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Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate
Chapter 7: Society's metabolism: on the childhood and adolescence of a rising conceptual star
7. Society’s metabolism: on the childhood and adolescence of a rising conceptual star Marina Fischer-Kowalski INTRODUCTION In one of the founding articles on environmental sociology, Catton and Dunlap (1978) claimed it would not suffice if environmental sociology turned into just another subgroup within the discipline. Instead, it would have to offer a new paradigm, a fundamental concept of society differing from the hegemonic ‘human exceptionalism paradigm’. This new paradigm should view humans as but one of many species interlaced in the ‘web of nature’, in which purposive human action produces many unintended consequences, and it should accept that the world is physically and biologically limited (Catton and Dunlap, 1978: 45; see also Catton and Dunlap, 1980). This paradigm should support the study of interaction between society and the environment, the core task of environmental sociology (Schnaiberg, 1980). Could a view of society as having a material and energetic metabolism and, therefore, depending upon continuous energetic and material flows from and to its environment, provide a core concept of such a paradigm? And could the study of the social (that is economic, technological and cultural) regulation of society’s metabolism become a genuine sociological task of highly practical value in view of the ecological problems confronting industrial society? Contemporary research on human-induced global environmental change increasingly focuses on two broad and overlapping fields of study:’ One of them is industrial metabolism,2 focusing on the flow of materials and energy in modern industrial society through the chain of extraction, production, consumption...
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