Universität Bonn

Abteilung für Südostasienwissenschaft

Conference of the World-Ecology Research Network, at Bonn University
Working Environments, Unruly Natures

Welcome to the Eighth Annual Conference of the
World-Ecology Research Network, at Bonn University

The WERN conference in Bonn is on – finally!! It’s been some way: the idea to organize a World-Ecology conference at Bonn University grew out of the discussions in a small reading circle on Marx and societal nature relations a couple of years ago at our Southeast Asian Studies Department – which is rather small in size but keen on Southeast Asian political ecologies as well as in the theorization of this global ecological mess. First scheduled for fall 2020 – we had it all set up, including securing funding by the German Research Foundation – COVID thwarted our plans since having people get together in reality and not just virtually seemed crucial to us. So we had to cancel and wait until our ideal of an international conference in co-presence did not seem like a lofty dream any longer. Unruly natures and double internality indeed.

June 8-10, 2022

You may attend in person or virtually via Zoom, or a combination of both. This registration includes access to all plenaries, panels, and performances.

Assembly line.JPG
© Dr. Oliver Pye

Working Environments, Unruly Natures
No Politics of Work without Nature, No Politics of Nature without Work!

The Theme of the 2022 World-Ecology Conference

The theme of the 2022 conference „ Working Environments, Unruly Natures” focuses on the concept and politics of work in the World-Ecology conversation. Work is understood here in its multiple and bundled dimensions. Labour in the classic (wage-labour) sense – as social metabolism with nature, as a social class (the proletariat) and as the labour movement – is explored in its relation to the unpaid work of “women, nature and colonies” (Maria Mies). As we wrote in the CfP: In the unfolding climate crisis, two questions loom large in the search for planetary justice: What is a radical politics of work in an era of climate crisis? What is a radical politics of nature in an era of disposable workers and precarious work?

The impulse for this focus came (at least in part) from struggles literally in our neck of the woods, namely the Hambacher Forest near Cologne. This was the site of an intense struggle by climate justice warriors - who established tree house settlements with names like Oakland, Beechtown, or Lorien –to stop the expansion of the lignite coal commodity frontier of the energy corporation Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk AG (RWE). One disturbing aspect of this climate justice movement was the animosity between the climate activists and coal workers – and this tension will be the focus of our activist plenary on Thursday afternoon. Christopher Laumanns, a co-founder of the climate action group Ende Gelände, and now with Alle Dörfer Bleiben, was involved in many discussions with trade unionists from RWE to try and bridge this gap. Julia Kaiser developed an exciting project with Fridays for Future activists to support strikes in the public transport sector, and to connect this with a transformative vision for mobility systems that do not rely on private cars. We are especially excited about this session and the discussion between these two, Andrej Grubačić and Jacob OmarJerónimo,

Overall, we hope that the conference focus on work will invigorate the research network to pay more attention to the “the deep history of labor politics, working class protest, and social revolution in their connections with world-ecological crises and capitalist restructuring.” Jason Moore’s keynote lecture on day one, on “The Climate Crisis is a Class Struggle: Towards the Proletarocene” will tackle this head-on. Highlighted by recent calls for a Green New Deal and Degrowth, we will explore the intimately connected – and profoundly global – dimensions of work, workers, and life across the long history of the capitalist world-ecology. Recognizing the dialectic of productive and reproductive work as the pivot of modern environment-making and class formation, we want to unpack the connective relations between work, working bodies, and working environments – past, present, and future. To this end, we need to situate capitalism’s mobilization of paid and unpaid work in their racialized, gendered, colonial, and multi-species moments.  In this respect, we are very happy to have Nora Räthzel, who, together with colleagues, has just brought out a “Handbook on Environmental Labour Studies” for the plenary on Wednesday afternoon. The relation between labor and environmental justice movements in emancipatory responses to the “end of cheap nature” remains a crucially important one.

© World Ecology Network
© World-Ecology Network
© World-Ecology-Network

General Schedule - WERN 2022

Wednesday, June 8

Conference address: Universität Bonn Hauptgebäude, Regina-Pacis-Weg (Hofgarten)
Conference lecture halls: HS V, HS VI, HS IX

8.00-9.00 registration
9.00-10.30 opening plenary  Jason W. Moore. “The Climate Crisis is a Class Struggle: Towards the Proletarocene.”
10.30-11.00 coffee
11.00-12.30 panels
12.30-13.30 lunch
13.30-15.00 panels
15.00-15.30 coffee
15.30-17.00 plenary Gloria Luisa Gallardo Fernández. “Dispossessions and the Making of Cheap Natures: Cuncumén community and the Los Pelambres copper corporation in Chile.”
Nora Räthzel.
“The Question of Agency in World-Ecology Conversations”

Opening dinner 19.00
Presenters only, ticket required

Thursday, June 9

Conference address: Universität Bonn Hauptgebäude, Regina-Pacis-Weg (Hofgarten)
Conference lecture halls: HS V, HS VI, HS IX

8.30-9.00 registration
9.00-10.30 panels
10.30-11.00 coffee
11.00-12.30 plenary Thomas Kopp “The Imperial Mode of Living to a Solidarity-based Mode of Living.”
Anthony Paul Farley “Bread & Roses”
12.30-13.30 lunch
13.30-15.00 panels
15.00-15.30 coffee
15.30-17.00 plenary Special Event: “Climate Justice & Labour in the Capitalocene: A Discussion” with Julia Kaiser, Jacob Omar Jerónimo, Christopher Laumanns and Andrej Grubačić

Friday, June 10

Conference address: Universität Bonn Hauptgebäude, Regina-Pacis-Weg (Hofgarten)
Conference lecture halls: HS V, HS VI, HS IX

8.30-9.00 registration
9.00-10.30 panels
10.30-11.00 coffee
11.00-12.00 plenary Special Event: “Pathos by Fringe”
Actor Harald Redmer and musician Helmut Buntjer show excerpts from their program PATHOS, especially extended for the
occasion of the World-Ecology Research Network conference at Bonn University.
12.00-13.00 lunch
13.00-14.30 panels
14.30-15.00 coffee
15.00-17.00 plenary Margaretha A Haughwout, Co-author: Oliver Kellhammer “Ruderal Witchcraft Manifesto”
Closing Discussion with Jason W. Moore.

Closing event 19.00
Open to all, ticket required

Program and Abstracts

Detailed Program

The Department of Southeast Asian Studies

The department of Southeast Asian Studies is one of eight departments of the Institute of Oriental and Asian Studies (IOA) at the University of Bonn, which is one of the leading teaching and research institutions for Asian Studies in Germany and Europe. The department is characterized by three main features: contemporary and interdisciplinary research and teaching in the field of Southeast Asian Studies, intensive language training, as well as close cooperation with various actors in the field.

Since April 2022, the department is headed by anthropologist Prof. Dr. Kristina Großmann, whose research interests include human-environment relations, (alternative) sustainabilities, and the role of gender and ethnicity. She succeeds Prof. Dr. Christoph Antweiler, who is also an anthropologist and has been working on urban culture, local knowledge and universals for decades. He has just published a new book on the Anthropocene. Both professors specialize in insular Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia.

For more than 15 years, the department of Southeast Asian Studies has been supported by Dr. habil. Oliver Pye, who works on the contested transformations of social relations of nature in Southeast Asia. In addition to his work on various social movements in Thailand, he is doing intensive research on labour in the palm oil industry in Indonesia and Malaysia from a transnational perspective. Dr. Timo Duile has also been part of the team for many years. He conducts research on environmental conflicts, concepts of nature and environment, and indigenous identity in Indonesia. Frank Seemann focuses on religion in Southeast Asia, with a particular interest in the environmental movements of religious actors in mainland Southeast Asia. The youngest member of the department is Michaela Doutch. As part of her dissertation, she worked for several years with women workers in garment factories in Cambodia, exploring from a feminist perspective the agency of women workers and multiscale organizing strategies in global production networks. Last not least, we need to mention our colleague Dr. Michael Kleinod, a sociologist who specialises on the (tourism and other) commodity frontiers in Laos and who was a primary mover for the WERN22 conference! He has recently left us to join the Global South Studies Center at Cologne University. We are sad to see him go but look forward to future collaborations.

For intensive language training, the department relies on a large and experienced team of lecturers for Indonesian (with Berthold Damshäuser and Andriani Nangoy), Vietnamese (with Xuan Hang Nguyen, Phuong Le Trong, Trang-Dai Vu and Tuyet Mai Hua) and Thai (Yuwanda Hellinger), highlighting the close connection between teaching, research, and language training as a distinctive feature of the chair.

Furthermore, the department collaborates with a variety of local, national and international actors on the ground. In addition to collaborations with various partner universities in Southeast Asia, the department works with diverse civil society organizations and actors in development cooperation, reflecting the transdisciplinary orientation of the chair. The international location of Bonn with its many renowned development policy organizations and research institutes explicitly dealing with ecological and social sustainability and sustainable development (e.g. ZEF, BICC, GIZ, DIE, UNU and many more) also offers excellent opportunities and points of contact.

© Oliver Pye


World-Ecology can be seen as the attempt to systematically include an ecological perspective in the historical account of capitalism in World-System Theory. Key theoretical ideas of World-Ecology were developed by Jason Moore in his 2015 book “Capitalism in the Web of Life” and in other writings. Moore attempts to overcome the conceptual separation between Nature and Society by something he calls “double internality,” representing this via the hyphenated terms “humanity-in-nature” and “nature-in-humanity” (2015: 5). Moore follows Neil Smith (1990) in his understanding of the production of nature by capital, and the unity of humanity and nature through capital. However, in contrast to Smith, Moore stresses the agency of “non-human-nature” that is “no longer a passive substance upon which humanity leaves its footprint” (2010b: 191). Instead, “human agency is always within, and dialectically bounded to, nature as a whole – which is to say, human agency is not purely human at all. It is bundled with the rest of nature” (2015: 37).

Rather than focusing on the destruction of nature under capitalism, Moore asks “how is humanity unified with the rest of nature within the web of life” and argues that human history is a “co-produced history, through which humans have put nature to work – including other humans – in accumulating wealth and power” (2015: 9). The advantage of this is that he can systematically view the “great movements of modern world history” as “socio-ecological projects and processes aimed at reconfiguring nature–society relations” (2010b: 191, emphasis in original).

Moore combines Smith’s idea of the production of nature as defined by the exchange relation of capital with Harvey’s concept of the spatial fix and accumulation by dispossession to develop his idea of “cheap nature”. As with Harvey, he starts with the problem of the falling rate of profit which he explains as the contradiction between the overproduction of machinery and the underproduction of inputs (2015: 28). Concurring with Harvey, he argues that by geographical expansion into non-capitalist territories, capital can use “cheap labour” provided by peasants (whose social reproduction had not been paid for by capital) to increase the absolute rate of exploitation and thereby the rate of profit (2011: 23). Moore’s innovation, as it were, is to add “cheap nature” to this equation.

The argument is as follows. Capital accumulation leads to the increase in the ‘organic composition of capital’, i.e. the relation of fixed capital (investment) to variable capital (wage labour). In other words, the amount of capital invested per worker increases, leading to less new value created per unit of capital. For Moore, this has a material dimension and a value dimension. Materially, increased productivity and output per worker necessitates an ever-increasing material throughput of energy and raw materials. In terms of value, these have to be kept cheap to keep the rate of profits high (2015: 124). At the same time, cheap inputs decrease the value composition of capital, even if the technical composition (more machinery per worker) increases. For example, cheap coal leads to cheap steel so that less investment (and value) is needed for more machinery (2011: 25). This slows down the increase in the value composition of capital, so that profits remain high. In the other direction, cheap energy and cheap food mean that the social reproduction costs of labour can also be kept down, leading to cheap labour and a higher rate of exploitation. This is how Moore arrives at his “’Four Cheaps’ of labor power, food, energy, and raw materials” (2015: 17)[1].

The crux of Moore’s argument is that these ‘Four Cheaps’ are kept cheap by channelling “unpaid work outside the commodity system into the circuit of capital” (ibid. 17, emphasis in original). Drawing on feminists such as Maria Mies, he sees nature as providing ‘unpaid work’, in addition to the unpaid social reproduction work by women and the subsistence subsidy by peasant agriculture: “without women, nature and colonies […] accumulation falters”. Capitalism survives through “global ecological fixes” that are characterised by the “dialectic of plunder and productivity” (ibid. 124). While labour exploitation still plays a role in producing value, this is dwarfed by the role of unpaid work by women that Moore estimates at 70-80% and by nature that he puts at 70-250% of global GDP (ibid. 64). Labour can only remain productive because of “ecological surplus” – and this is then elevated to a general law, put starkly in the statement that “the law of value in capitalism is a law of Cheap Nature” (ibid. 53).

Moore uses these two generalisations to develop a historical account of the capitalist World-System as the unity of humanity and nature through capital in the latter’s incessant search for Cheap Nature. Since the “long sixteenth century”, he argues, capitalism has constantly transformed its relation to nature through “developmental ecological crises” (2011: 11). These development crises – defined as “turning points in the historical configuration of capital, power, and nature” (2015: 125) – occur when an accumulation wave dependent on Cheap Nature slows down due to the capitalisation and/or degradation of resources. They are resolved when a new “frontier of accumulation” is opened up and a new source of “ecological surplus” can slow down capitalisation and raise the rate of profit again (2011: 25). The “ever-mounting material-throughput demands of an ever-growing mass of capital” resulted in “evermounting biophysical degradation” (Moore 2010a: 38), undermining “the socio-ecological conditions of production” and leading to the “search for new commodity frontiers” (ibid. 39). In other words, once forests had been logged, the metals mined or the soils depleted, capital moved on to greener pastures.

Developing an impressive historic depth and range, Moore shows how the rise and fall of economic and political centres of the World-Economy was connected to their access to and use of ecological surplus. Explaining the shift in gravity from Spain to the Netherlands, Moore discusses the exploitation of indigenous workers in the silver mines in Potosí and the denudation of forests for the mines and the production of mercury; the rise of the sugar industry in Northeastern Brazil; the shift of Africa’s ‘slaving frontier; the destruction of clove, nutmeg and mace trees in Southeast Asia; the draining of wetlands across Europe; “the ever more expansive forays of the herring, cod and whaling fleets across the breadth of the Global North Atlantic”; and more (Moore 2010b: 190). Citing a seventeenth Century saying that “Amsterdam is standing on Norway” – Moore could show that its rise as a trading superpower was based on extensive logging in Norway’s southern forests (ibid. 200).

This discussion of historical nature, as a co-produced history of capitalism, is one of the strengths of the World-Ecology approach. “Nature” is included systematically into the spatial dynamics of capitalist expansion, accumulation and crisis, complementing Harvey’s more cursory look at the social relations of nature. The real, historic appropriation and degradation of nature in this account breathes life into Smith’s abstract argument about the “production of nature” – which can now be conceptualised as a co-produced natural and social reality, one in which flows of capital react to the overcapitalisation of nature in one geographical place in order to pursue the appropriation of ecological surplus somewhere else.

In Moore’s account, this dynamic is coming to an end, just as the “Great Frontier” of free Nature (2015: 302) is now closing down. Because ecological surplus is necessary for accumulation, the end of an ecological surplus will usher in the end of accumulation. Although he wisely avoids concrete predictions, Moore assumes that capitalism’s future is counted. The degradation of natural resources becomes a problem for capital – because it produces “negative value”, i.e. rather than a surplus, pollution and waste make labour, food and resources more expensive rather than cheaper. The ecological crises that used to lead to reconfigurations of the social relations of nature, now threaten capital itself (2015: 301-304). Climate change threatens capitalism, because of its “suppressive impact on labor and land productivity in world agriculture: signalling the end of capitalism’s longue durée cheap food regime” (2017: 599).

[1] Together with Raj Patel, Moore (2017) expands this to „seven cheap things“, but the more substantial account is in his 2015 book.

  • Harvey, David. 2003. The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Mies, Maria. 1986. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour. Third World books. London: Zed.
  • Moore, Jason W. 2017. “The Capitalocene, Part I: On the Nature and Origins of Our Ecological Crisis.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 44 (3): 594–630. doi:10.1080/03066150.2016.1235036.
  • Moore, Jason W. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London, New York: Verso.
  • Moore, Jason W. 2011. “Transcending the Metabolic Rift: A Theory of Crises in the Capitalist World-Ecology.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 38 (1): 1–46. doi:10.1080/03066150.2010.538579.
  • Moore, Jason W. 2010a. “'Amsterdam Is Standing on Norway' Part I: The Alchemy of Capital, Empire and Nature in the Diaspora of Silver, 1545-1648.” Journal of Agrarian Change 10 (1): 33–68. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0366.2009.00256.x.
  • Moore, Jason W. 2010b. “‘Amsterdam Is Standing on Norway’ Part II: The Global North Atlantic in the Ecological Revolution of the Long Seventeenth Century.” Journal of Agrarian Change 10 (2): 188–227. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0366.2009.00262.x.
  • Smith, Neil. 1990. Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space. 2nd Edition. London: University of Georgia Press.

The university/ our department is not demanding a registration fee (this goes to WERN), so it is also possible to attend individual events for free.

However, if you would like to attend the entire conference, get access to the online lectures and participate in the closing party, registration fees will apply.

If you do not have a Paypal account, please register anyway using the regular form. Add a note that you are paying cash at the Southeast Asian Studies Library and ask for a receipt. Contact person for cash payment before or at the conference is Jessica Riffel (for contact information see below).

Yes. The conference is more than a presentation opportunity. We are building a community. We encourage everyone to come to each day of the conference, to attend panels, ask questions, and actively participate in the conversation. Most of us can agree that at conferences, our strongest connections are made during the coffee break, over a meal, or in a side chat between panels. To build a vital and vibrant community, we ask everyone to register and attend the entire conference.

The University of Bonn is located in the heart of Bonn. Therefore, it is not difficult to find food for all needs within walking distance. During the day, for example, there are various food trucks on the market square that offer vegan fast food, Tibetan, Italian, Greek, .... You have to expect costs of 5-10€ per meal there. An always popular and cheap alternative is "die Kichererbse", a very good falafel shop near the main station. A plain falafel wrap costs €3.50 there. One of the best pizzas can be found at Tuscolos, which is also within walking distance. Most of the pizzas cost over €10, but they are of opulent size and taste great. You can also eat Asian food in the city centre. MamMam is about a 15 minutes walk away and Cay Tre is also within walking distance. Good wine in an appealing atmosphere with a selected menu can be found in "Syrah" and "La Cigale", if you want to go out for a more upscale meal in the evening. But you can always find something suitable if you simply stroll through the streets of Bonn's city centre  guided by the smells.

Bonn has a variety of different hotels, from large to small. Here is a small list of hotels near the university. Please check the availability of the hotel rooms before your arrival.

Derag Livinghotel Kanzler (4*, ca 75€/night)
Ameron Hotel Königshof (4*, located in the city centre, ca 105€/night)
Hilton Bonn (4*, 122€/night)
BrauHotel Bonn (3*, located in the city centre, 55€/night, more like a hostel)
Hotel Mercedes (3*, located in the city centre, 71€/night)
Prizeotel Bonn-City (direkt am Rhein, located in the city centre, 3*, 80€/night)
Hotel Europa (located in the city centre, 3*, ca 67€/night)

Contact & Organisation

Oliver Pye

Nassestraße 2

53113 Bonn

Jessica Riffel

Nassestraße 2

53113 Bonn

Lynn Reichmann

Nassestraße 2

53113 Bonn

Wird geladen