I am a political scientist with a key interest in political theory which I seek to render useful for the analysis of issues of environmental and climate governance. My empirical research perspective is post-positivist and post-structuralist. I have often drawn on Foucauldian discourse analysis to investigate the social construction of the objects of politics. I have a key interest in theories of power and follow Foucault’s understanding of power as productive and rooted in discourse. In 2005, I published a landmark article in which I applied Michel Foucault’s governmentality concept to the international politics of climate change (Oels 2005). This is one of the founding articles of the new field of climate governmentality studies. For the last five years, I explored the meaning of climate security discourse, claiming that it fostered resilience and climate change adaptation policies rather trying to prevent climate change (Oels 2013). My empirical work in recent years has focused on the figure of the “climate refugee” and its discursive construction (genealogy) in science and international policy documents (Methmann/Oels 2015). I have also investigated if the ‘climate refugee’ is constructed in ways that seek to render him/her governable as Giorgio Agamben’s ‘bare life’. I conclude that while there is a tendency to attempt to produce ‘bare life’, the created subjects are never fully at the mercy of sovereign power as Agamben suggests.

I have a long-standing interest in citizen/stakeholder participation, power and theories of deliberative democracy. For my PhD, I studied the use of the Future Search Conference as a tool for stakeholder dialogue in Local Agenda 21 processes. Jointly with the organisers and participating stakeholders, I developed a methodology to evaluate the success of this policy innovation. I also applied criteria taken from deliberative democracy theory, in particular Habermas ‘ideal speech situation’ (fair and competent process). Moreover, I assessed the building of social capital and long-term impacts in the three pillars of sustainable development (environment, economy, society). I found that the impact of the Future Search Conference over a period of two years in two case studies was limited to social capital building. Larger power structures were inhibiting the policy innovation from having a larger impact. As a result, I have become interested in discourse analysis as a means of studying power structures and how these can shift. More recently, I have started to analyse all forms of citizen participation as  technologies of governing at a distance in what Michel Foucault calls advanced liberal government. I claim that citizen participation is a means of creating “active citizens” and rendering them responsible for delivering on certain governmental agendas. I then argue with Jacques Rancière that the truly empowering and discourse changing forms of citizen participation are most likely to be found outside town halls and more in the shape of disruptions to normal ways of doing things.


2014-2018 : COST Action Innovations in Climate Governance (European Cooperation in Science & Technology)   

  • Co-autor of the successful grant application to host the Massive Open Online Course “Governing climate change: Polycentricity in Action?” (jointly with Dave Huitema) 37k
  • Lead organizer of the INOGOV international spring school on “Governing climate change: Polycentricity in Action?” for 25 European PhD students in Heerlen in March 2017 (financed by two grants led by Dave Huitema adding up to € 30k)


2011-2015: COST Action Climate Change and Migration (European Cooperation in Science & Technology)

  • Lead organiser of an official side event on climate change and migration for the Paris climate summit (COP-21 to the UNFCCC) on 1st December 2015 with six partners


2012-2015 and 2015-2017 German BMBF-funded project “”, a research consortium of four German universities, one applied university, the Fraunhofer Society and Next Energy to create new and upgrade existing distance learning M.Sc. programmes in the field of sustainability, energy, environment € 5 million (2015-2017)

  • Interims PI for Distance Teaching University in Hagen from 2013-2015, one PhD student
  • Co-author and PI  for the Distance Teaching University in Hagen in the write-up of the successful grant application for 2015-2017, won 157k for Hagen alone
  • Project leader at Lund University for the Massive Open Online Course “Climate Change: A question of justice?” produced by Hagen University in collaboration with Lund


2002-2007 German BMBF-SÖF-funded Junior research group of four scientists ‚Changing social relations of nature? Conflicts in the agricultural transition to organic farming in Germany‘ under the leadership of Dr. Peter H. Feindt at the University of Hamburg €1.6 million

  • Co-author of the successful grant application (did not work in the project myself)