Prof. Dr. Barbara Brandl – Research

Research interests

Economic and organizational sociology, political economy, sociology of science and technology (in particular Blockchain, digital financial innovations, green biotechnology)

Research projects

Sociological concepts, participatory strategies and societal trade-offs of the energy transition

Subproject of EnerVi – Individualized Visualization of Energy Transition Measures (EnerVi)

Duration: 01.04.2023-31.03.2026

Project lead: Prof. Dr. Barbara Brandl

Project partners:

Goethe University Frankfurt
Borderstep, Berlin
VDW, Berlin
Unetiq, Munich

Associates: Luki Schmitz, M.A. and Franziska Ohde, M.A.

The goal of the joint project "EnerVi – Individualized Visualization of Energy Transition Measures" is to develop cross-system innovations with the help of participatory social processes in order to make the consequences of the energy transition transparent to stakeholders and consumers and to activate and consolidate sustainable behavior. The project covers technical, social, institutional, and organizational innovations in the model regions (the city of Berlin and the local community of Neuerkirch). The model regions differ significantly in terms of their socio-cultural living conditions and energy-economic prerequisites and thus represent a wide range of the social and energy milieus that exist in Germany. A central element of the project is the development of a web tool that visualizes the potentials of the energy transition in the model regions. The consequences of the energy transition and possible climate change scenarios in the regional environment are made transparent based on images "morphed" using different future scenarios. The effects of one's personal and collective decisions (e.g. personal/communal energy supply, personal/communal energy use, consumption behavior, etc.) are also taken into account and the effects on, for example, personal energy costs, energy consumption or also of sustainable consumption options are presented.

The sub-project “Sociological concepts, participatory strategies and societal trade-offs of the energy transition" begins with research on and evaluation of current energy transition- and climate change scenarios. This contributes to identifying central parameters of the energy transition as well as research gaps and challenges in order to define first developmental steps for the visualization tool. Based on the initial research, a three-stage workshop concept will be developed for the selected model regions (Berlin and Neuerkirch, Rhineland-Palatinate). Key stakeholders including local energy suppliers, civil society organizations, sustainable companies and startups, municipal and city administration offices, and other relevant groups in the model regions are invited to participate. The main goal is to generate in-depth knowledge on strategies, challenges, and best practices on energy transitions. The Workshops' documentation will serve as a basis for qualitative evaluation and data analysis. They will be used as a basis for communication with key stakeholders and for the integration of sociological knowledge in the development of the visualization tool. Citizens of the model regions and beyond get the chance to evaluate the tool to make sure that it will be designed in a participatory manner. Usage behavior and feedback will be analyzed as a basis for the further development of the visualization tool. The findings of the stakeholder workshops and the participatory tool development process are central pillars of the knowledge transfer.

Tokenization and the financial market (ToFi)

Cooperation with the Centre Responsible Digitality (ZEVEDI), Darmstadt

Duration: 01.02.2023-31.12.2023

Project lead: Prof. Dr. Barbara Brandl

Project partners: 

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Omlor, LL.M. (NYU), LL.M. Eur., Philipps-Universität Marburg
Prof. Dr. Julia Lübke, LL.M. (Harvard), EBS Universität
Prof. Dr. Florian Möslein, Dipl.-Kfm., LLM (London), Philipps-Universität Marburg
Prof. Dr. Dominik Skauradszun, LL.M. Taxation, Fulda University of Applied Sciences
Prof. Dr. Nils Urbach, Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences
Dr. Carola Westermeier, Goethe University Frankfurt a. M. 

Associate: Lilith Dieterich, M.A.

The legally secure linking of assets with blockchain tokens (tokenization) is a central field of innovation and application of blockchain technology. In this way, it is possible to create a security in the functional sense that does not require the classic paper deed. Tokenization is of particular importance in the area of financial markets, as a significantly expanded group of assets can become marketable and tradable as a result; at the same time, visible efficiency benefits could be drawn from the elimination of intermediaries and further process automation. Tokenization particularly has a key role to play regarding Decentralized Finance (DeFi). The project group is comprehensively researching the normative, legal-political, and technical-conceptual implications of the phenomenon of tokenization for financial markets.

Standards of Governance

Research Training Group at TU Darmstadt and Goethe University

Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Jens Steffeck (TU Darmstadt)

Associate: David Hengsbach, M.A.

The concept of good governance is in use all over the world and is promoted actively by international organizations such as the World Bank and the OECD. It comprises some rather general governance norms such as transparency, participation, and accountability but also quite specific ones such as gender equality, anti-corruption, and systematic evaluation of policies. Catalogues of good governance norms are codified by many institutions, public and private, and they are competing with each other. Standards of governance become influential in practice when indicators are defined, compliance is measured and rankings are made. They are usually codified by Western institutions but pretend to be universally applicable. Standards of governance are used to measure the performance of organizations in the public and the private sector alike. Today, states and cities, companies and hedge funds, public agencies, and NGOs are all ranked on lists according to their good governance performance.

As for the public sector, the rise of good governance norms and practices is often seen as an instance of technocratization that has the potential to replace the ideals and practices of representative democracy. Against this background, the research training group formulates a twofold research question, which is to be addressed jointly by junior researchers and the PIs. From an empirical-analytical perspective, they seek to investigate why conceptions of good governance have become so popular, how they are implemented in practice, and what (possibly unintended) consequences this may have. From a normative perspective, they are wondering what this implies for the future of democracy.

More on TU Darmstadt's website

Understanding the Role of Green Bonds in Promoting Sustainability in Brown Industries by Using the Example of the Chemical Industry

Funded by the GU Excellence Initiative

Duration: 1.11.2022 – 31.10.2023

Project lead: Prof. Dr. Barbara Brandl

Project partners:
Prof. Dr. Flurina Schneider (Institute for Social-Ecological Research ISOE, Frankfurt/Main)
Prof. Dr. Jörg Oehlmann (Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main)

Associate: Malte Simon, M.A.

The transition to a more sustainable economy does not progress at the speed that would be ecologically necessary as well as technologically conceivable. Especially after the 2015 Paris Agreement, however, several public actors presented measures to increase investment in "sustainable" projects to accelerate the diffusion of green technologies. The most important financial innovation to encourage investment in sustainable technologies are Green Bonds and the attached certification schemes that label certain types of investments as "green" such as the EU Taxonomy. Research on green bonds, be it in finance or in economic sociology, tends to focus on very specific questions such as the varying yields of green vs. conventional bonds. Broader research designs that seek to understand the construction of green bonds as an instrument for the transition to more sustainable economies on the other hand are very rare. This is especially true for research on the role of green bonds in so-called "brown" industries, such as the chemical industry. This is surprising, since "brown" industries cannot simply be shut down in total but will have to transition to more sustainable forms of production. The study is, therefore, one of the first empirical attempts to qualitatively understand the operating principles of green bonds in the chemical industry and their role in the transition to a more sustainable industry.

Technology instead of Institutions?

The Blockchain-technology as a threat to the banking system

Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Project no.: 406907010

Duration: March 2020 – Feburary 2023

Project lead: Prof. Dr. Barbara Brandl

Associate: Lilith Dietrich, M.A.

The most well-known application of blockchain technology is arguably Bitcoin, the first digital currency (crypto-currency) that can be used to process transactions worldwide in a decentralized payment system. Following its development, it quickly became apparent that the applications of blockchain go far beyond digital currencies. A range of commercial players, initially start-ups, but also banks and traditional IT companies were motivated to participate in the further development of this technology. Blockchain has the potential to eliminate the (power) authority of not only states, but also banks and credit card companies, which were previously necessary to validate transactions. Using blockchain technology, transactions of all kinds, from payments to the contractual determination of ownership titles, can now be carried out on a peer-to-peer basis and no longer need to be verified by a third party.

This research project questions the feasibility of the blockchain proponents' intention to make all intermediaries unnecessary and replace them with decentralized peer-to-peer networks. This question is not only of theoretical interest but is also relevant from a sociological and political-economic perspective, since its answer touches the very foundations of the capitalist social order which is based on centralized exchange systems with dominant actors, such as central banks.

Based on the thesis that technology never exists "just because", but rather develops in a complex interplay of regulation and technological development, this research project focuses on the interaction between the institutional architectures of nation-states that are available to actors in the coordination of technological projects, as well as the technological developments of blockchain technology.

The following questions, among others, will be specifically examined in this research project: (1) Which actors are capable of appropriating the potentially revolutionary blockchain technology and how does this appropriation change the technology itself? (2) What role does regulation by nation states or supranational actors play in this process? (3) How do the basic institutions of capitalist societies, such as money and debt, change through this technological process?

Methodologically, these questions will be investigated through qualitative interviews with employees from government ministries, public authorities, banks and start-ups in Germany and the USA, and by participating in and observing relevant conferences. Concurrently, all texts that emerge as pre-forms of laws regulating blockchain in the financial sector will be analyzed in terms of content. The comparison between Germany and the USA will attempt to identify patterns in the intertwining of technology and regulation.


Prof. Dr. Barbara Brandl writes a Post for the LSE-Blog about „How the cashless revolution worsens inequality“

› Go to blog post


Barbara Brandl writes for the e-fin blog about the connection between the digitalisation of money and social inequality.

› Go to blog post (German)


The article The challenges of assets: Anatomy of an economic form by Ute Tellmann, Veit Braun and Barbara Brandl was published in Economy and Society. 

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The Socio-Economic Review publishes the article Small money, large profits: how the cashless revolution aggravates social inequality (Brandl, Hengsbach & Moreno, 2024).

› Go to the article


Prof. Dr. Barbara Brandl spoke at  Finance Watch's event The Digital Euro: Steps to Success (October 25th, 2023) on the topic 'The Digital Euro: What For and Why Now'. 

› Go to the event


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Prof. Dr. Barbara Brandl

Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Department of Social Sciences 03
Institute for Sociology

Chair of Sociology with a Focus on Organization and Economy

Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 6
60629 Frankfurt am Main

Room 3.G 080
Phone 069 798-36597

Office Hours

During the summer semester 2024, office hours will take place on the following days:

22.4., 6.5., 13.5., 24.5., 17.6., 24.6.

each at 9.30 a.m. via Zoom. 

If you want to come to the office hours, please confirm via email with Doreen Molnar ( She will then send you the Zoom link.