Linking material and energy flow analyses and social theory

Schiller, Frank (2009). Linking material and energy flow analyses and social theory. Ecological Economics, 68(6) pp. 1676–1686.



The paper explores the potential of Habermas' theory of communicative action to alter the social reflexivity of material and energy flow analysis. With his social macro theory Habermas has provided an alternative, critical justification for social theory that can be distinguished from economic libertarianism and from political liberalism. Implicitly, most flow approaches draw from these theoretical traditions rather than from discourse theory. There are several types of material and energy flow analyses. While these concepts basically share a system theoretical view, they lack a specific interdisciplinary perspective that ties the fundamental insight of flows to disciplinary scientific development. Instead of simply expanding micro-models to the social macro-dimension social theory suggests infusing the very notion of flows to the progress of disciplines. With regard to the functional integration of society, material and energy flow analyses can rely on the paradigm of ecological economics and at the same time progress the debate between strong and weak sustainability within the paradigm. However, placing economics at the centre of their functional analyses may still ignore the broader social integration of society, depending on their pre-analytic outline of research and the methods used.

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