E-Mail Alert

Add your e-mail address to receive forthcoming issues of this journal:

Journal Browser

Journal Browser

Special Issue "Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Social Ecology and Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (6 February 2017)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Johanna Kramm

ISOE—Institute for Social-Ecological Research, Frankfurt am Main
E-Mail
Phone: +49 69 707 69 19-16
Interests: social ecology, social-ecological risk research, science-policy interface
Guest Editor
Dr. Melanie Pichler

Institute of Social Ecology Vienna, Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt
Website | E-Mail
Phone: +43 1 522 4000 426
Interests: political ecology, socio-ecological transformation, critical state, hegemony and democracy theories, socio-ecological conflicts
Guest Editor
Dr. Anke Schaffartzik

Institute of Social Ecology, Schottenfeldgasse 29, A-1070 Vienna, Austria
Website | E-Mail
Interests: material flow analysis; trade; biomass
Guest Editor
Dr. Martin Zimmermann

ISOE—Institute for Social-Ecological Research, Frankfurt
Website | E-Mail
Phone: +49 69 707 69 19-44
Interests: transformations of socio-technological systems, multi-criteria sustainability assessment, novel water infrastructures, water reuse, vulnerability of critical infrastructures

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Over the last decades, social ecology has made important contributions to interdisciplinary sustainability studies. Established in the late 1980s, social ecology was developed as a deliberate provocation to the more ‘disciplined’ natural and social science environmental research. With its focus on the specific interrelations between societies and their natural environment (consisting of social and biophysical processes), it has challenged disciplinary assumptions about environmental problems. The particular conceptualization of society-nature interrelations in social ecology yields strong arguments for the necessity of inter- and transdisciplinary analyses of and responses to the ecological crisis which integrate different knowledge types and stakeholder perspectives.

While both the hybrid subject matter and the inter- and transdisciplinary approach were highly contested at the beginning, social ecology is now widely accepted within sustainability research and beyond. The contributions to this special issue should take stock of these developments and evaluate major conceptual and empirical achievements and current frontiers of social ecology.

Inter- and transdisciplinarity are fundamentally integrated into the social ecology research framework. This integration rests on the development of concepts and methods for the specific purpose of this type of research. Through the transdisciplinary participation of societal actors, socio‑ecological research is faced with both the advantage and challenge of working with heterogeneous knowledge. The concept of regulation and transformation of societal relations to nature as well as the model of social-ecological provisioning systems (SEPS), for example, can be used to specify these interrelations and can be combined with analytical tools such as an ideal model of a transdisciplinary research process and social-ecological lifestyle analysis. A strong focus on the systemic framework within which these society-nature relations can be researched has led to the development of socio-economic metabolism research. The concepts of metabolism and of colonization help to characterize society-nature relations and are complemented by analytical tools such as material flow accounting and the human appropriation of net primary production.

The aim of this special issue is not to present one monolithic approach to social ecology but to present the variety in the existing research, to discuss how mutual irritation can be productive and to reflect on how the different conceptual achievements must be understood in light of the current socio‑ecological challenges to which they respond.

Dr. Johanna Kramm
Dr. Melanie Pichler
Dr. Anke Schaffartzik
Dr. Martin Zimmermann
Guest Editors

Please note that the submission window is open only from 24 January 2017–6 February 2017. Manuscripts submitted before 24 January 2017 will not be processed until the 24 January 2017. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline on 6 February 2017.

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Social ecology
  • Interdisciplinary sustainability studies
  • Transdisciplinarity
  • Society-nature relations
  • Sustainability research
  • Concepts and methods

Published Papers (11 papers)

View options order results:
result details:
Displaying articles 1-11
Export citation of selected articles as:
Open AccessEditorial Societal Relations to Nature in Times of Crisis—Social Ecology’s Contributions to Interdisciplinary Sustainability Studies
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1042; doi:10.3390/su9071042
Received: 8 February 2017 / Accepted: 15 February 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (449 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
During the second half of the 20th century, the crisis of societal relations to nature emerged as the subject of an international scientific, political, and popular debate. Anthropogenic climate change, loss of biodiversity, resource peaks, or local air and water pollution are symptoms
[...] Read more.
During the second half of the 20th century, the crisis of societal relations to nature emerged as the subject of an international scientific, political, and popular debate. Anthropogenic climate change, loss of biodiversity, resource peaks, or local air and water pollution are symptoms of this crisis. Social ecology provides an inter- and transdisciplinary take on sustainability research and is well-equipped to respond to the research challenges associated with this crisis. Social ecology comprises different schools of thought, of which two initiated this special issue on “State of the Art and Future Prospects” for the research field. The approaches to social ecology of the ISOE—Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Frankfurt, Germany, and the Institute of Social Ecology (SEC) in Vienna, Austria are based on a common understanding of the challenges posed by social-ecological crises. In how these social ecologies tackle their research questions, conceptual differences become evident. In this article, we provide an overview of social ecology research as it is conducted in Frankfurt and in Vienna. We discuss how this research responds to the ongoing crisis and conclude by identifying important future prospects for social ecology. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle Social Ecology as Critical, Transdisciplinary Science—Conceptualizing, Analyzing and Shaping Societal Relations to Nature
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1050; doi:10.3390/su9071050
Received: 31 January 2017 / Revised: 3 April 2017 / Accepted: 8 April 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (851 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The sustainability discourse is, essentially, centered on the question of how complex relations between nature and society can be conceptualized, analyzed and shaped. In this paper, we present a specific interpretation of social ecology as an attempt to address this question. For this
[...] Read more.
The sustainability discourse is, essentially, centered on the question of how complex relations between nature and society can be conceptualized, analyzed and shaped. In this paper, we present a specific interpretation of social ecology as an attempt to address this question. For this purpose, we establish Frankfurt Social Ecology (FSE) as a formal research program, which is based on the concept of societal relations to nature (SRN). The basic idea of the SRN concept is to put the modern distinction between nature and society at the start of a critical analysis. Such an analysis, we argue, has to focus on the interplay between what we call patterns and modes of regulation. Whereas patterns of regulation stand for the material and symbolic aspects of the organization of the individual and societal satisfaction of needs, modes of regulation mirror the norms and power structures of a society. Using an approach that is based on reformulating social-ecological systems as provisioning systems, we show how this interplay can be analyzed empirically. Finally, we propose critical transdisciplinarity as the research mode of choice of FSE. To conclude, we discuss how FSE can contribute to the development of a research program for a sustainable Anthropocene. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle Challenges for Social-Ecological Transformations: Contributions from Social and Political Ecology
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1045; doi:10.3390/su9071045
Received: 6 February 2017 / Revised: 31 May 2017 / Accepted: 4 June 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (294 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Transformation has become a major topic of sustainability research. This opens up new perspectives, but at the same time, runs the danger to convert into a new critical orthodoxy which narrows down analytical perspectives. Most research is committed towards a political-strategic approach towards
[...] Read more.
Transformation has become a major topic of sustainability research. This opens up new perspectives, but at the same time, runs the danger to convert into a new critical orthodoxy which narrows down analytical perspectives. Most research is committed towards a political-strategic approach towards transformation. This focus, however, clashes with ongoing transformation processes towards un-sustainability. The paper presents cornerstones of an integrative approach to social-ecological transformations (SET), which builds upon empirical work and conceptual considerations from Social Ecology and Political Ecology. We argue that a critical understanding of the challenges for societal transformations can be advanced by focusing on the interdependencies between societies and the natural environment. This starting point provides a more realistic understanding of the societal and biophysical constraints of sustainability transformations by emphasising the crisis-driven and contested character of the appropriation of nature and the power relations involved. Moreover, it pursues a transdisciplinary mode of research, decisive for adequately understanding any strategy for transformations towards sustainability. Such a conceptual approach of SET is supposed to better integrate the analytical, normative and political-strategic dimension of transformation research. We use the examples of global land use patterns, neo-extractivism in Latin America and the global water crisis to clarify our approach. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Open AccessArticle How the Social-Ecological Systems Concept Can Guide Transdisciplinary Research and Implementation: Addressing Water Challenges in Central Northern Namibia
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1109; doi:10.3390/su9071109
Received: 6 February 2017 / Revised: 13 June 2017 / Accepted: 16 June 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
PDF Full-text (1995 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Research aimed at contributing to the further development of integrated water resources management needs to tackle complex challenges at the interface of nature and society. A case study in the Cuvelai-Etosha Basin in Namibia has shown how semi-arid conditions coinciding with high population
[...] Read more.
Research aimed at contributing to the further development of integrated water resources management needs to tackle complex challenges at the interface of nature and society. A case study in the Cuvelai-Etosha Basin in Namibia has shown how semi-arid conditions coinciding with high population density and urbanisation present a risk to people’s livelihoods and ecosystem health. In order to increase water security and promote sustainable water management, there is a requirement for problem-oriented research approaches combined with a new way of thinking about water in order to generate evidence-based, adapted solutions. Transdisciplinary research in particular addresses this issue by focusing on the problems that arise when society interacts with nature. This article presents the implementation of a transdisciplinary research approach in the above-mentioned case study. The concept of social-ecological systems (SES) plays a key role in operationalising the transdisciplinary research process. Application of the SES concept helps to outline the problem by defining the epistemic object, as well as structure the research process itself in terms of formulating research questions and developing the research design. It is argued here that the SES concept is not merely useful, but also necessary for guiding transdisciplinary sustainability research and implementation. The study from Namibia clearly demonstrates that the introduction of technological innovations such as rainwater and floodwater harvesting plants requires a social-ecological perspective. In particular this means considering questions around knowledge, practices and institutions related to water resources management and includes various societal innovations alongside technologies on the agenda. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle Ecosystem Services as a Boundary Concept: Arguments from Social Ecology
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1107; doi:10.3390/su9071107
Received: 4 February 2017 / Revised: 20 May 2017 / Accepted: 16 June 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (1874 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Ecosystem services (ES) are defined as the interdependencies between society and nature. Despite several years of conceptual discussions, some challenges of the ES concept are far from being resolved. In particular, the usefulness of the concept for nature protection is questioned, and a
[...] Read more.
Ecosystem services (ES) are defined as the interdependencies between society and nature. Despite several years of conceptual discussions, some challenges of the ES concept are far from being resolved. In particular, the usefulness of the concept for nature protection is questioned, and a strong critique is expressed concerning its contribution towards the neoliberal commodification of nature. This paper argues that these challenges can be addressed by dealing more carefully with ES as a boundary concept between different disciplines and between science and society. ES are neither about nature nor about human wellbeing, but about the mutual dependencies between nature and human wellbeing. These mutual interdependencies, however, create tensions and contradictions that manifest themselves in the boundary negotiations between different scientific disciplines and between science and society. This paper shows that approaches from Social Ecology can address these boundary negotiations and the power relations involved more explicitly. Finally, this implies the urgent need for more inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration in ES research. We conclude (1) that the social–ecological nature of ES must be elaborated more carefully while explicitly focussing on the interdependencies between nature and society; (2) to better implement inter- and transdisciplinary methods into ES research; and (3) that such ES research can—and to some extent already does—substantially enhance international research programmes such as Future Earth. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle Social-Ecological Dynamics of Ecosystem Services: Livelihoods and the Functional Relation between Ecosystem Service Supply and Demand—Evidence from Socotra Archipelago, Yemen and the Sahel Region, West Africa
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1037; doi:10.3390/su9071037
Received: 27 January 2017 / Revised: 1 June 2017 / Accepted: 6 June 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (4434 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In aiming to halt global biodiversity loss, it is essential to address underlying societal processes. The concept of ecosystem services claims to bridge between biodiversity and society. At the same time there is a considerable research gap regarding how ecosystem services are provided,
[...] Read more.
In aiming to halt global biodiversity loss, it is essential to address underlying societal processes. The concept of ecosystem services claims to bridge between biodiversity and society. At the same time there is a considerable research gap regarding how ecosystem services are provided, and how societal activities and dynamics influence the provision of ecosystem services. Interactions and dependencies between ecosystem services supply and demand come to the fore but context-specific dynamics have largely been neglected. This article is a critical reflection on the current research of ecosystem services supply and demand. We argue that there is a functional relation between the supply and demand for ecosystem services, with the two influencing each other. Scientific interest should focus on both the temporal and spatial dynamics of ecosystem services supply and demand. Presenting two studies from Socotra Archipelago, Yemen and the Sahel regions in Senegal and Mali, West Africa, we illustrate that the society behind the demand for ecosystem services is highly interrelated with ecosystem services supply. We thus advocate the adoption of a social-ecological perspective for current research on ecosystem services supply and demand in order to address these context-specific temporal and spatial dynamics. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle More Energy and Less Work, but New Crises: How the Societal Metabolism-Labour Nexus Changes from Agrarian to Industrial Societies
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1041; doi:10.3390/su9071041
Received: 30 January 2017 / Revised: 3 May 2017 / Accepted: 4 June 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
PDF Full-text (6520 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The scientific finding that humanity is overburdening nature and thus risks further ecological crises is almost uncontroversial. Main reason for the crises is the drastic increase in the societal metabolism, which is accomplished through labour. In this article, we examine the societal metabolism-labour
[...] Read more.
The scientific finding that humanity is overburdening nature and thus risks further ecological crises is almost uncontroversial. Main reason for the crises is the drastic increase in the societal metabolism, which is accomplished through labour. In this article, we examine the societal metabolism-labour nexus in two energy regimes: a valley in the Ethiopian highlands, typical of an agrarian society, and a village in Austria, typical of an industrial society. In the Ethiopian village, the supply of food demands almost the entire labour force, thus limiting the capacity to facilitate material flows beyond food provision. In the Austrian village, fewer working hours, lower workloads but 50 times higher useful energy allow to accumulate stocks like buildings 70 times higher than the Ethiopian case. With fossil energy, industrial societies decisively expand their energy supply and reduce labour hours at the cost of high carbon emissions, which are almost non-existent in the Ethiopian case. To overcome the resulting ecological crises, there is a call to drastically reduce fossil fuel consumption. Such an abandonment of fossil fuels might have as far reaching consequences for the societal metabolism-labour nexus and consequently human labour as the introduction of fossil fuels has had. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle More Than a Potential Hazard—Approaching Risks from a Social-Ecological Perspective
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1039; doi:10.3390/su9071039
Received: 30 January 2017 / Revised: 9 May 2017 / Accepted: 27 May 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
PDF Full-text (1039 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Risks have been classically understood as a probability of damage or a potential hazard resulting in appropriate management strategies. However, research on environmental issues such as pollutants in the aquatic environment or the impacts of climate change have shown that classical management approaches
[...] Read more.
Risks have been classically understood as a probability of damage or a potential hazard resulting in appropriate management strategies. However, research on environmental issues such as pollutants in the aquatic environment or the impacts of climate change have shown that classical management approaches do not sufficiently cover these interactions between society and nature. There have been several attempts to develop interdisciplinary approaches to risk that include natural as well as social science contributions. In this paper, the authors aim at developing a social-ecological perspective on risk by drawing on the concept of societal relations to nature and the model of provisioning systems. This perspective is used to analyze four cases, pharmaceuticals, microplastics, semicentralized water infrastructures and forest management, with regard to risk identification, assessment and management. Finally, the paper aims at developing a perspective on risks which takes into account non-intended side-effects, system interdependencies and uncertainty. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle Extractive Economies in Material and Political Terms: Broadening the Analytical Scope
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1047; doi:10.3390/su9071047
Received: 3 February 2017 / Revised: 17 May 2017 / Accepted: 19 May 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
PDF Full-text (848 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In order to curb environmental impact, absolute resource use reductions are urgently needed. To reach this goal, multi-scalar synergies and trade-offs in global resource use must be effectively addressed. We propose that better understanding the role of extractive economies—economies that extract raw material
[...] Read more.
In order to curb environmental impact, absolute resource use reductions are urgently needed. To reach this goal, multi-scalar synergies and trade-offs in global resource use must be effectively addressed. We propose that better understanding the role of extractive economies—economies that extract raw material for export—in global resource use patterns is a prerequisite to identifying such synergies and trade-offs. By combining a system-wide environmental accounting perspective with insights from political ecology and political economy research, we demonstrate that (1) the extractivist expansion may be the corollary of reduced immediate environmental impact in the industrialized countries; and (2) the material flow patterns on which this result is based do not suffice to identify the mechanisms underlying extractivist development and its role in global resource use. Our work on extractive economies illustrates that, in order to supply transformative knowledge for sustainability transformation, biophysical and socio-political conceptualizations of society-nature relations must be more strongly integrated within the interdisciplinary sustainability sciences in general and social ecology in particular. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessArticle Surplus, Scarcity and Soil Fertility in Pre-Industrial Austrian Agriculture—The Sustainability Costs of Inequality
Sustainability 2017, 9(2), 265; doi:10.3390/su9020265
Received: 15 November 2016 / Accepted: 2 February 2017 / Published: 13 February 2017
PDF Full-text (575 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
This paper takes a Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) perspective to integrate important aspects of social inequality into Socio-Ecological Metabolism (SEM) research. SEM has dealt with biophysical features of pre-industrial agricultural systems from a largely apolitical perspective, neglecting social relations and conditions of peasant
[...] Read more.
This paper takes a Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) perspective to integrate important aspects of social inequality into Socio-Ecological Metabolism (SEM) research. SEM has dealt with biophysical features of pre-industrial agricultural systems from a largely apolitical perspective, neglecting social relations and conditions of peasant production and reproduction. One of the politically and economically most important manorial systems in Early Modern Austria (Grundherrschaft Grafenegg) serves as a case study to reconstruct the unequal distribution of central resources between ruling landlords and subjected peasants. We show that peasant land use systems generated small surpluses only, whereas landlords enjoyed significant economies of scale. Furthermore, we explore what these conditions of landlord surplus and peasant scarcity implied for their respective agro-ecological sustainability. Finally, we argue that within pre-industrial agrarian systems sustainability costs of inequality were severely limiting margins for agricultural intensification and growth of peasant economies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Open AccessCommentary The Material Stock–Flow–Service Nexus: A New Approach for Tackling the Decoupling Conundrum
Sustainability 2017, 9(7), 1049; doi:10.3390/su9071049
Received: 6 February 2017 / Revised: 12 April 2017 / Accepted: 10 May 2017 / Published: 26 June 2017
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (1225 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Fundamental changes in the societal use of biophysical resources are required for a sustainability transformation. Current socioeconomic metabolism research traces flows of energy, materials or substances to capture resource use: input of raw materials or energy, their fate in production and consumption, and
[...] Read more.
Fundamental changes in the societal use of biophysical resources are required for a sustainability transformation. Current socioeconomic metabolism research traces flows of energy, materials or substances to capture resource use: input of raw materials or energy, their fate in production and consumption, and the discharge of wastes and emissions. This approach has yielded important insights into eco-efficiency and long-term drivers of resource use. But socio-metabolic research has not yet fully incorporated material stocks or their services, hence not completely exploiting the analytic power of the metabolism concept. This commentary argues for a material stock–flow–service nexus approach focused on the analysis of interrelations between material and energy flows, socioeconomic material stocks (“in-use stocks of materials”) and the services provided by specific stock/flow combinations. Analyzing the interrelations between stocks, flows and services will allow researchers to develop highly innovative indicators of eco-efficiency and open new research directions that will help to better understand biophysical foundations of transformations towards sustainability. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Ecology. State of the Art and Future Prospects)
Figures

Figure 1

Journal Contact

MDPI AG
Sustainability Editorial Office
St. Alban-Anlage 66, 4052 Basel, Switzerland
E-Mail: 
Tel. +41 61 683 77 34
Fax: +41 61 302 89 18
Editorial Board
Contact Details Submit to Sustainability Edit a special issue Review for Sustainability
logo
loading...
Back to Top