Research group Prof. Müller-Mahn - Geographic Development Research

Development Geography is concerned with the spatial dimensions and multi-scalar processes of social, economic and cultural development. It investigates the causes and consequences of unequal human development on different scales, as well as the critique of ‘development’ as social construct. Considering the rapid transformations and increasing interconnectedness in a globalised world, our group conducts research in the global North and South. Our research is grouped around three thematic areas:

  • Political ecology and critical human-environment interactions
  • The spatial implications of processes of globalisation
  • Issues of risk, uncertainty, and vulnerability in social-ecological systems.

Our current regional focus is on Sub-Sahara Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Namibia, Ivory Coast) and South Asia (India). With our teaching and research, we aim to contribute to current socio-political debates and the deepening of theoretical knowledge on development issues, as well as to building practical skills and knowledge for development.

What is „development geography“?

We are refering to „development“ in inverted commas in order to indicate its discursive nature as a field of contestation, power struggles, and practice. The field of development is constituted by controversies over norms and values, good intention and vested interest, meanings and models, which are dominated by powerful actors and strategic alliances. In that sense, we view „development“ not only as the materialisation of „the will to improve“ (Tania Murray Li 2007), but as a discursive construction of „dreamscapes of modernity“ (Jasanoff and Kim 2015, Müller-Mahn 2020). Dreamscapes may be understood as imaginations of desirable futures, which are inspired by models of already existing positive examples. Developmental dreamscapes are, in other words, not merely the product of fantasy or „fictional expectations“ (Beckert 2016), but they are created through the appropriation of models and ideas, and they may themselves become building blocks of the future.

What does that have to do with space?

Development is deeply inscribed in space. Social inequalities and spatial disparities are mutually related, imaginations of desirable futures are often projected into specific spatial contexts (e.g. development corridors), and development planning aims at the transformation of social-economic conditions and spatial structures. This relationship is what we explore in our research.

How do we do research ?

Current research in our working group focusses on travelling models in the context of „development“. The notion of development resonates promises of a better future, which build – at least implicitly – on values embedded in heterogeneous cultural frameworks. Models and ideas „travel“ with the help of translators, who adopt and modify them in order to fit them into their own frame of reference. We are studying these processes from a Political Ecology perspective, with a focus on power, hegemony, dependency and resistance. Recent case studies investigated the role and translation of travelling models in East Africa:
-        The paradigmatic idea of „adaptation to climate change“ and how it is negotiated in the United Nations-led Conferences of Parties (COP), translated into national environmental politics, and finally gets implemented in local projects in Ethiopia and East Africa (Müller-Mahn et al 2020).
-        The green growth/green economy model, that was originally designed in South Korea, then promoted by international organisations like the UNESCO, and finally copy-pasted into the Kenyan national plan.
-        In the Collaborative Research Center (CRC-TRR 228) we are studying the practices of future-making, social-ecological transformation, and politics of aspiration. The present project focusses on dams and mega-infrastructures, which are playing important roles as symbols of modernisation even if they are not (yet) completed (Müller-Mahn et al 2021).

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Johannes Dittmann/GIUB

Team and Office Hours

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© Johannes Dittmann/GIUB

Paper Series

© Johannes Dittmann/GIUB



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Prof. Dr. Detlef Müller-Mahn


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Valerie McCool

Office RG Budds, RG Schipper, RG Müller-Mahn


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