Edited by Joan Martínez-Alier and Roldan Muradian
Chapter 5: Social metabolism: a metric for biophysical growth and degrowth
Addressing a social system’s metabolism means looking upon its economy in terms of biophysical stocks and flows. The term ‘metabolism’ evokes an organismic analogy: metabolism is the process by which an organism builds up and maintains its structures through exchanging energy and materials with its environment throughout its life. Such an analogy is warranted for social entities that share some of the key system characteristics of organisms: the ability to create and reproduce their own elements, a high degree of internal interdependency between system compartments, and the ability to reproduce a clear boundary vis-à-vis their environment while exchanging energy and materials. ‘The substantive meaning of economics derives from man’s dependence for his living upon nature and his fellows. It refers to the interchange with his natural and social environment, insofar as this results in supplying him with the means of material want satisfaction’ (Polanyi, 1968, p. 139).
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