Programme Overview

Critical Theory & Critical Sustainability Engagements: Anthropological Perspectives

Brief description

Critical theoretical and activist engagements on topics such as human rights, gender violence, global pandemics, coloniality, racism and environmental sustainability are hot topics in both social science research and change making across the world.

This Summer School is a new pilot initiative supported by the partnership initiative between the Universities of Geneva and Zurich in collaboration with the Swiss Anthropological Society and its Interface Commission. It eeks to ground such topics and enable learning on the multiple methodological, knowledge and political challenges involved in such terrains of research and open up for new forms of engagement, multi-modal expressions and student engagement.

This Summer School offers a unique space for creating mutual learning between critical theory and analysis, on the one hand, and critical engagements on the other. Hosted by the Centro Incontri Umani in Ascona, the pilot initiative draws upon critical scholars and practitioners from the Universities of Zurich and Geneva as well as the SSE Interface Commission. We aim for grounded learning on critical readings and engagements for a selected group of students from different levels.

In advance, students will be requested to present a particular sustainability topic of interest or on-going engagement to present during.

Learning objectives of the Summer School

  1. Deepen understanding of critical theory and what it brings to sustainability thinking and practice
  2. Learn from scholars with a deep dive into specific lessons from engaging on multiple terrains
  3. Engage participants in a process of reflection upon and presentation of their own action and research; encourage and equip participants to adapt concepts, tools and experiences into own spheres of analysis and practice.


Critical sustainability thinking is increasingly concern and teaching request by students and plays a central role in the research and teaching of Faculty and associated researchers at the departments of anthropology in Zürich and the Department of Sociology. This innovative pilot initiative bridges Faculty from the two universities in a unique setting at the Centro Incontri Umani in Ascona co-organized in cooperation with the SEG Interface commission.

The merit and value of critical sustainability thinking ranges from the need to rethink consensual discourses such as the SDGs towards empowering students to engage with critical perspectives from feminist theory and political ecology to decoloniality and multimodal approaches. Training a new generation of scholars and practitioners to take up the deepening sustainability challenges is not only about transmitting individual skill and analytical competencies. It is also about creating a community of practice, where students are encouraged to form networks and lasting partnerships.

Target audience

This Summer School targets master and PhD students from sociology, anthropology as well as interdisciplinary social science programmes from the Universities of Geneva and Zürich. A limited number of places will also be made available to students from other universities pending on additional funding commitments from Swiss Society of Anthropology.

Follow-up activities and collaboration

A central aspiration of the project beyond the immediate learning objectives listed above, is that of nurturing a community of practice with students committed to mutual learning and exchange around critical sustainability thinking. The workshop not only encourages collective reflection and presentation, it also proposes students to write-up, film and present their individual approaches in a collective student forum.


Students from Universities of Zurich and Geneva are fully exempted of the tuition. Free full-board accommodation and transport to and from the location.

Other students: CHF 250. Free full-board accommodation included. Transport to and from the location are at the expenses of the student.

Application deadline : 15 March 2023


Organizing group: Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Geneva, Department of Anthropology / ISEK of University of Zürich, Swiss Anthropological Association and the Interface Commission


Course Director:

Dr. Peter Bille Larsen
Senior Lecturer
University of Geneva


Professor Annuska Derks
University of Zürich

Dr. Doris Bacalzo
Interface Commission



Decolonial critique and critical engagement (June 13)

Critical environments and engagements (June 14)

Gender, discrimination, violence (June 15)

Critical multi-modalities (June 16)



Introduction to Summer School (Peter Larsen & Doris Bacalzo)

Student presentations 1

Student presentations 2


Eda Elif Tibet &  


Mike Poltorak – critical  multimodalities (University of Zurich, penciled)

Morning 2

11- 12.30

decoloniality and feminist approaches in the Andes

Florence Babb (Chapel Hill)


Esther Leemann, political ecology and Cambodia (Zurich)


Marylene Lieber UNIGE): gender studies, violence and public space: critical interfaces


Student video presentations making





14- 15.30


Hybrid exchanges with students from Sikkim and Northern Bengal on the decoloniality

Jenny Bentley/ Peter Larsen (Zurich/ distance)


Marlyne Sahakian, critical approaches to sustainable  consumption (UNIGE)


Peter Larsen, on environmental defenders, violence and protection (UNIGE)

Production of personal video interviews


Eda Elif & Mike Poltorak (Uni Zurich)





Rohit Jain, (Zurich tbc)/ walk to Monte Vérita

Spices in Vietnam and multimodal approaches

 Annuska Derks (Zurich)


Racism, discrimination &


Claire Vionnet (Interface)


Presentation of student videos and wrap-up


Dinner at Centro