Working Papers

Insights in contents and research fields of the particular project modules, researchers and fellows

Working Paper 17

Sustaining Plantations and Certifying Inequalities: Towards A Decolonial Critique of Sustainable Palm Oil Certifications in Indonesiapdf, 427 kb · de. (English)

by Hariati Sinaga

The adverse effects of oil palm development on the environment have put pressures on actors in palm oil industry to ensure the production of sustainable palm oil. The emergence of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) serves as a response to the pressures. While receiving criticisms, the RSPO certification has also been followed by the rise in an “alternative” sustainable palm oil certification scheme, such as the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO). The Indonesian government introduces the ISPO certification as the RSPO is deemed as a neo-colonialist tool. Contention to the certification mechanisms have mainly focused either on the “greenwashing” or the lack of inclusivity of the certification mechanisms. Drawing on insights from the decolonial approach, this paper sketches a critique that goes beyond the North-South binary and places socioecological relations at the centre of the analysis. Additionally, informed by the domestication literature, this paper conceptualises “sustainability certifications as domestication”, arguing that the RSPO and ISPO certifications serve as resource making that reproduces inequalities. As such, this paper also contends that the ISPO is not an alternative sustainable governance despite claiming to be one. Additionally, the paper also seeks to draw lessons from the socioecological relations of palm oil production originating in Central and West Africa.

Working Paper 16

Sugarcane Industry Expansion and Changing Rural Labour Regimes in Mato Grosso do Sul (2000-2016)pdf, 413 kb · de (in Portuguese)
(A expansão da indústria canavieira e a mudança no acesso à terra e ao trabalho assalariado no Mato Grosso do Sul)

by Kristina Lorenzen

The objective of this chapter is to assess how the expanding production of biofuels as part of an emerging bioeconomy affects existing social inequalities in labour and land relations. A case study method was applied to investigate the growth of the sugarcane industry in Mato Grosso do Sul between 2000 and 2016. The analytical framework of social inequalities and a rural labour regime approach guided the research and data analysis. This chapter shows that the expansion of biofuels was propelled by an entanglement of global dynamics such as land grabbing and green development discourses, as well as national policies that fostered bioethanol production. The expansion of the sugarcane industry in Mato Grosso do Sul led to changes in existing labour regimes. The most striking changes were the increased but temporal semi-proletarianisation of peasants in agrarian reform settlements and the double exclusion of the Guarani-Kaiowá Indigenous people.

O objetivo deste artigo é avaliar como a expansão da produção de biocombustíveis como parte de uma bioeconomia emergente afeta as desigualdades sociais existentes nas relações laborais e fundiárias. Foi aplicado um método de estudo de caso para analisar a crescente indústria canavieira no Mato Grosso do Sul entre 2000 e 2016. O quadro analítico das desigualdades sociais e uma abordagem de Teoria do Acesso orientaram a investigação e a análise dos dados. O documento mostra que a expansão foi impulsionada por um emaranhado de dinâmicas globais, como apropriações da terra e discursos de desenvolvimento verde, e por políticas nacionais de fomento à produção de bioetanol. A expansão da indústria canavieira no Mato Grosso do Sul alterou os regimes laborais existentes. Mudanças marcantes foram a crescente, mas temporária, semi-proletarização dos assentados e a dupla exclusão dos povos indígenas Guarani e Kaiowá.


Working Paper 15

Land grabbing in Amazonia for beginners. Private appropriation of land for forest protectionpdf, 1 mb · de (German)

by Maurício Torres
abridged German translation by Thomas Fatheuer

Forest protection in Amazonia is expected to succeed through the conversion of public land into private property. Maurício Torres illustrates the perils of this strategy through an analysis of the land legalization program Terra Legal and the environmental land register CAR (Cadastro Ambiental Rural). He shows, firstly, that market-based strategies of forest protection fall short in attaining their objectives. They focus on better agricultural practices and therefore deny the economic significance of land speculation. Secondly, he demonstrates that legal environmental protection relying on private appropriation of land can be a tool of land grabbing itself. Thereby, illegal practices are not only tolerated or granted amnesty; they also serve as the basis for new laws. Thirdly, his historical contextualization underlines the centuries-old continuities of land grabbing practices, which can be traced back to colonial times and are merely becoming technically more refined.


Working Paper 14

The future of citizen-energy: Empirical insights on bottom-up approaches and decentralized renewable energy production in Germanypdf, 937 kb · de (German)

by Maria Backhouse, Melissa Büttner, David Greifenberg, Theresa Herdlitschka, Rosa Lehmann, Evamaria Schaller, Janine Thiel

This working paper is the result of a research seminar in the master's program of sociology at Friedrich Schiller University Jena and addresses the situation of citizen-based energy projects, notably energy cooperatives. The focus of the paper is on the perspectives of nine practitioners of energy cooperatives who were asked about their motives and challenges, about possibilities for participation and about their visions for the future of the renewable energy projects they are planning or have initiated. The study confirms the state of research that participation in citizen-based energy projects is possible to varying degrees, but that members seize the opportunities to partake in decisions to different extents. The projects usually depend on a few committed people, who are convinced of the necessity to expand citizen-based energy projects, but are confronted with many challenges due to changed legal, political and economic conditions.


Working Paper 13

The knowledge-based bioeconomy in the semi-periphery. A case study on second-generation ethanol in Brazilpdf, 405 kb · de (English)

by Maria Backhouse

This working paper investigates the socio-political background of the second-generation ethanol production in Brasil with reference to a global, knowledge-based bioeconomy. Its aim is to contribute to the question whether the bioeconomy will reproduce the global imbalance in knowledge production between centres and (semi-)peripheries or engender a multipolar world of knowledge production. Therefore, Maria Backhouse evaluates the historical context of the sugarcane-ethanol sector and analyses studies and data on the state of technological innovations as well as about the public and private investments in E2G research.


Working Paper 12

Agroecology in the Indian state of Sikkim – a model for a sustainable bioeconomy?pdf, 495 kb · de (German)

by Jan Klinger

The working paper asks why the Indian state of Sikkim was able to convert its agriculture to a fully organic farming model in 2016 and how the transition had been promoted since 2003. He shows that the case of Sikkim with its agroecological transformation is an important linking point for the debate about the future direction of the bioeconomy.


Working Paper 11

The good Life and good Bioeconomy? The Impact of Buen Vivir on political Projects in Ecuadorpdf, 483 kb · de (German)

by Philip Koch

The working paper deals with the seemingly contradictory relationship between a green politics of the bioeconomy and the concept of Buen Vivir, as it has been a part of the Ecuadorian constitution since 2008. The analysis of interviews with experts yields that the linkage of the two terms is based on the emptying and reinterpretation of a certain vision of Buen Vivir. At the same time, another shift is taking place in the draft of an Ecuadorian bioeconomy: Differing from other national strategies, such as the Argentinian one, the Ecuadorian perspective on the bioeconomy contains aspects like environmental protection and social justice. These aspects are often times neglected in the interest of a concept of Green Growth.


Working Paper 10

From a fossil towards a renewable energy regime in the Americas? Socio-ecological inequalities, contradictions and challenges for a global bioeconomy pdf, 510 kb · de(English)

by Maria Backhouse, Fabricio Rodríguez und Anne Tittor

Drawing on political-economic insights from Political Ecology, complemented with the global perspective of world-systems analysis, this paper sheds light on the energy landscape in the Americas. The analysis focuses on the socio-ecological inequalities and conflicts shaping past and current struggles over fossil and renewable energy projects.


Working Paper 9

Sugarcane Industry Expansion and Changing Land and Labor Relations in Brazil. The Case of Mato Grosso do Sul 2000–2016pdf, 675 kb · de (English)

by Kristina Lorenzen

The objective of this paper is to assess how the expanding production of sugarcane-based bioethanol as part of an emerging bioeconomy affects existing social inequalities in land and labor relations. The paper shows that the expansion of the sugarcane industry in the Brazilian federal State of Mato Grosso do Sul transformed existing labor regimes of peasants and Indigenous people.


Working Paper 8

Sustainable palm oil or certified dispossession? NGOs within scalar struggles over the RSPO private governance standardpdf, 461 kb · de (English)

by Janis Wicke

Palm oil has become a contradictory and highly controversial resource for biofuel production in the context of emerging bioeconomy policies in Europe and Southeast Asia. Referring to the theoretical politics of scale framework, I analyse the launch of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil private governance standard as a spatial transformation of the regulation of palm oil production. The current paper will focus on the role of NGOs in the process of standard negotiation and implementation in different locations and at different levels of society. I argue that Indonesian NGOs have been relatively successful in advocating the rights of local disfranchised population groups such as palm oil workers, small farmers and affected communities in international negotiation processes. However, I also assert that the lack of enforcement of the standards on the ground seriously undermines NGO advocacy within the framework of the RSPO. These findings suggest that actors shaping the outcomes of bioeconomy policies cannot solely rely on private governance standards to prevent social and environmental problems arising as a result of the production of energy crops.


Working Paper 7

“My future depends on how many fruit bunches I can harvest”. Migrant workers in the palm oil sector in the wake of a Malaysian Bioeconomypdf, 412 kb · de (English)

by Janina Puder

In 2012 Malaysia launched its Bioeconomy program, with the palm oil sector as one of the main pillars. In focusing on the societal processes that accompany the Malaysian plans to establish a Bioeconomy it is of special interest to understand which occupational groups in the palm oil sector are included and which are excluded from the socio-economic targets of the program. The literature on Bioeconomy, as well as more broadly on Green Economy, often underexposes the effects green economy models could have on labor markets. The paper argues that low-skilled migrant workers employed in the Malaysian palm oil sector are structurally excluded from the national goal of enhancing the living and working conditions of the population by transforming into a Bioeconomy. It will be shown that Malaysia’s Bioeconomy program reinforces the precarity of this group of workers, expressed in the lack of perspectives for upward mobility.


Working Paper 6

Whose European Bioeconomy? The Orientation of EU Bioeconomy Policy Following its Updatepdf, 490 kb · de (English version of WP4)

by Malte Lühmann

In recent years, the EU has established its own bioeconomy policy. An important step in this process has been the development of a bioeconomy strategy, which was launched in 2012. In this strategy, the EU-Commission formulated guiding principles for the bioeconomy in Europe, with major emphasis on research and innovation. In the course of 2017 a review of the strategy was launched, leading to the publication of an updated document in October 2018. The review-process entailed the possibility to reassess the overall direction in this policy field. Political actors from different sectors of society and with diverging views on the bioeconomy have taken part in these developments. They brought their positions into the review of the strategy. However, the range of positions has not lead to a fundamental debate on the aims and the substance of the strategy. As a result, the bioeconomy policy remains unchanged in terms of its orientation.


Working Paper 5

Bioeconomy in Transplantation Medicine. Our Understanding of Bodies, Health and Life in Transitionpdf, 413 kb · de (German)

by Ronja Wacker

The health sector builds as the third major driving force, together with industry and primary production, the foundation of the bioeconomy. The biotechnological innovation generated here are supposed to revolutionize therapy, diagnostics and medication and make the whole sector sustainable. Showing, that this transition does also deeply affect our understanding of bodies, health and life, will be the focus of this paper. Starting with a historical perspective on the preconditions of an emerging bioeconomic health sector, the text will progress to the question, how bioeconomy can be conceptualized following the debates on Foucault’s biopolitics and Marx’ theory of capital subsumption. The implicit processes, which form these conceptualizations, will be illustrated by the example of transplantation medicine, where they proceed to the innermost parts of the human body – organs, tissue and body fluids – and are ultimately changing our understanding of bodies, life and health.


Working Paper 4

Whose bioeconomy for Europe? The direction of the EU-bioeconomy politics after its updatepdf, 364 kb · de (German)

by Malte Lühmann

In October 2018, the EU-commission launched an updated bioeconomy strategy after a review process. This process entailed the possibility to reassess the overall direction in this policy field. Political actors from different sectors of society and with diverging views on the bioeconomy have taken part in these developments. However, the updated bioeconomy policy remains largely unchanged in terms of its orientation. In this paper, these findings are presented and explained, taking into account the role of hegemonic narratives and ideas, as well as the relations of forces in European society.

This Working Paper is available in English as Working Paper 6.


Working Paper 3

The conflict surrounding wind power projects in the Mexican Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Renewable energies and politics of scalepdf, 981 kb · de (English)

by Rosa Lehmann

Large scale wind farms are highly contested. In southern Mexico, especially local residents protest against the construction of these projects of transnational companies, which generate electricity from renewable resources for end consumers in other parts of the country. The Working Paper describes the context and the main issues of conflict. It examines with a perspective on scale, power relations and politics, why and on which scale actors benefit or not, which strategies actors pursue to assert their interests, and on which power resources they can rely on in this process of rescaling. The paper argues that this is a fruitful perspective to analyze political processes and conflicts related to renewable energies.


Working Paper 2

Bioenergy in the Reorganization of Europe’s Electricity Supply. The Strategic Practices of the Biomass Association AEBIOMpdf, 350 kb · de (German)

by Tobias Haas

Since the 2000s, the share of renewable energy has been increasing steadily. The transition to renewable energy is proceeding faster in the electricity system than in heating and cooling or in the transportation system. In this working paper, we analyze from a (neo-)Gramscian perspective (1) the role of bioenergy within the struggles over the reorganization of energy supply, (2) how the central association of bio-energy providers (AEBIOM) acts in the contested designing of the new renewable energy directive and (3) which conflicts and potentials arise with the extension of bioenergy use.


Working Paper 1

Bioeconomy Strategies in Comparison Commonalities, Contradictions and Blind Spotspdf, 481 kb · de (German)

by Maria Backhouse, Kristina Lorenzen, Malte Lühmann, Janina Puder, Fabricio Rodríguez und Anne Tittor

This Working Paper undertakes a comparative analysis of the bioeconomy strategies of the EU, OECD, US and Malaysia as well as official papers of the National Scientific Council of Argentina, the Ministry of Science of Brazil and the agriculture and energy strategies of Indonesia. The key questions of interest relate to the definition, problems and goals of the bioeconomy. A comparative view suggests divergent understandings of this concept. While bioeconomy and biotechnology are used almost synonymously in the OECD and US strategies, Germany and the EU define the bioeconomy as a biomass-based economy. All other definitions can be situated between these two groups. All strategies share the common feature of justifying the bioeconomy by referring to crisis -scenarios and global challenges, with climate change and population growth at the forefront. The argument is usually connected to food security, energy and water supply, and the finite nature of fossil resources. These problems are generally cited to justify the necessity for a transition towards the bioeconomy. Additionally, all papers share an optimistic position with regards to the use of biotechnological innovations to overcome socio-ecological crises. The advancement of bioenergy is an essential part of all bioeconomy strategies, although different levels of emphasis apply. Public support for the biotechnological optimization of plants and microorganisms as sources of energy is regarded as key, as well as the expansion of biorefineries and the development of next generation biofuels. To conclude, this working paper discusses contradictions in the bioeconomy strategies such as the limited participation and consideration of civil society actors as well as the omission of organic farming, while outlining possibilities for further research.