The Social Embeddedness of Industrial Ecology
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The Social Embeddedness of Industrial Ecology

Edited by Frank Boons and Jennifer Howard-Grenville

Most work on industrial ecology continues to emphasize its roots in engineering and the technological sciences. This book differs in that it explores the social context of industrial ecology and presents empirical work addressing how cognitive, cultural, political and structural mechanisms condition the emergence and operation of industrial ecology. The empirical chapters are written from various social science perspectives and the editors have also invited reflective commentaries by authors with cross-disciplinary experiences.
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Chapter 10: A Critical View on the Social Science Contribution to Industrial Ecology

John Ehrenfeld


John Ehrenfeld Before offering a critical view, I must confess that I am not a social scientist by training. My roots lie in the world of science and technology, having been trained as a chemical engineer. I have been immersed in the conversations of industrial ecology since the field was born and feel comfortable talking about it. My bona fides in social science come from more than 20 years working with and learning from students on organizational and institutional research projects, and thinking and writing about normative concerns ranging from recycling policies to the grand theme of sustainability. At the outset of any critique, one must ask what is being examined. The title suggested to me is too general as a guide. To find a focus, let me then pose a few questions to set the context. The very first step is to ask what is this subject, industrial ecology, and then within whatever description we determine, to ask whether we are looking at social science as generating descriptions (epistemological), or prescriptions (normative), and finally, as a means for implementation (practical). There may certainly be other categories that would be useful, but these three seem to ground virtually all activities that could fall within the field. I am not writing a critique of the social sciences in general – trying to see it only in relationship to industrial ecology, but I will spill over this sharp boundary at times. DEFINING INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY So then what is industrial ecology? In any social...

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