energy and work/employment are deeply connected – at least according to our fossil-industrial conceptions. As jobs, the meaning of work and social roles are viewed in relation to the availability of energy, modern energy cultures remain ingrained in extractivism.  A historical study of energy suggests that a change in our fuel culture necessitates a change in (post-)industrial working cultures and the Western conception of freedom.

The keynote has been recorded and can be viewed here.

Session 3 “Mentalities and post-fossil transformation in Germany 2022: The BioMentalities study”

Dennis Eversberg und Martin Fritz, flumen, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena

To understand which mentalities exist in Germany and how they correlate with social positions and practices, flumen conducts not only qualitative but also quantitative research. Dennis Eversberg and Martin Fritz present the background, aim and first results of surveys flumen has conducted. Aiming to identify latent dimensions of mental infrastructures, flumen looks for patterns that show how feelings, views and attitudes relate to each other. Overall, approximately 4500 responses to phone, online and postal surveys will be analyzed.

Session 4 “Bio-based practices and cultures”

Lilian Pungas, flumen, Friedrich-Schiller University Jena

Investigating semi-subsistence farming in Estonia, Lilian Pungas shines a light on mentalities and practices in the Dacha culture of the post-soviet country. These practices are mostly invisible in mainstream bioeconomy discourses. Looking at the Russian-speaking minority, Lilian shows how food democracy is achieved in the context of repeated crisis – including resettlement during the USSR period, the social-economic extremes of the 1990s and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sarah May & Lea Breitsprecher, University Freiburg

In their qualitative research, Sarah May and Lea Breitsprecher investigate bioeconomy as cultural change in innovative enterprises in the wood and packaging sectors. Their finding: bioeconomic innovation begins with organizational structures. Economic and ethical codes are constantly renegotiated. Cultural codes originating in the logic of constant economic growth hamper ethical and bioeconomic codes. Even though new spaces for bioeconomy exist, bioeconomy pioneers are confronted with established markets and fossil mentalities.

Session 5 „Bio-based modernities?”

Philip Koch, flumen, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena

Looking at olive cultivation in the Spanish province of Jaén, Philip Koch investigates the role of modernity in the producers’ relation to the land and their farming practices. He demonstrates how, without romanticizing or idealizing nature, producers have pragmatically adapted to EU policy in the 1980s making olives the most profitable product to cultivate. While big producers emphasize mechanisation and centralisation, smaller producers aim to increase their products’ quality and appreciation.

Camila Moreno,
Junor Research Group BioMaterialities,
Humboldt University Berlin

The complex of trying to solve the climate crisis through the digital is a new capital strategy of accumulation by decarbonization. The epistemic infrastructure for this is the carbon metric (Application of the metric system for the formulation of decarbonisation as the highest goal and most important measurement for the fight against the climate crisis). In the past, we counted calories even though the calorie tells us nothing about nutrition. Now we are counting carbon. We saw the death of the calorie; do we need the “death of the carbon metric”?

An enriching workshop with wonderful participants in the soothing environment of Villa Rosenthal Jena.

Short description

While it has become common sense that modern societies need a fundamental transformation of their energy and material infrastructures to achieve the decarbonization necessary to avoid climate disaster, we know little about the related transformation of mental infrastructures that this will necessarily entail. In the workshop, we want to analyze this dimension – not only to understand which forms of fossil mentalities hinder the necessary societal changes, but also to better understand how people’s basic mindsets, attitudes, and common imaginations change and need to change in the course of transformations toward post-fossil, bio-based economies. In this regard, it is equally important to take stock of the multiple ways in which the practically unlimited availability and steadily intensifying use of fossil fuels have shaped contemporary subjectivities as it is to discuss what the necessarily greater reliance of a post-fossil, bio- and renewable-based society, and the limits to their potential expansion, might imply for the constitution of an appropriate mental infrastructure.

There is a broad consensus that fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas will soon become obsolete as energy sources and raw materials for industrial production: Their available stocks are limited and, more gravely, the greenhouse gases that are emitted when burning fossil fuels are a central cause of global warming and catastrophic climate change. One response to this problem is the search for biological and renewable resources that could serve as drivers of an emerging ‘bioeconomy’ and are hoped to make many hitherto fossil-based applications and products much more sustainable in the future. In our research group “flumen: mentalities in flux” at Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena we investigate the social preconditions and consequences of energy and resource transformations in which societies move away from the use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources and turn towards modes of production and living based on biological materials and renewable forms of energy. This workshop serves to discuss intermediate results with senior experts in the fields of sociology, history and the broader humanities, but also link them to ongoing key research on the questions of the relation between transformations at the material or socio-metabolic level of modern societies and in their mental or cultural dimensions.

Next Scientific Coffee Human-Forest-Relationships: M.Sc. Dominik Menton-Enderlin (FVA): “Basically this is all my forest” | 6 April 2022, 1-3 pm CET

6 April 2022, online

13-15 CET / 14-16 EEST

Input: M.Sc. Dominik Menton-Enderlin (Forest Research Institute Baden-Württemberg (FVA)), “Basically this is all my forest” – qualitative and quantitative research results on psychological ownership among forest visitors in germany

Dominik Menton-Enderlin is an environmental scientist researching human-forest-relationships at the FVA-Department of Societal Change. In his current project, he explores why people feel perceptions of ownership towards forests without legally owning them and how feelings of “my” and “our ” forest influence decision-making and behavior in forests. He further investigates the role these feelings play in current debates on the future of German forests in times of climate change and how they are linked to the rising importance of social or cultural functions of forests. The presented results are based on a mixed-methods approach consisting of a literature study, group discussions, and a representative online survey of German forest users.

The “Scientific Coffee” sessions continue our cooperation and exchange on the relations between society, humans and forests that we started with the workshop “Contested Society-Nature-Relations. Forest related Emotions, Practices & Conflicts in Times of Societal Change” in May 2021. They give room for open and relaxed discussions on current research subjects related to human and society relations to forests. The Scientific Coffee sessions take place as often as we find the time to organise another session – but at least one session per semester is planned.

If you are interested in contributing to the next “Scientific Coffee HFR”, please contact with info on your subject (title and short abstract) and a preferred Wednesday (13-15 CET / 14-16 EEST).

We look forward to seeing you there.

More info on our past workshop:


Meeting-ID: 665 8905 9243

Kenncode: 879775

Jana Holz participates in the Fourth International Forest Policy Meeting, 27-29 April 2022

Our flumen colleague Jana Holz hosts a session and contributes with a presentation at the Fourth International Forest Policy Meeting from 27-29 April 2022 in Bonn (virtual event) hosted by the European Forest Institute (EFI), Wageningen University & Research, and the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU).

More about the event:

The panel “People and forests – Developing the concepts and methodologies for researching human-forest-relationship and social relationships with nature” on 29th of April will focus on methodological and empirical contributions related to the Finnish forest sector and bioeconomy. In addition to Jana Holz, Tuulikki Halla and Reetta Karhunkorva from the University of Eastern Finland and Sari Pynnönen from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) will contribute to the session with up-to-date insights into ongoing research projects.  

“Bioeconomy as a societal transformation: Mentalities, conflicts and social practices” – New article by Dennis Eversberg and Martin Fritz, 03 Feb 2022

Eversberg, Dennis / Fritz, Martin (2022): Bioeconomy as a societal transformation: Mentalities, conflicts and social practices. In: Sustainable Production and Consumption, 30, 973-987.


In this article, we argue that a comprehensive understanding of the kinds of societal change envisioned and contested in the bioeconomy debate requires broadening the view beyond policy debates and stakeholder positions. We use representative German survey data from 2018 to explore social conflicts and coalitions for and against bio-based, post-fossil transformations within the general population. Mapping different socio-ecological mentalities in a relational analysis, we find that tensions between growth- and sufficiency-oriented, high-tech-focused and techno-skeptical as well as between fossilist and post-fossil visions shape the current ‘socio-ecological space of possibilities’ for transformations in Germany.

Results show most of the population to broadly align along a continuum between ‘less is more’ views skeptical of both growth and technology and visions of ‘technoeconomic advance’ that favor both. In addition, a more openly conflictual confrontation surfaces between a ‘sufficient progress’ view that looks to reconcile sufficiency with democratically checked technology use and a ‘growth as usual’ imaginary openly opposed to any kind of post-fossil transformation. These tensions correlate with social inequalities: Women and the materially disadvantaged tend to favor ‘less is more’ views, men and the more affluent those of ‘technoeconomic advance’. Moreover, starkly contrasting patterns of environmentally relevant practices emerge along the growth and fossilism dimensions. We conclude that issues surrounding bio-based, post-fossil transformations are more contested among the population than in policy debates, entailing significant potential for social conflicts. The core challenge will be to establish ecologically sustainable and socially just transformation pathways in democratic and participatory ways.

Link to the article

„Scientific Coffee HFR” with Lukas Fehr (University Tübingen) on people’s experiences in forests, resultant disputes and narratives | 17.11.2021 | 13-15 CET / 14-16 EEST

“Scientific Coffee Human-Forest-Relationships”

17. November 2021
13-15 CET / 14-16 EEST

Lukas Fehr,Eberhard Karls University Tübingen:
“Narratives and interpretations of forests in the forestry and timber sector between recreation and wood production”

 Forests offer a variety of ways in which they can be used. Timber grows in them, they can be used for recreational activities, provide protection from avalanches, are home to many creatures or are used as CO2 sinks. These uses are difficult to separate from each other in the forest and overlap in many cases. In this session of „Scientific Coffee“ I will explore the different experiences in the forest of people working in the forestry and timber sector. Connected to these experiences are disputes between different interest groups such as visitors and forest workers. This involves narratives of what a forest is, how it should be used and by whom. This includes valuations of the demands of the population on the various forest functions of use, recreation and protection.

Participation via zoom
Meeting ID: 660 1854 2066 Passcode: 816180

The “Scientific Coffee” sessions continue our cooperation and exchange on the relations between society, humans and forests that we started with the workshop “Contested Society-Nature-Relations. Forest related Emotions, Practices & Conflicts in Times of Societal Change” in May this year. They give room for open and relaxed discussions on current research subjects related to human and society relations to forests. The Scientific Coffee sessions take place as often as we find the time to organise another session – but at least one session per semester is planned.

If you are interested in contributing to the next “Scientific Coffee HFR”, please contact with info on your subject (title and short abstract) and preferred Wednesday (13-15 CET / 14-16 EEST).

Lilian Pungas presents book chapter at the „Second Baltic Conference on the Environmental Humanities and Social Sciences“ held on 1-2 November, 2021

Lilian Pungas participates with Bianka Plüschke-Altof at the “Second Baltic Conference on the Environmental Humanities and Social Sciences” on 1-2 November, 2021 .

In the panel “4A Just post-Soviet environments” on 1st of November 2021 at 4.15pm, they present their joint book chapter “Same, same but different? The ‘right’ kind of gardening and the negotiation of neoliberal urban governance in the post-socialist city”. This is a chapter in the book “Contested urban green space and the question of socio-spatial justice in the city” (Eds. Helen Sooväli-Sepping and Bianka Plüschke-Altof) that will be published early 2022 by Springer.

Program and registration here

Finnish-German research cooperation on social relationships with nature and forests: Jana Holz participating in workshop, 28-30 October 2021

Jana Holz meets Jaana Laine (Helsinki University), Tuulikki Halla and Reetta Karhunkorva (both University of Eastern Finland) for a three-day interdisciplinary workshop at the Finnish Forest Museum Lusto in Punkaharju.

As part of a research cooperation started in 2019 and following up on a joint online workshop on “Contested Society-Nature-Relations. Forest related Emotions, Practices & Conflicts in Times of Societal Change” in May 2021 as well as a series of Scientific Coffee Sessions started in September 2021, the workshop at deepened the discussion and exchange between ‘flumen’ and the research project ‘Human-Forest Relationship in Societal Change’.

With funding from the Finnish Institute in Germany as well as institutional support by Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, a hybrid workshop format could be realized successfully.

Nine researchers from Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, University Helsinki, University of Eastern Finland and Jyväskylä University came together and discussed ongoing research and conceptual framework development on human-forest-relationship as well as social relationships with nature. The concepts are currently applied to qualitative case studies from various contexts such as the forest-based bioeconomy and sustainable business in Finland, forest professionals and forest owners in Finland, German bioenergy villages or the Spanish olive sector.

Ideas for further cooperation in the future go as far as a joint book project or an exhibition at Lusto Museum on society-nature relations and how to research those at the case of forests. Let’s see, what we are going to come up with next… The intensity of the exchange was accompanied by the lovely landscape of the Punkaharju region and lake Saimaa in Eastern Finland.

Jana Holz and Lilian Pungas participate at the EXALT Conference “Concurrent Crises and Sustainable Futures: Global Extractivisms and Alternatives” on October 25-27, 2021 (2:45-4:00pm).

In their presentation “Forest for Sale!? Success’ of Extractivist Forestry in Estonia and Finland” they give insight into their research findings on “extractivist forestry” on Tuesday, October 26, 2021 in the first track (Global Extractivisms).



Attitudes to sustainable welfare and eco-social policies in Europe: presentation of Martin Fritz, online 21 October 2021

Martin Fritz speaks about “Attitudes to sustainable welfare and eco-social policies in Europe”

On 21st of October 2021 at 1.00-2.30 pm

Take part online with the follwoing link:

ID riunione: 819 4843 2468
Passcode: 732991

On demand, Martin Fritz forwards his presentation in pdf. Please write to

“Degrowth enthusiasm and the transformation blues of the East”: new publication by Lilian Pungas et al.

Gebauer, Jana / Jorck, Gerrit von / Pungas, Lilian (2021): Degrowth enthusiasm and the transformation blues of the East: reflections on the integration of post-socialist Transformational Experiences into the Transformational Postgrowth Discourse [Degrowth-Enthusiasmus und der Transformations-Blues des Ostens: Überlegungen zur Integration postsozialistischer Transformationserfahrungen in den transformatorischen Postwachstumsdiskurs.] In: Thomas, Michael & Ulrich Busch (Ed.), Streitfall Ostdeutschland. Grenzen einer Transformationserzählung, [Abhandlungen der Leibniz-Sozietät der Wissenschaften, 72], Berlin: trafo Wissenschaftsverlag, 229-256.

In this chapter, the authors have elaborated the central findings of their examination of the transformation experiences of Central and Eastern Europe and present them on the basis of six theses. In their view, it is indispensable for the degrowth debate to take up these experiences. The article traces the connections between post-socialist transformation and the debates on degrowth. The reason for this is a rather marginal engagement of the degrowth debate with the experiences of post-socialist transformations of Central and Eastern Europe. The basis is above all a series of events with the title “Degrowth Enthusiasm and the Eastern Blues”, which the authors organized in the past years. The focus is on the following questions:

  • What can we learn from the transformation processes that state-socialist societies underwent towards capitalist societies? 
  • What experiences and practices before and after the upheavals can potential degrowth societies build on?
  • To what extent can we take up the alternative system- as well as transformation experiences of the people in the “East” in order to use their potential in and for a social-ecological transformation?

Information on the book on the website of the publisher

More information on the book in a flyer