Risk, Future Narratives and Sustainability


We are thrilled to share the news that our project to support students’ critical engagement with risk, responsibility and sustainability has been awarded a Circle U. Interdisciplinary Thematic Research Network (ITRN) grant. We are an interdisciplinary team of researchers based at Aarhus University, the University of Oslo, and Humboldt University of Berlin. The title of our project is “Risk, Future Narratives and Sustainability: Students’ perspectives from three Circle U. universities’.

The project will examine the under-explored question of responsibility in relation to the promises and goals of sustainability with focus on the younger generation. Sustainability is often hailed as providing a blueprint for how we can address global risks and challenges, such as those relating to climate change, declining biodiversity and global health inequities, as evident in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. At the same time, sustainability goals have been criticized for being hollow and mainly promissory. There is also the suspicion that sustainability may not be enough for the wholesale changes that are required: what should we sustain? A critical perspective is thus required that studies and questions different meanings of sustainability and the sometimes-conflicting narratives that are associated with them. Focusing on the moral imperative of forward-looking responsibility in relation to sustainability policies and initiatives, the project will critically interrogate the notions of sustainability and sustainable goals, and consider what responsibility for ensuring sustainable outcomes involves.

Central to this endeavour are the perspectives of young people, given this generation’s importance as stakeholders, and the fact that they are inheriting problems of sustainability and do not have ready access to systems of accountability. We will invite students associated with Studenterhus Aarhus, Nachhaltigkeitsbüro at HU-Berlin and the Student Parliament at Oslo University to an online workshop to draft narratives that describe their visions and anxieties regarding the future and frame their notion of responsibility. To supply context and inspiration for their discussions and creative processes, two invited speakers will present for the students, and the PIs will provide further input from the Oslo Medical Corpus and share examples of narratives from fiction and institutional discourses. These sources will provide the students with a platform for collaborative analysis of the different meanings and uses of sustainability and responsibility, and support the production of the students’ own narratives about sustainability and responsibility, leading to new critical insights – and, most likely, new questions.

The project will run from 1 January 2023 to 30 June 2023. The thematic areas addressed by the ITRN are climate, democracy, and global health.

Our Team:


Aarhus University

PI (main applicant) – Antoinette Fage-Butler, Associate Professor, Dept. of English, School of Communication and Culture.


University of Oslo

PI – Eivind Engebretsen, Professor of Medical Humanities, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare Education.

PI – Mona Baker, Affiliate Professor, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare Education.


Humboldt University of Berlin

PI – Anne Enderwitz, Professor, Department of English and American Studies.