International Interdisciplinary Summer School 2017

Political Ecology


with Bruno Latour


May 29th – June 2nd, 2017


Since the rise of Modern Science in the 17th century our attitude to nature has changed dramatically. Nature has revealed itself to scientific exploration and it has become manageable to a large extent. As Galilei put it, nature is like a book which we can read. Modern techniques even have enabled us to view the globe from the universe which meant to imagine ourselves in some sort of godlike position, the so called view from nowhere. The change in the attitude to nature has also pushed human life from a restricted cosmos to an infinite universe – in the words of this year’s Unseld Lecturer Bruno Latour: humanity has left the traditional “land” and strives for the “globe”. This development has become familiar to us under the title of globalization. Both processes, the exploration and mastery of nature as well as the bid for globalization belong together, they form the two sides of one coin – a coin which may be identified as the “Anthropocene”, i.e. the eon which is constituted by humanity. Human action has become the main geological force shaping the earth.

However, the ecological crisis we are facing today renders us sensitive for the concept of the Anthropocene. It seems as if nature struck back on humanity which thereby just was overpowered and helpless. Latour emphasizes that the up to now unquestioned promise that humanity will be able to master nature and that the whole planet will end up modernizing towards some converging point called the “globe” is called into question.

According to Latour humanity is situated between two attractors, namely the horizon of “nature” and “globe” on the one hand and the “land” out of which it was moved by the process of naturalization and globalization on the other hand. Furthermore, he diagnoses the paradoxical situation that the goal towards which humanity has been modernizing has vanished and that nonetheless there seems to be no way back. This is illustrated by the idea of passengers in a plane whom the pilots announce that the landing strip they were supposed to land at no longer exists while at the same time the point of takeoff has disappeared as well. As a result the plane cannot go forward nor backwards.

In fact, we cannot return to a pre-modern notion of nature. The takeoff-point is irretrievably lost. The same holds true with respect to the process of globalization on a political level. While we are facing the temptation to pull back to nationalism all over Europe, globalization has made this impossible. Latour therefore seeks to abandon the dichotomy between “nature” and “globe” on the one hand and the “land” on the other hand. Instead he seeks to determine the position of a third attractor which he calls “Gaia” (Earth). The concept of Gaia originally was introduced by the chemist James Lovelock and the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s. However, at that time it has been mistaken as a single giant organism which it is not. On the contrary, according to Latour, the concept of Gaia emphasizes that nature and humanity are deeply interlinked without constituting just one and the same organism. Elaborating on the difference between the concepts of “nature” and “Gaia” this year’s Unseld Lecturer Bruno Latour starts to think how we might reorganize the relationship between science and political action in a time of accelerating environmental change and policy stagnation.

This summer school will investigate Latour’s concept of Gaia as he has outlined it in a series of lectures on “natural religion” just being published. We will ask in which way the concept of Gaia is different, both scientifically and politically, from the concepts of “land” and “nature” or “globe”, respectively. Furthermore the summer school will touch the question how social sciences, natural sciences and the arts could simultaneously bring their different forces together to tackle ecological problems.

Besides the discussion of Bruno Latour's research selected participants are invited to present their own research.

Bruno Latour is a French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist. His main research areas are in the field of Science and Technology Studies. In addition to work in philosophy, history, sociology, and anthropology of science, he has collaborated on many studies in science policy and research management. Latour is a co-founder of the actor-network theory. A sociological theory in that an actor-network contains not merely people, but objects and organizations. Latour is director of the médialab at Sciences Po in Paris and visiting professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, USA. In the last years Latour curated three exhibitions at Center for Art and Media (ZKM) Karlsruhe.



The interdisciplinary summer school will take place at the Forum Scientiarum of Tübingen University, from May 29th – June 2nd 2017. During the summer school, twenty graduate students and junior scientists from all over the world will have the opportunity to discourse the complex and ambiguous figure of Gaia with this year's Unseld lecturer Bruno Latour. In addition, up to twelve participants will be selected to present their own research related to Latour's work during the summer school. The participants will also attend the Unseld Lecture held by Bruno Latour and an interdisciplinary colloquium, both open to the public.

Application procedure

To apply for the international summer school, applicants have to send in a completed application form downloadable from our website (, including a CV according to usual standards. Additionally, each applicant is required to submit an essay of up to 5000 characters. This essay should delineate your specific motivations and qualifications for the summer school's topic. Deadline for the receipt of complete applications (application form, CV, essay) is March 10th, 2017. A letter of admission will reach successful applicants by March 30th.

There is no program fee. The Forum Scientiarum seeks to facilitate the participation of competent students from all over the world, and as the Forum Scientiarum is provided a limited fund by the Udo Keller Foundation Forum Humanum for covering part of travel expenses, limited financial resources should not affect your decision to apply. Moreover, the Forum Scientiarum will assist participants in finding inexpensive accommodation. For more information please see our website.

Applications should be sent to unseld[at] or to our postal address:

Doblerstr. 33
D-72074 Tübingen

We ask applicants to subscribe to a mailing list for further updates on this event. For subscription, send an e-mail to unseld[at] including the name of your university.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by e-mail or consult our website.





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