The Knowledge Politics of Security in the Anthropocene
The Knowledge Politics of Security in the Anthropocene
The Knowledge Politics of Security in the Anthropocene
The Knowledge Politics of Security in the Anthropocene

The Project

 Man-made planetary changes potentially threaten wellbeing and security around the world. But how do we actually know about these risks? How do we see our impact on the planet? How do we anticipate the planetary future? These questions were addressed by the DFG-project The Knowledge Politics of Security in the Anthropocene (04/2018-11/2021).

To anticipate, manage and control the risks of unfolding environmental changes, humans have developed a whole range of instruments and tools. These knowledge practices – including simulation, remote sensing, mapping, or scenario planning – do not simply depict a pre-existing reality. Instead, they bring about multiple versions of the environment and enable different forms of intervention. The research project studies these forms of world-making and their underlying cosmologies in the fields of Climate Science, security policy, and civil protection. It asks how tools and methods of anticipating environmental risks circulate between these different epistemic fields. It traces the actor-networks and their knowledge practices in three in-depth case studies: remote sensing, resilience promotion and geoengineering.


Without the view from space we would not know about many human-made transformations of the Earth system. Modern satellite technology allows us to detect large-scale changes of the Earth’s surface and to monitor the composition of the atmosphere or the condition of vegetation. Satellite remote sensing data is thus used to detect environmental risks including resource scarcities and resulting conflicts, natural disasters and environmental displacement. With the recent rise of geospatial big data, satellite technologies even promise to predict the future. We investigate how experts in the security and civil protection fields draw on satellite remote sensing  to anticipate future environmental threats. We trace the actor-networks emerging around these anticipatory forms of governance. Finally, we study the socio-technical imaginaries and aesthetic conventions that inform techniques of satellite forecasting.

In recent years, the concept of resilience has become the dominant approach to providing security against the risks of the Anthropocene. Resilience accepts the unpredictability of a dynamic world that is marked by non-linear change. Resilience promotion projects thus seek to prepare vulnerable populations, regions or infrastructures for the unpredictable. Following a rationale of “the people know best”, resilience promotion projects seek to mobilize local, tacit forms of knowledge. A whole range of techniques, including participatory mapping, stakeholder workshops or community-theatre, are applied to activate the self-help potential of vulnerable communities. The project studies the underlying knowledge politics of resilience and asks about its effects on local communities.

Geoengineering refers to human attempts to intervene in the Earth’s climate system – for example by injecting aerosols into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight or by absorbing and storing CO2 from the atmosphere. Researchers agree that such proposals bear considerable risks. Their governance entails an important temporal element, as geoengineering is about shaping or even bringing about a not yet realized future. Our research project will further these debates by studying how different planetary futures are (re-) produced, visualized and imagined within existing SRM research projects and geoengineering proposals. It scrutinizes how security actors anticipate the future risks of geoengineering. Finally, we are interested in genealogies of Anthropocene discourses and trace the historical epistemes that made the idea of intervening in the Earth System possible in the first place.


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4S-Congress 2021

Panel Dis/Connected: Reassembling Security through Digital Data Practices

At the virtual annual convention of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4s), Delf Rothe, Marijn Hoijtink (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Matthias Leese (ETH Zurich) and Mareile Kaufmann (University of Oslo) discussed how digital data practices are reshaping global security. Bringing the debate on big data and surveillance in STS into dialogue with Critical Security Studies, the panelists showed how digital data bring about novel actors, and change the mechanisms and logics of security.  In his contribution, Delf Rothe discussed the socio-technical imaginary of a „Digital Twin Earth“.



International Relations in the Anthropocene

Thematic Section at the 14th Pan-European Conference on International Relations

From September 13-17, 2021 the annual conference of the European International Studies Association took place as online event – including three panels and two roundtables as part of the semi-standing section „IR I the Anthropocene“. Co-chaired by David Chandler (University of Westminster) and Delf Rothe, the section comprised panels on critique, affirmation and hope, human-nature entanglement, security in the Anthropocene as well as a roundtable on International Relations and „Critical Beach Studies“. In addition, Delf Rothe contributed to the roundtable „Teaching IR in the Anthropocene“ and the roundtable „Taking the Trouble: STS and Planetary Care“.

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DVPW Congress 2021

Our activities at the three-annual congress of the German Political Science Association

On September 14, 2021 Tobias Ide (Murdoch University, Perth) and Delf Rothe hosted a double-panel on „The Politics of Security in Times of Complex Crises“ at the virtual DVPW Congress 2021. The eight speakers discussed the implications  of climate change, Covid-19 and other complex crises for international security.  Ann-Kathrin Benner Alejandro Esguerra (University of Bielefeld)  co-organized the panel „Open Objects: The Politics of Epistemic Uncertainty in the Making of Objects“. The event, which took place on September 16, 2021 engaged with the question of how international objects including human rights, AI or climate engineering are brought about through knowledge and ignorance.


The Politics of Digital Humanitarianism

Public Panel with Delf Rothe and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

Humanitarian actors increasingly rely on digital technologies such as satellite remote sensing, drones and Artificial Intelligence in the governance of international crises. NGOs such as the Red Cross harness such technical possibilities to deliver aid in remote and dangerous environments. However, technical forms of surveillance also carry considerable risks – for example when they violate the sovereignty of states or the privacy of individuals. On Friday, June 25, 2021, IFSH-researcher Delf Rothe and Kristin Bergtora Sandvik (Peace Research Institute Oslo) discussed the political implications of this emerging “digital humanitarianism” at the invitation of the International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (IFHV) at Ruhr-Universität Bonn. A recording of the event can be watched here.

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Workshop Objects of Expertise

The Politics of Socio-Material Expert Knowledge in World Society

From 26-27 May our project team participated in the virtual workshop “Objects of Expertise” organized by Alejandro Esguerra and Holger Straßheim (both University of Bielefeld). The workshop brought together a group of international scholars working at the intersection of International Relations, Science and Technology Studies and International Political Sociology to explore the role of knowledge objects in world politics. In her talk, Ann-Kathrin Benner discussed how expertise is negotiated, authorized and hierarchized in the design of climate interventions. Delf Rothe presented his work on the EU’s Earth observation program Copernicus and the idea of a „Digital Twin Earth“ as a form of predictive security. 


New Textbook

International Relations in the Anthropocene: New Agendas, New Agencies, and New Approaches

The textbook International Relations in the Anthropocene: New Agendas, New Agencies and New Approaches, edited by David Chandler, Franziska Müller and David Chandler has been published with Palgrave MacMillan. The textbook introduces students of International Relations (and beyond) to the challenges the advent of the Anthropocene poses for international relations as an academic discipline and a field of practice. The book contains 24 chapters, divided into four parts, detailing, respectively, the relevance of the Anthropocene to to IR, challenges to traditional approaches to security, the question of governance and agency in the Anthropocene, and new methods and approaches transgressing the human/nature divide.


New Book Chapter

Genealogies in the Anthropocene and How to Study Them

In their contribution to the textbook International Relations in the Anthropocene (Chandler et al. 2021), Ann-Kathrin Benner and Delf Rothe study the predecessors of the Anthropocene concept in the Cold War. The chapter develops an analytical framework to study the genealogy of the Anthropocene along the lines of three analytical dimensions: problematizations, zones of translation and knowledge objects. The final part of the chapter demonstrates the merits of this approach by taking a closer look at the early roots of Anthropocene thinking in the 1960s Californian counterculture and the Whole Earth movement. 


Virtual Book Launch

Roundtable: Teaching International Relations in the Anthropocene

On April 15, 2021, the European International Studies Association hosted the roundtable Teaching International Relations in the Anthropocene. Delf Rothe discussed with David Chandler, Franziska Müller, Anna Leander, Aysem Mert, Stephanie Wakefield,  Harshavardhan Bhat about the challenges for International Relations brought about by the advent of the Anthropocene. The panelists presented ideas for addressing the Anthropocene in the classroom and for teaching IR differently. If you have missed the event, you can rewatch the discussion here


New publication: (Un-)Seeing Control

Digital Humanitarianism and the Visual Politics of the Refugee Camp, published on line first in International Political Sociology

A new open access article by Delf and his colleagues Christiane Fröhlich (GIGA) and Miguel Rodriguez Lopez (Universität Hamburg) seeks to develop a new perspective on refugee camps and their governance. The paper studies how the application of digital technologies enable new ways for humanitarian actors to monitor and govern refugee camps. It seeks to develop a critique of such “digital humanitarianism” from within by engaging with and reenacting it’s dominant ways of seeing  refugee camps. For this, the authors perform their own analysis of satellite data on two refugee camps for Syrian refugees in Jordan – Zaatari and Azraq – through spatial statistics and compare it with observations during field visits of the same camps in 2014. The case studies show how humanitarian discourses, practices, and technologies enact the refugee camp in different ways:  as a technology of care and control; as a political space; and, as a governmental laboratory – and how these enactments clash and interact in everyday camp life.


Two new chapters in volume on climate change and security

Climate Change, Security Risks, and Violent Conflicts: Essays from Integrated Climate Research in Hamburg, out now with Hamburg University Press

A new book edited by Michael Brzoska and Jürgen Scheffran summarizes the research that has been conducted at the University of Hamburg from 2009 to 2018 within the research group “Climate Change and Security” (CLISEC). Anthropocene security project leader Delf Rothe has contributed two chapters to this collection. The first is based on an earlier publication in the Routledge Handbook of International Resilience and studies the translation of resilience in different contexts of UK climate security policy. A second chapter is co-authored with Andrea Balbo and Jürgen Scheffran and discusses the potential of the Anthropocene concept to diversify the geosciences and enable interdisciplinary cooperation between the natural and the social sciences. The volume is available open access here.


New publication: Jellyfish Encounters

Science, Technology and Security in the Anthropocene Ocean, published online first in Critical Studies on Security

The article takes the emerging debate on governance and security in the Anthropocene to a space that it has so far neglected: the global ocean. It engages with the work of critical ocean scholars and develops the notion of the ‘Anthropocene Ocean’ – a global ocean shaped by human activity that is marked by entanglement and complexity. Focussing on the problem of rising jellyfish blooms across the planet, Delf shows how existing regimes of security become increasingly inadequate to address complex risks emerging in the Anthropocene ocean. As a result, security becomes increasingly experimental – digital technologies including big data, machine learning and sensors help to live with and adapt to jellyfish blooms.

The article is part of the Special Issue „Taking the Trouble: Enquiring Science and Technology in Security Practices” co-edited by Rocco Bellanova, Katja Lindskov Jacobsen, and Linda Monsees.

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Launch of the Planet Politics Institute

International experiment in scholar-activism on climate change and environmental racism

Our team joins the newly established Planet Politics Institute (PPI). The PPI is a virtual institute that  brings together scholars, lawyers, activists, and citizens committed to advancing the fight against climate change, challenging environmental racism and

injustice, supporting indigenous peoples and environmental defenders. It seeks to connect scholarly writing on planet politics and the Anthropocene with climate political activism and real world struggles for political change. The initative is led by Stefanie Fishel (University of Sunshine Coast) and Anthony Burke (UNSW Canberra).

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"How to sustain peace in times of crisis?"

Online panel on the Peace Report 2020 hosted by the "Evangelische Akademie Frankfurt"

On June 25th Delf was invited by the „Evangelische Akademie Frankfurt“ to discuss the implications of climate change for peace and security. The online panel was part of a series of events on the Peace Report 2020 – a joint publication of the five major German peace research institutes. Dr. Claudia Baumgart-Ochse from HSFK gave an overview of this year’s peace report. Delf presented the main findings of the focus chapter on climate change. Sabine Minninger (Brot für die Welt) and Eberhard Pausch (Greenpeace) complemented the panel with a take on climate change and peace from a civil society perspective.

The online panel was screened via zoom and youtube and can be viewed here.


New Publication on EU Copernicus

Chapter in the volume "Visualität and Weltpolitik" (Visuality and global politics) edited by Gabi Schlag and Axel Heck

Delf’s chapter „Europas Blick auf die Erde: EU Copernicus und die visuelle Versicherheitlichung von Umwelt“ discusses the role of visual technologies and visual artefacts in the securitization of the environment. The contribution shows how the EU’s Earth Observation Program uses satellite remote sensing and other visual technologies to render environmental risks both visible and governable. The chapter demonstrates the merits of a multimodal analysis of video materials in the study of security discourses.

The edited collection is the first German book on the role of visuality in global politics (2020, Springer VS). It is the outcome of a three-year cooperation project on the same issue funded by the German Research Foundation and led by Dr. Gabi Schlag and Dr. Axel Heck.

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Peace Report 2020

Ann-Kathrin Benner and Delf Rothe contribute to chapter on “Peace in Times of Climate Change” in the latest German Peace Report (in German).

The focus chapter of this year’s Peace Report discusses the potential implications of climate change for global peace and security. The team of eight authors, led by Prof. Dr. Ursula Schröder at IFSH, warns against a narrow focus on possible climate conflicts and related security threats and makes the case for global cooperation and a focus on peacebuilding potentials in the face of dramatic change. Our team stresses that techno-fix solutions such as Solar Radiation Management pose a particular risk to global peace and thus calls for a moratorium of related research. The Peace Report is the joint yearbook of the German Institutes of Peace and Conflict Research (BICC / HSFK-PRIF / IFSH / INEF). It has been published annually since 1987.    

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Delf Rothe

Delf is a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH). He is particularly interested in critical approaches to security, discourse theory, new materialism, security technologies and visual politics. Within the project Delf was responsible for the two case studies on satellite remote sensing and resilience.

Ann-Kathrin Benner

Ann-Kathrin is a political scientist and researcher at IFSH. She is interested in the linkages between imagination, anticipation and governance in the light of anthropogenic environmental changes. Within the project, she focused on the anticipation of geoengineering risks and historic predecessors to the Anthropocene debate.


Alina Viehoff

As a student assistant within our project, Alina Viehoff designed and implemented the project homepage and supported the research activities of the team. Today Alina works as an Analyst in the Climate Diplomacy and Security programme at adelphi where she supports effective multilateral action and cooperation to find solutions to the transboundary consequences of climate change. 


Collaborative research network and interactive web platform hosted by Christiane Fröhlich (German Institute of Global and Area Studies Hamburg) and Delf Rothe (Institute of Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg)

Conceptual Taskforce of the Earth System Governance Project convened by Eva Lövbrand (Linköping University, Sweden) and Frank Biermann (University of Utrecht, Netherlands)

International network dedicated to connecting advanced academic research in ecological politics and law to real-world struggles for political change led by Anthony Burke (Australian National University) and Stefanie Fishel (University of the Sunshine Coast)

Project blog by David Shim, Assistant Professor at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, International Relations and International Organisation

Scholarly online platform that offers means & methods to integrate anthropocene content, community, data, and debate

Geopolitics and security in the Anthropocene. Working Package led by Malin Mobjörk (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)

Collaborative research network between Universität Hamburg and the University of Lund led by Associate Professor Johannes Stripple (University of Lund) and Delf Rothe (IFSH)

Network funded by the German Foundation for Peace Research (DSF) enabling the exchange between science and practice in questions of peace and security in the outer space

International research project led by Jonathan Luke Austin and Anna Leander (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva)


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