In October 2010, the dam of an aluminum factory’s landfill basin burst in the Hungarian town of Ajka. As a consequence, approximately one million cubic meters of corrosive red mud flooded the surrounding area. Ten people died, dozens were injured, hundreds evacuated. The heavily polluted mud poisoned soils and waters. This photo was taken six months after the accident. Aluminum is used, among other things, for the production of vehicles as well as in the packaging and electronics industry. © Palíndromo Mészáros
The Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India, is considered to be one of the largest slums (low-income areas?) in Asia. According to UN estimates, one in eight people are currently living in slums. Irregular settlements are growing all over the world and not infrequently the poorest are pushed into the most dangerous areas: near toxic waste dumps, floodplains or slippery hillsides. Mike Davis writes that the yearly growing number of victims of natural disasters is not only the manifestation of our changing natural climate, but further provides valuable insights into the risks that the poor face in their desperate search for survival opportunities.

© David Pearson / Alamy Stock Foto
The top of Huayna Potosi seen from El Alto, Bolivia. The inhabitants of El Altos suffer from great water scarcity. While the urban population is growing rapidly, the supply of water is becoming increasingly difficult. Being dependent on the melting water of the glaciers of the surrounding Andean peaks, the metropolis is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change as the glaciers slowly disappear.

© Ashley Cooper pics / Alamy Stock Foto
Palm oil plantations on the river Kinabatangan, Borneo, Malaysia. Countless products contain palm oil, ranging from food, cosmetics, washing agents and paints to biofuels. Oil palm trees grow best in a tropical climate where the thriving rainforest often has to (illegally) pay the price. The resulting massive monocultures represent an enormous threat to biodiversity.

© RGB Ventures / SuperStock / Alamy Stock Foto
Oil Sands, Canada. The extraction of oil from oil sand consumes massive amounts of water and energy and is associated with immense environmental degradation such as the clearing of huge forest areas, artificial toxic wastewater sewage, acidified soils and the sulfurization of forests, or contamination of the groundwater. Solely the mining area in Canada covers an area the size of England. Due to the growing scarcity of fossil resources, rising raw material prices and new technical developments, the extraction from oil sand has become profitable in recent years. Extraction of oil from oil sand results in nearly a quarter more CO2 than from conventional oil production.

© Ashley Cooper pics / Alamy Stock Foto

Studying Change – M.A. Transformation Studies

Today’s dominant economic model has brought on historically unique levels of societal prosperity. This development has had many negative social and environmental consequences. Mass consumption and a steadily increasing use of energy and resources are major causes of man-made climate change, biodiversity loss and countless other socio-ecological crises.

The consequences of global warming and increasing environmental pollution are not only felt in the Global North; for societies of the Global South, whose contribution to the problem is the lowest, they are especially burdensome. In other words, not only are we living beyond our own means, and also beyond the means of others. To put it even more clearly: the economic and lifestyle practices of the societies of the Global North, which have become a kind of blueprint, are not sustainable.

The question is not whether a transformation will take place, but rather whether it will be forced upon us by circumstances or can be purposefully shaped by people—in short, whether transformation will take place by design, or by disaster.

But how is it possible to transform modern societies? One thing is certain: such a comprehensive process of change requires far more than technological change. Societies must also transform economically, institutionally and culturally.

In the Transformation Studies master's program, students use an interdisciplinary, theory-guided and practice-oriented approach centered on the analysis of past, present, and future to study this transformation. 

Videoclip about the Study Programme