About the Research Project

Research questions and project modules

How is the transition process towards a bioeconomy affecting social inequalities?

The junior research group addresses this question in the field of bioenergy.

The transition of the energy sector from fossil fuels towards renewable resources is a core objective of the bioeconomy and is increasingly gaining importance in industrial and newly industrializing countries. The project starts from the basic assumption that societal transformations – along with technological development as well as innovation – do not take place in an empty space. Rather they are permeated by various relations of inequality from the local to the global level. Hence the research group will investigate how the process of transformation towards a bioeconomy affects asymmetrical North-South relations in the globalized bioenergy sector as well as local labour relations and land tenure. In other words: Who profits, who loses and why?

The research group connects questions of Political Ecology with Global Inequality studies. This transnational, social-ecological perspective on inequality will help to gain a better understanding of phenomena like land conflicts that involve actors on a local level, such as smallholders and rural workers, as well as national governments, transnational enterprises and international organizations. Moreover, within this framework it is possible to conduct a sophisticated analysis of the impact of gendered or ethnic ascriptions in their interplay with class structures when analysing who might be profiting from this societal transition and who might not be.

Four aspects of inequality are at the heart of this research project:

  • Labour relations and access to land in rural areas

  • Access to – and production of – knowledge and technology in the field of bioenergy

  • Political participation in emerging transnational fora that promote a (sustainable) transformation process towards a bioeconomy

  • Trade and investment

The aim of the research group is to connect the study of global inequalities with ecological questions and to provide an empirically grounded analysis that can contribute to the ongoing debate about the emerging bioeconomy.


Key Research Questions

  • How do strategies for promoting and funding bioenergy affect social inequalities in a global perspective? Who wins, who loses?

  • How are asymmetrical North-South relations being reconfigured with respect to trade, investment, and technology?

  • How are class, gender and other axes of inequality changing due to the promotion of bioenergy – both in terms of access to land and to labor?

  • How do transitions in Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, Malaysia and Germany interrelate and influence each other? How do regional patterns and paths differ?

  • What are the emerging spheres of decision-making and what is the scope for action? Who is able to participate in shaping this transformation process and who is excluded?

  • What kind of knowledge and what kind of technologies are promoted and facilitated in the emerging bioeconomy?

  • What possible elements for a democratic and just transformation of energy systems can be identified?