Environmental Social Movements

Freie Universität Berlin

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Environmental Social Movements

  • Host University

    Freie Universität Berlin

  • Location

    Berlin, Germany

  • Area of Study

    Environmental Studies

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Prerequisites

    Students should be able to speak and read English at the upper intermediate level (B2) or higher.

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Contact Hours

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Course description

    As every year sees record global temperature spikes and climate modeling predictions turn from bad to worse, climate change has emerged as a primary new arena of political conflict in Germany and beyond. Today’s climate activists are young, well-educated, and understand the immense dangers posed by anthropogenic climate change. Through lobbying efforts, educational campaigns, and direct action, they confront governments that have proven unable to limit CO2 emissions and usher in the green energy transition. While the public largely supports the goals of the climate activists, their spectacular, and often disruptive methods have garnered widespread criticism in the German media and beyond.

    The goal of this course is to familiarize students with the breadth of local struggles for climate action through a mixture of critical readings, case studies, and excursions. Indeed, German social movements offer a unique vista on the successes and failures of environmentalism, given the country’s rich history in environmental activism, coupled with its role as European economic powerhouse, based on its car industry. Taking a broadly historical perspective in its first part, the course begins by establishing the background against which current German environmental movements can be understood. We will examine the early nature conservation movement and interrogate the relationship between environmentalism, democracy, and economic development. Discussing the climate skepticism of current authoritarian regimes, we will ask if environmentalism is necessarily democratic. Moving into the postwar period, we will examine the role of image-making for climate activism, focusing on the galvanizing power of the first image of the Blue Planet, and studying its effects on the early German Green Party.

    Moving from historical contextualization to present-day environmental struggles, the second part of the course shifts from theory to practice. We will study the strategies, goals and objectives of current social movements and citizen initiatives, including Berlin Autofrei (“Car-Free Berlin”), Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and Die Letzte Generation (“The Last Generation”). From lobbying efforts to direct action, the course examines the different approaches adopted by these organizations, contrasting the strategy of the “long march through the institutions” (Rudi Dutschke – student activist and prominent figure in the 1968 student protests) with that of disruption and civil disobedience. To conclude the course, we will survey the wider political struggles advanced by these movements, from reducing the number of cars in Berlin, to limiting air traffic or transitioning to a green economy, and examine the punitive, collaborative and reformist state and market responses that these social movements elicit. The course addresses the critical global issues Climate Action (SDG 13), Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (SDG 16) and Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11).

    Student profile

    The course is designed for students from different academic backgrounds and does not require pre-existing specialist knowledge. Thematically, the course speaks to students with an interest in climate change, social movements, activism, and social change. While there are no special prerequisites for the course, students should enjoy critical discussions and critical readings, and demonstrate a willingness to come prepared and read the course materials in their own time. This is a great course for students interested in careers in academia, the media, and the NGO sector.

    Course requirements

    • Attendance and class participation
    • Student Presentation
    • Exam


    • Attendance and class participation: 30%
    • Student Presentation 30%
    • Exam: 40%


    A digital reader will be provided.

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.

ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits are converted to semester credits/quarter units differently among U.S. universities. Students should confirm the conversion scale used at their home university when determining credit transfer.

Availability of courses is based on enrollment numbers. All students should seek pre-approval for alternate courses in the event of last minute class cancellations


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