Benno Werlen - Biography#

Benno Werlen holds degrees from the natural sciences faculty and the humanities faculty. In addition to geography he studied ethnology, sociology and economics. Since 2018 he holds the UNESCO chair on ‘Global Understanding for Sustainability’ at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). He has held the Chair for Social Geography at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, from 1997 to 2018, and has taught at the universities of Fribourg (Switzerland), Kiel (Germany), Zurich (Switzerland), ETH Zurich (Switzerland), Cambridge (GB), Salzburg (Austria), Geneva (Switzerland), Nijmegen (the Netherlands), and has been a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge (Kings College & Sidney Sussex College), the London School of Economics and the University of California, The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Werlen is counted as one of the ‘Key Thinkers of Space and Place’ (Sage Publisher, 2011), is one of the internationally most cited social geographers and was honored by the International Geographical Union with the Lauréat d’honneur for his ‘lifelong contributions to geographical science as a distinguished, world known scholar’.

Werlen is the fonder, organizer and executive director of the International Year on Global Understanding approved by the General Conference of UNESCO in November 2013 and proclaimed by the three major science councils of the Human (CIPSH), Social (ISSC) and Natural sciences (ICSU). He served as a panel member for the European Research Council for ‘Environment and Society’ for Advanced Grants from 2008-15, for the ‘French National Research Agency (ANR)’ in the field of Social and Human Sciences from 2008-12, as Chair of the IGU Commission ‘Cultural Approach in Geography’ from 2004-2016, and recently as an Advisor for the Taihu World Cultural Forum as well as chair of the IGU Commission ‘Global Understanding’. He has published 16 scientific books and more than 200 papers in scientific journals and books, has given over 300 keynote presentations in a wide range of scientific disciplines across five continents. All in all 22 of his students are currently working as permanent professors in the fields of geography and sociology around the world.

The widely acclaimed book ‘Gesellschaft, Handlung und Raum’ (Steiner 1987, 3rd edition 1997), published in English translation as ‘Society, Action and Space. An alternative Human Geography’ is a contribution to the epistemological and theoretical foundation of an action-centered geography as an ‘original and far-reaching theory that directs (…) towards new areas of research’ (Society and Space, 1994). In his review, Rob Shields qualified it as a ‘theoretical book which challenges the foundation of geography ... (that) rank(s) in its thoroughness with such classics as those by Castells, Lefebvre and Harvey.’ In the three volume on “Social Geography of Everyday Regionalizations” he analyses the processes of the construction of the social world by human actions, including the geographical practices of geography-making. The ‘social geography of everyday regionalisations’ (…) is now a keystone for debating the issues of space and environment in other disciplines as well as geography’ (Lippuner 2011). Werlen’s work has been called ‘a milestone in the history of geography, only to compare with such classics as Friedrich Ratzel and Alfred Hettner’ (Erdkunde 1999), and Geographica Helvetica (1999) called it a ‘revolution of the ontology of space’. In nation wide network analysis, Werlen was evaluated in 2010 as the by far most quoted German Human Geographer of the first decade of the 21st century (Steinbrink et al. 2010). His publications have been published in German and English, and have been translated into French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Arab and Korean.

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