The Vienna School of Social Ecology – an Enrichment or Too Interdisciplinary a Challenge for Environmental Sociology?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Marina FISCHER-KOWALSKI, Institute for Social Ecology, Austria
Anke SCHAFFARTZIK, Institute of Social Ecology, Austria
We see Social Ecology as a highly dynamic interdisciplinary research area, drawing on several academic fields, such as on sociology and various natural sciences. The common denominator of this research field is not so much a shared label, but a shared paradigm. Its core axioms are that human social and natural systems interact, co-evolve over time, and have substantial impacts upon one another, with causality pointing in both directions. From this follows a need to develop concepts and methods that allow dealing with social and natural structures and processes on an equal epistemological footing.

The Vienna School of social ecology has evolved over the past 25 years. It revolves around two core concepts: social metabolism and colonization of nature. Social metabolism describes a systemic process by which social systems maintain themselves by energetic and material exchange, thereby using natural resources and generating wastes and emissions. There is an elaborate metric for this (MEFA material and energy flow accounting) that became also standard statistics used by Eurostat. Colonization – deliberate social interventions from the part of society into natural systems – is a concept that helps to link human labour processes to environmental impacts. One of the metrics for this is HANPP (human appropriation of net primary production), and it supports the analysis of land use and land use change. Another feature of the Vienna School is its dealings with long-term processes and developing a theory of socio-metabolic regimes and regime transitions that may also help to understand a potential sustainability transition. Finally, these concepts and methods are applied in many policy contexts, such as globally contributing to UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, to European resource policy programs and to participatory processes in small island development.