18. Mai | 2021 - 21. Mai | 2021

IRS Spring Academy 2021

Investigating Space(s): Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches: Spaces of Crisis

The IRS Spring Academy is a yearly format similar to a PhD summer school but, as the name suggests, taking place in spring. It is an international and interdisciplinary format that provides spots for 25 participants, typically doctoral students but also post-doctoral researchers in the early phase of their careers. The overarching aim of the IRS Spring Academy is to support qualification projects which seek to explore the spatial dimension of societally relevant topics. In particular we seek to stimulate debates at the intersections of disciplines and seek to promote academics who wish to conduct research with a spatial perspective. The IRS Spring Academy is dedicated to stimulate conceptual debates around a spatial perspective and to support new methodological knowledge that is required to conduct the related empirical investigations. Moreover, the IRS Spring Academy is a brokerage event that supports participants to build up personal networks and it provides feedback from acknowledged seniors for researchers at the early stage of their careers.

Each IRS Spring Academy will take four intensive days of collaboration, discussion and exchange. The programme combines different elements and thereby offers plenty of opportunities to debate conceptual issues and methodological challenges as well as to engage in a critical, yet constructive and supportive dialogue.

This year’s fourth IRS Spring Academy titled “Investigating Space(s): Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches: Spaces of Crises” will be the first digital version of the IRS Spring Academy. The program has been re-designed to accommodate for different time zones and to find a balance between this intensive programme and a doable time to be spent in front of the PC.

The German Red Cross will act as a local cooperation partner in 2021.

Focus and Topic

There is little doubt. We live in times of crisis. Core functions of democratic societies, like the financial system, democratic institutions, the free press or human-nature relationships are under severe pressure. Global problems, like increasing social inequality and mass migration tend to escalate while those political institutions that have been built up to deal with international emergencies, like the UN and WTO, experience a loss of legitimacy and funding. As a consequence, more and more political and economic decisions are made under conditions of high uncertainty and great pressure. In other words, they are made in crisis.

In the social sciences, crisis has not yet been used as a properly defined scientific term. Rather, most typically it is used as a signifier of relevance in cases, in which “problem” is no longer sufficient to express the severity of the perceived deficiency or the felt urgency to act. In crisis management, a rather recent and strongly practice-oriented knowledge domain, crisis is defined as followings: It denotes escalating threatening situations, in which actors feel an increased pressure to act under conditions of fundamental uncertainty. Crises erupt surprisingly and once the dynamics are in place, they unfold in an unpredictable manner. Crisis is a highly ambivalent notion. It marks a turning point for better or worse. 

The term crisis is full of temporal implications. It suggests a certain dramaturgy of abruptness, urgency and surprise. In hindsight, the course of events is often arranged around the acute crisis. Crisis mangers differentiate between pre-crisis (or: the ‘primordial phase’), the acute crisis and the post-crisis. The first phase is about preparation for crisis but most often also about ignored warning signals. The acute phase is about crisis management and techniques to regain control. The latter phase is about reflecting the course of events and learning from crisis. Up until recently, the spatial dimension of crisis, however, has been neglected, despite the fact that in an era of increasing global inter-dependencies, crises have become more “trans-boundary”.

Against this background, the 4th IRS Spring Academy has the following aims:

To come to a theoretically ambitious understanding of crisis, highlighting in particular…

  • the enhanced relevance of uncertainty and non-knowledge,
  • the mechanisms behind the dynamics of crisis,
  • the relationship between crisis and normal,
  • the particularities of decisions made under conditions of crisis,
  • the transformative potentials of crisis and
  • the often implicit assumptions that underlie the idea of crisis.

To explore the temporal and spatial dimensions of crisis and their connections.
Of particular interest are

  • tipping points, in which crises emerge or calm down,
  • ways of thinking about the future in situations that lack orientation,
  • the transgression of territorial borders and the embeddedness in multi-level systems and
  • how crises affect and connect different places.

To collect empirical knowledge about crises in different sectors and domains in order
to explore the possibilities to compare crises and to

  • discover additional aspects of crisis.
  • Discuss methodological challenges and strategies. Of particular relevance are
  • ethical concerns of doing research with threatened actors and organisations,
  • access to highly confidential information and
  • the challenges of dealing with multiple perspectives and with ex-post accounts.


Keynote Speakers

(in alphabetical order)

Prof. Dr. Dennis Dijkzeul | Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Dennis Dijkzeul is working at the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (IFHV), Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany for the past eighteen years. He studied Economics at Free University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands and earned his PhD on “Management of Multilateral Organisations“ at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University in 1997. From 2002 until 2009 he was the first Professor in the Management of Humanitarian Crises at a German university (Junior Professor at IFHV, RUB 2002-2009). Since 2009 he is Professor of Organization and Conflict Research, Faculty of Social Science, IFHV, at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

His work experience include, among others, working for the United Nations (UN) in Africa and Latin America. He was part of the working groups designing the humanitarian programs of the UN in Geneva and New York. In Congo he was working with the International Rescue Committee. He has been Member of the UNOCHA Advisory Group for the OCHA Policy and Studies Series, UN, New York (2011-2013), and Member of the Reference Group of the IOB Evaluation of Dutch Humanitarian Policy, Dutch Foreign Ministry, The Hague, The Netherlands (2014-2015). He regularly consults for international organizations in Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, and the United States. His research in sociological theory, qualitative social research and human rights focus on humanitarian studies, management of international and local organizations in crises and local participation.

Prof. Dr. Jörg Sydow | Freie Universität, Berlin
Jörg Sydow is Professor of Management at the Freie Universität of Berlin and Chair for Inter-firm Cooperation. He holds graduate and postgraduate degrees in Business Administration at Freie Universität Berlin (Dipl.-Kfm.) and of Management Science at Imperial College of Science & Technology London, UK (M.Sc.).  He earned his doctoral degree with a thesis on office automation and the scope of organizational choice. From 1991 until 1995 he was Professor of Business Administration at Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Germany, Chair for "Planning and Organization".

He held various visiting positions, including at Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, Vienna (1996), Austria, at University of Arizona, U.S.A. (2004), Advanced Institute of Management (AIM) Research, London (2006-2008), University of Strathclyde’s Graduate Business School (2008-2017), Australian School of Business of the University of New South Wales (2009), Columbia University in New York City (2013), and Said Business School, Oxford University, as well as Waseda University, Tokyo (both 2017). Among his many awards he most recently received the Global Research Award of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in 2018 (with T. Braun) and the Academy of Management Review (AMR) Decade Award in 2019 (with G. Schreyögg & J. Koch). Currently he is a Senior Editors with Organizations Studies.

His research focus includes organization and information technology, strategic partnering, outsourcing, inter-firm networks in the service industries, innovation and project management, organization and management theory and research on uncertainty and catastrophes. In the context of crisis, Jörg Sydow is specialized in inter-organizational crisis management and how inter-organizational constellations can deal with uncertainty.



(in alphabetical order)

Prof. Dr. Olivier Berthod | ICN Business School
Olivier Berthod is Associate Professor at the Department of Human Resources and Organizational Behavior at ICN Business School. He received his Doctorate (Management) from Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, and Master Degrees from Linné Universitet, Sweden, and Université Paris-Dauphine, France. His research reports mostly on questions of organisation theory and design, specifically: organisational culture, interorganisational relations, reliability, sensemaking, decision-making, and resistance to change, with a particular interest in the public and nonprofit sectors, although not exclusively. Related projects received funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Peter Pribilla Foundation, the Wagener Foundation, the Dahlem Research School, and the industry. His work can be found in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Perspectives on Public Management and Governance, Public Administration, Journal of Management Inquiry, and Organizational Research Methods, among other outlets.

Dr. Natascha Bing | German Red Cross
As a research associate in the Humanitarian Assistance in the Urban Context Unit, Natascha Bing supports the team in the field of scientific standards. In close collaboration with the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit she is in charge of defining and implementing scientific and methodological quality throughout the project. This includes the evaluation of latest research findings and the translation into innovative pilot strategies contributing to strengthening international humanitarian aid in an urban context and the international humanitarian system. Natascha Bing holds a M.A. in African Studies and Political Science from the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany. She completed her PhD in African Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Leipzig University (Germany) in November 2017.

Jun.-Prof. Dr. Verena Brinks | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Verena Brinks is junior professor for “geography of social media and digital cultures” at the University of Mainz since September 2019. Her disciplinary background is mainly in economic geography. From May 2012 to August 2019, Verena Brinks worked as a research associate (doctoral student and post-doc) at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space in Erkner (near Berlin). In her dissertation she analysed processes of user innovation and intensively dealt with “communities” (particularly with the concept of “communities of practice”). As a further research topic, Verena Brinks works on new spatial settings for work and creativity which emerged as a consequence of digital practices and technologies (such as coworking spaces, Fab Labs etc.). In the last years, Verena Brinks extended her research focus towards the analysis of “crises”. She is particularly interested in the role of experts and the complex time-spatial dynamics of crisis management.

Dr. Sarah Marie Hall | University of Manchester
Sarah Marie Hall is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Manchester. She came to Manchester in 2012 as a Hallsworth Research Fellow in Political Economy. In 2015 she took up the position of Lecturer in Human Geography and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2018 and Reader in 2020. She is Co-Editor of Area, and a member of the Geoforum Editorial Board. Her research focuses on the everyday impacts of economic and political change. In recent years she has carried out research on austerity, devolution and Brexit, with a focus on how these processes shape lived experiences, practices, and relationships in families and communities. She is particularly concerned with intersecting inequalities where gender, race, class, and age are concerned. Sarah Marie Hall also engages in local activist and community groups across Greater Manchester, offering research advice, guidance and training. She also sits on the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions Methods Advisory Group, where she provides expertise on ethnographic, creative and participatory approaches.

Tjorven Harmsen | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS)
is a doctoral student at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS). She works in a BMBF-funded empirical project on crisis management and the role of expert advice in resilience activation processes (“RESKIU”). The project aims at understanding the complex spatiotemporal dynamics the course of a crisis takes, particularly focusing on its inherent potential for structural change. Tjorven’s disciplinary background lies in sociology, mainly in systems theory. In her dissertation she investigates crisis and resilience as general phases in the development of social systems, understanding crisis as the transitional, “opening” phase between the closed forms of differentiation these systems take. With qualitative interviews on complex ship accidents she tries to capture the observational structure, which the social builds around an irritation attributed to its environment. The aim is to generate a model of criteria for “environmental sensitivity” in socio-observational structures. Under the main title “The Environment of Society” the project is supervised by Prof. Dr. Anna Henkel at the University of Passau, Germany.

Prof. Dr. Oliver Ibert | Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space
In July 2019 Oliver Ibert took over the position of the director of the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space and Professor of Socio-Spatial Transformation at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg. Since 2009 he has been head of the research department „Dynamics of Economic Spaces“. From 2009-2019 he was professor of Economic Geography at the Freie Universität Berlin. In 1991 he started to study the topics Geography (major), German Literature and Political Sciences (both minor) at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg and obtained his master’s degree in 1997. In 2002 he acquired his PhD at the University of Oldenburg and in 2009 he completed his post-doctoral habilitation thesis at the University of Bonn. In summer 2014 Oliver Ibert was a visiting professor at the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Toronto and in autumn 2018 he was a Hallsworth Visiting Professor at the Department of Geography at Manchester University. He is a member of the editorial board of Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Planning and Research and acts as a spokesperson of the working group “Concepts of Crisis” as a part of the Leibniz Research Alliance “Crises in a Globalised World”. 

Alexandra Rüth | German Red Cross
Alexandra Rüth is heading the Anticipation Hub and the Knowledge and Innovation Department at German Red Cross. The Anticipation Hub has been set-up for the humanitarian system by German Red Cross jointly with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. Alexandra Rüth has almost 15 years of experience in the humanitarian and development sector and has been working for almost 8 years for the German Red Cross. She headed before a project group developing with Forecast-based Financing one of the first anticipatory approaches for the humanitarian system. Alexandra Rüth worked in Latin America, Central-Asia and Africa and has a profound knowledge of the humanitarian system in general and more specifically on Food Security, Disaster Risk Reduction and Anticipatory Action. Her interests lie in innovation, agile approaches, participation of stakeholder groups and female leadership. She holds a MSc in Agricultural Science and a post-graduate on International Cooperation for Sustainable Development (SLE) of the Humboldt-University in Berlin.


This call for applications addresses doctoral candidates and early post-doctoral researchers from the social sciences. The participants will be selected according to their academic qualification as well as the suitability of their current research project to the topic of the IRS Spring Academy 2021. 

Applications must include:

  • a motivational letter (1-2 pages),
  • your CV, and 
  • a short description of your current research project, e.g. abstract of your dissertation incl. name and affiliation of your PhD advisor(s).

We can only accept applications in electronic form. Please send your application via email to: springacademy(at)leibniz-irs.de

This call for applications closes on 22 March 2021. 

Selected candidates will be informed at the end of March. Enrolment for the IRS Spring Academy will take place until 9 April 2021. 

In order to foster in-depth discussions and reflection as well as extensive opportunities for establishing and consolidating networks, both among each other and with leading international scholars, a maximum of 25 participants will be admitted to the IRS Spring Academy.

Tuition fees will not be charged.

Goal and Programme

The overarching goal of the IRS Spring Academy is to enable junior researchers from the social sciences to identify relevant research gaps, to encourage them to use a spatial perspective in their analyses and to learn from leading experts in the field about theoretical approaches and innovative methods for empirical work. Participants will have the opportunity to present their projects in paper pitch formats and to access leading experts for one-on-one consultancies. We therefore cordially invite doctoral and early postdoctoral researchers in the social sciences, geography and history to join us for an interesting programme to discuss their own research with internationally leading scholars and their peers.

The IRS Spring Academy combines well-tried and proven formats such as lectures and seminars with less common formats such as doing-research workshops, paper pitches, or academic speed dating. It offers various possibilities to exchange ideas, to discuss current concepts and methodological approaches, as well as to getting feedback on one’s own research projects from leading scholars in the field.

Download programme

The programme of the IRS Spring Academy combines different elements and thereby offers plenty of opportunities to debate issues and methodological challenges as well as to engage in critical, yet constructive and supportive dialogue.

Academic Speed Networking | In a series of quick one-on-one meetings, participants will introduce themselves and ask each other questions about their backgrounds, research, and expectations of the IRS Spring Academy program. This will help the participants with quickly becoming familiar with each other and sets starting points for further exchange.

Poster Pitches | In three poster pitch panels, 8-9 participants will each be given five minutes to present their essential research questions, the argument and how it is relevant to the topics of the IRS Spring Academy. Each participant will prepare his/her individual pitch beforehand so it will be ready for presentation (max. one PowerPoint slide is allowed!). The pitches are followed by a discussion moderated by a senior researcher from the IRS.

Public Keynote Lectures | Internationally renowned researchers present their current research in a 45-minute lecture. This is followed up by a comment from an IRS senior researcher and a round of Q&A. The lecture sessions are open to external participants.

Doing-Research Workshops | In these workshops facilitators will give frank accounts of finalised or recent empirical research projects and provide practical and methodological insights regarding research designs and the implementation of studies with a spatial perspective. They will demonstrate how to collect and handle data, how to focus on the object of analysis, and how to deal with unexpected outcomes. Participants are encouraged to share the practical challenges in their own research, to reflect upon practical and/or ethical problems while collecting or interpreting data and to give constructive feedback on each other’s research strategies.

Meet the Editors | This format brings together editors and members of the editorial boards of journals in the field of spatial analysis to discuss criteria for selecting and revising manuscripts. To this end, participants are given the opportunity to get insights into working processes of editing. In the course of this session they will be able to discuss and reflect upon their own as well as their colleagues’ publication strategies.

Individual Consultations | In these one-on-one sessions the participants will be given the opportunity of an individual conversation with one of the lecturers or an IRS senior researcher, to discuss issues of their research and receive advice from experienced researchers in a protected space. The IRS Spring Academy will match participants with lecturers and researchers, appointments will be made after the program on an individual basis.

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Dennis Dijkzeul: Normalising Crisis


First digital IRS Spring Academy