Skip to content

The challenge of sustainability in European democracies

Explore more about the challenges of sustainable transition and learn how political actors and civil society can deal with them

← Back to courses
CIVIS focus area
Society, culture, heritage
Open to
  • Master's
  • PhD
  • PhD candidates/students
Field of studies
  • Social Science and humanities
  • Environmental sciences, Urbanism, Geography
  • Blended Intensive Programmes (BIP)
Course dates
19 December 2024 - 14 February 2025

The concept of sustainability recognises that the Earth's resources are finite and interconnected. It encourages responsible and balanced decision-making in social, economic and environment fields that considers the long-term consequences of actions. How can individuals, communities, actors and governments join in a sustainable future in the European democracies? Is sustainability a practice and policy discourse capable of solving the current socio-ecological crisis? Who is deciding on how to move every aspect of social life to a new development model? Which social problems are neglected, or downplayed, in our collective vision of a sustainable future? How do current democratic systems perform sustainability and which conditions can facilitate oppositions or resistances?

These questions bring forward the socio-political dimensions of sustainability. However, the multi-sectoral nature of these problems calls for interdisciplinary contributions and multiple research methods. The course expects students from as diverse backgrounds as political ecology, political sociology, political science, international relations, economics, anthropology, and contemporary history. Dialogue and hybridity are essential for fostering critical thinking and devising workable strategies for social change.

Main topics addressed

  • Power distribution and conflicts
  • Political participation and political parties
  • Government and parliamentary decision-making
  • Meaning making and ideologies
  • Urban regimes and local coalitions
  • Global and local security threats
  • The politics of expert knowledge
  • Economic evaluation of sustainability policies

Learning outcomes

The BIP aims to:

  • Present students with an inter- and trans-disciplinary view on the challenges that sustainability implies for European countries
  • Provide a presentation of the up-to-date disciplinary knowledge on various topics connected to the political and social research on sustainability
  • Allow students and teachers to exchange ideas on research strategies and methodologies about the deliverables of the students, in an informal working environment which will improve collaborative learning
  • Foster student's critical thinking on sustainable transition and political conflicts around the environment
  • Help students to foster their master or PhD work, especially her/his research project presented and discussed during the physical part of the BIP  


Dates: 19 December 2024 -  14 February 2025 Total workload: 160 hours
Format: Blended ECTS: 6*
Location: Lausanne Language: English (B1)


*Recognition of ECTS depends on your home university.

Physical mobility

The physical mobility part will be running from 10 to 14 February 2025 in Lausanne.

During the physical component of the Winter School, in each day:

1) In the morning teachers will deliver a lecture of 45 minutes each giving an updated review of the research on sustainability issues from a specific disciplinary perspective (including political science, sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy).

2) In the afternoon students will deliver a fifteen-minute individual presentation of a draft of a master thesis or a chapter of a PhD thesis (minimum 5.000), followed by a collective discussion on how to improve their research strategies and methodologies, facilitated by two teachers.

During the first day, a keynote speech and inaugural event are also planned. 

Virtual part

The virtual component of the course will be running from 19 December 2024 to 4 February 2025. 

The virtual component will provide an introductory knowledge of the BIP topic, and will introduce the students to an innovative learning experience.

In the first part of the virtual component, coordinators will give students a general presentation of the Winter School, including practical information about teaching schedule, online readings, deliverables, mobility, accommodation, etc.

- After the general introductory meeting, teaching staff will deliver a set of online lessons on the key concepts and methodologies related to the Winter School topic. The attention will be done to the scientific disciplines involved and to the interdisciplinary dialogue among them.

- In the second part, students will be engaged in a Virtual World Café on the challenges of sustainability for European democracies. A Virtual World Café is an online participatory method aiming at establishing an informal and tolerant space of dialogue where multiple ideas and perspectives on a topic can be exchanged. Students will be engaged in several rounds of small-group in depth conversations, on different sustainability issues, guided by experts using online facilitation tools.

- At the end of the final round, the facilitators will summarize the results and discuss them with the students. Teachers will be invited to take part to the final discussion and to contribute to it. 


This course is open to Master's and PhD students at CIVIS member universities, with an academic background and an interest in the following fields of study: Humanities or Social Sciences, such as Political Science, International Relations, Political Ecology, Sociology, Economics, Anthropology, History, Communication Studies, Human Geography, Philosophy.

- A B1 level in English is required to enable students to follow the course.

- Research project outline: minimum of 2.000 words (research question, methodology, expected outcomes) is considered as an additional requirement.

- Presentation skills, critical thinking, dialogical skills, transdisciplinary interaction are also desirable.

NB: Visiting Students - Erasmus Funding Eligibility

To be eligible for your selected CIVIS programme, you must be a fully enrolled student at your CIVIS home university at the time you will be undertaking the programme. Click here to learn more about the eligibility criteria.

Students from CIVIS’ strategic partner universities in Africa can apply for participation in this course.


Application process

Send your application by filling in the online application form by 28 April 2024. Applications will be evaluated based on:

  • CV (20%)
  • Motivation letter (30%)
  • Research Project Outlines (50%)

(Please upload the documents on the platform in one single PDF file)

Apply now


The evaluation is based on the following components and respective weights:

1) Class participation and attendance (physical component): 50%

The oral assessment will take into account the proactive participation of the students in the different moments foreseen by the BIP. This implies not only presence but also speaking during the various BIP moments.

2) Presentation of the deliverables (oral and written): 50% 

The assessment will then take into account the written work done in advance, the quality of the PPT, the oral presentation itself, and the responses to critical remarks made by instructors and other students.

Blended Intensive Programme

This CIVIS course is a Blended Intensive Programme (BIP): a new format of Erasmus+ mobility which combines online teaching with a short trip to another campus to learn alongside students and professors across Europe. Click here to learn more about CIVIS BIPs.

GDPR Consent

The CIVIS alliance and its member universities will treat the information you provide with respect. Please refer to our privacy policy for more information on our privacy practices. By applying to this course, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

About 10 instructors in total belonging to different disciplinary fields will be involved in the Winter School.

Here is the list of the main coordinators of the course:

  • Edoardo Esposto is a Researcher in Political Sociology at Sapienza Università di Roma. His primary research interests are the transformation of public policy, sustainable transitions and the prolonged crisis of the neoliberal paradigm. 
  • Robert A. Huber is a Professor of Political Science at the Paris Lodron University of Salzburg. Robert’s primary research focus revolves around examining how globalization poses new challenges to liberal democracy.
  • Oscar Mazzoleni is a Professor of Political Science and political sociology at the University of Lausanne where he co-leads the International Associate Laboratory on political parties, representatives and sustainability. His topics includes populism, nationalism, political participation and political parties.