Academic year 2024-25 

Socio-Ecological Change, Policy, and Innovation”

General description

It is widely recognised that human-induced climate change, long-term sustainable development and social and environmental justice represents some of the most pressing and multifaceted societal challenges which requires decisive and resolute actions, and rests on a multitude of factors, stakeholders, and actors. Tackling the aforementioned issues is central to achieving the green transition of societies around the world and addressing the 2030 Agenda. The aim of this specialisation is to understand the processes of socio-ecological change and to explore how state and non-state actors are responding to these challenges and shaping the green transition in the global North and South. These topics can be formulated within three interdependent themes that each or in combination form the overall focus of the ESST thesis:

Theme 1: Ecological Change, Ecocide, and Environmental Policy 

The first theme focuses on the problems and dilemmas related to environmental sustainability, the emergence of environmentalism as a political force, and policy responses to addressing environmental challenges. From a political ecology perspective, this theme discusses the relationships and dynamics between political, economic, and social factors that are central to environmental issues from a range of spatial scales. 

Theme 2: Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and Rights

The second theme considers the relationship between environment and society by examining the environmental injustice of climate change and its impact on human and environmental rights. Through an environmental justice lens, this theme focuses on climate policy and the power dynamics associated with climate change, the role of knowledge of climate change and its drivers, the inequalities, and injustices of climate change, as well as environmental and climate justice movements.

Theme 3: Innovation and the Green Transition 

The third theme discusses changes to the social, economic, and political landscape to enable the green transition towards a sustainable society and the changing ways society views and values the environment. This theme looks at different innovative ‘green’ solutions and policy instruments for green growth and innovation as countries embark on the green transition. 

Specialisation structure and requirements 

To address the issues related to socio-ecological change, policy and innovation, the specialisation combines both theoretical and practical insights though problem-based learning (PBL). The PBL-based pedagogical model of Aalborg University has become both nationally and internationally recognised by universities, researchers and students as an advanced and efficient learning model. The specialisation (including thesis supervision) is conducted in collaboration with  Department of Politics and Society, which is dedicated to the study of political and societal developments with local, national and /or international relevance. Our faculty research the past and the present in an effort to shape the future, and we transmit our research into a number of high quality educational programs.

To support the individual thesis work, ESST students will follow 3 modules together with other groups of students within political science. To deal with a research project that will result in an ESST thesis, students will receive a skills training in project management in the first module. The other module at the start of the specialisation will introduce students in the three themes (policy, rights, and innovation) so they can make an informed choice about the specific focus of their thesis. The exam of this second module will be the research proposal (for requirements see ESST Handbook). The final module (thesis project) will help students with their time management as it requires students to deliver a paper that describes the background of their thesis topic; a research question and an explanation of the relevance of this question; a literature review; an explanation of the theoretical framework; and a description and legitimation of the methods used for data collection and analysis. 

Besides giving the ESST students an opportunity to meet and interact with other Danish and international students, the 3 modules will provide input in form of overview of the related themes, literature, methods and project management skills. The modules, as outlined below, are Sustainability and Project Management Course, Topical Seminars, and Semester Project. The 3 modules are closely related, as explained underneath. Combined, they are input for a thesis which can be submitted at the ESST students home university. 


Module 1- Skills training: Sustainability and Project Management Course 

Language of instruction: English 

Date of instruction: February till the end of March

Content, Progress and Pedagogy of the Module


The objective of this module is: 

  • to provide students with knowledge of current issues and theoretical perspectives related to sustainability and global governance, including global partnerships and transnational problem-solving 
  • to provide students with a broad understanding of the skills and strategies required for project management as well as key theories, concepts and tools of the field 
  • to enable students to apply distinct theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of selected cases in relation to various types of sustainability, such as social, political, economic and environmental 


The module provides students with a broad understanding of project management and its related theories, concepts, and tools. It also provides students with the analytical skills and empirical knowledge required to address and understand the complexities of and responses to global challenges related to sustainability. Emphasis will be on democracy and institution-building; interrelations between different levels of governance; local and transnational civil society perspectives on global challenges such as climate change, inequalities, and resource governance.  

Type of Instruction

  • The module consists of lectures, exercises, student contributions, reading groups and a simulation game with position papers.

Type of exam: Active participation/continuous evaluation

The examination for Sustainability and Project Management is an internally assessed individual examination consisting of a requirement of active participation in the module’s teaching sessions and activities. The module coordinator will define the requirements for active participation, which will be communicated to the class at the beginning of the semester. Any re-examination will be a 72-hour take-home assignment set by the course instructor. The assignment paper must not exceed 8 pages. The criteria of assessment are stated in AAU’s Examination Policies and Procedures

Module 2 – Introduction into the themes: Topical Seminar 

Language of instruction: English

Date of instruction: February till the end of March

Content, Progress and Pedagogy of the Module


The objective of this module is:

  • To provide students with knowledge of selected topics and current issues within the specialisation
  • To enable students to consider relevant theoretical perspectives and discuss key elements in relation to empirical cases and reflect on these on a scientific basis.
  • To prepare the students for the writing the project by enabling them to define and delimit a potential topic and problem field within one theme of the specialisation. 


Students will have the opportunity to focus on one of the themes and its related literature. The module forms the basis for further empirical and theoretical analysis within in the project module. This module should be seen as a precursor to the semester project and teaching will take place in the form of tutorials. 

Type of exam Written exam

The exam of this second module will be the research proposal (for requirements see ESST Handbook). The examination for Topical Seminar includes the ESST an internally assessed individual written examination based on the 7-point grading scale. The criteria of assessment are stated in AAU’s Examination Policies and Procedures

Module 3 – thesis: Semester Project 

Language of instruction: English 

Date of instruction: April till the end of May

Content, Progress and Pedagogy of the Module


The objectives of this module are: 

  • to provide students with additional factual and theoretical knowledge within one of the aforementioned themes, and to give them the opportunity to reflect on theories and their usability in specific contexts in a critical manner
  • to gain experience with empirical data collection and reflect on this process 
  • to practice working actively in an English-language project process and to practice academic writing in English  
  • to organise problem-based project work and reflect upon progress in organisational and cooperation
  • to train students in identifying a suitable research problem for the project and creasing an appropriate research design which will enable them to complete the project within a set deadline.


To support students in the time management of their thesis project Aalborg University organises an infrastructure that provides meetings and deliverables. This module builds on the Topical Seminar module. Students define a problem relevant to one of the themes of the specialisation. The university provides academic supervision. Students must discuss various theories and select one or several, which they deem to be relevant. Unless it is a purely theory-based project, students must discuss which type of empirical data might be relevant in this context and organise the data collection. The topic of the project must be formulated as a problem, and students must seek to answer this problem. The answer must be based on theoretical reflection and – unless it is a purely theory-based project – be empirically grounded. 

Type of Instruction

The module consists of the written student project. To help students with their time management, students submit the first draft of their thesis with a minimum of 20 pages and maximum of 25 pages. This paper includes the following:

  • Introduction and background of the thesis topic (including explanation and justification of the research question 
  • Literature review
  • Theoretical framework
  • Method section 
  • Analysis
  • Conclusion

Oral exam based on a project

The examination for Project Module is an external (in person or virtual) oral examination on the basis of a written project report. The examination is based on the draft thesis (project report) produced by the students. Grading is based on the 7-point grading scale. The criteria of assessment are stated in AAU’s Examination Policies and Procedures.

Overview of semester activities:

Language of Instruction 

The specialisation is taught in English. All literature, classes, meetings and communication between students and faculty members is conducted in English. 

Maximum number of students: 5

Potential thesis topics

Securitisation of energy in the European Union

The cost-of-living crisis and climate change

Attitudes to nuclear power and environmental values

The ecocide-genocide nexus 

Environmental justice and renewable energy 

Gender and climate change: An analysis of climate policy 

Decolonialisation and natural resource governance in Latin America 

Socio-environmental conflicts and extractivism 

The green transition

Staff involved in the specialisation

Malayna Raftopoulos, Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University: 

Troels Fage Hedegaard, Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University: 

Mads Peter Klint, Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University: 


As an international student, you can apply for a furnished room or apartment in Aalborg, however, only after you have received a letter of admission or a conditional admission letter.

For accommodation for the duration of your stay at AAU please apply through the International Office: 

Core Literature

Barry, J. and Healy, N. (2017) Politicising energy justice and energy system transitions: Fossil fuel divestment and a “just transition, Energy Policy 108 (2017) 451–459. 

Boyle, A. (2012) Human Rights and the Environment: Where Next?, The European Journal of International Law, 23 (3): 613-642.

Blaser, M. & De La Cadena. M. (2018) A World of Many Worlds. Duke University Press, Durham and London.  

Burke, M. J. and Stephens, J. C. (2018) Political power and renewable energy futures: A critical review, Energy Research & Social Science 35: 78–93. 

Coletta, M and Raftopoulos, M. (2018) Counter-Hegemonic Narratives and the Politics of Plurality: Problematising Global Environmental Governance from Latin America through the Case of Bolivia. Iberoamericana – Nordic Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 47(1): 108–117.

Coletta, M and Raftopoulos, M (eds.) (2016) Provincialising Nature: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Politics of the Environment in Latin America, London: Institute of Latin American Studies.

Crook, M. and Short, D. (2024) ‘Marx, Lemkin and the Genocide-Ecocide Nexus’, The International Journal of Human Rights 18 (3): 298–319.

Drews, S. and Van den Bergh, J.CJ.M (2016) ‘What Explains Public Support for Climate Policies? A Review of Empirical and Experimental Studies’, Climate Policy, 16 (7): 855-876.

Escobar, A. (2008) Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Hess, D. J. (2019) Coalitions, framing, and the politics of energy transitions: Local democracy and community choice in California, Energy Research & Social Science, 50: 38–50. 

Hess, D. J. (2018) Energy democracy and social movements: A multi-coalition perspective on the politics of sustainability transitions, Energy Research & Social Science 40: 177–189.

Gianolla, C. (2013) Human rights and nature: Intercultural perspectives and international aspirations, Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, 4 (1): 58-78.

Grear, A and Kotzé, LJ (eds.), Research Handbook on Human Rights and the Environment, Cheltenham, United Kingdom and Massachusetts, United States of America: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Higgins, P., Short, D., and South, N., (2013) ‘Protecting the Planet: A Proposal for a Law Ecocide’, Crime Law and Social Change 59: 251–66.

Martinez-Alier, J., Temper, L., Del Bene, D. & Scheidel, A. (2016). ‘Is there a global environmental justice movement?’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 43(3): 731-755. 

Nygren, A., Kröger M., & Gills, B. (2022) ‘Global Extractivisms and Transformative Alternatives’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 49(4): 734-759.

Raftopoulos, M and Morley, J. (2020): Ecocide in the Amazon: the contested politics of environmental rights in Brazil, The International Journal of Human Rights, 24(10): 1616-1641.

Van der Heijden, H.-A. (2014). ‘The Environmental movements’. In: Hein-Anton van der Heijden (ed.), Handbook of political citizenship and social movements. Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 387-417. 

Vihersalo, M. (2017) Climate citizenship in the European union: environmental citizenship as an analytical concept, Environmental Politics, 26(2): 343-360. 

Contact Person

Malayna Raftopoulos

Aalborg University
Department of Politics and Society
Fibigerstraede 3
DK-9220 Aalborg O