Abstract: At the core of ecological economics is the image of the economy as an open system embedded in the natural environment whose carrying capacity is limited. The present paper revisits this image by drawing upon Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory. To Luhmann, the modern society consists of a multitude of social systems each bringing forth and observing their own environments. If the Luhmannian vision is accepted, then ecological economics can be said to privilege the observational perspective of natural sciences. The unfortunate consequence of this privileging is the underestimation of a broad range of multidimensional sustainability risks which are foregrounded by the numerous alternative observational perspectives which are just as legitimate. It is argued that, rather than relativizing the sustainability concerns of the modern ecological economics, the Luhmannian perspective generalizes and radicalizes them. In doing so, the latter perspective opens new possibilities not only for navigating these risks but also for envisioning new resources and solutions.
Keywords: Nature; environment; ecology; social systems; social differentiation; triple bottom line.
The full paper is available for download here.
Suggested citation: Roth S. and Valentinov V. (2020). East of nature. Accounting for the environments of social sciences. Ecological Economics, Vol. 176, 106734 [SSCI 4.482, Scopus, CNRS****, CABS***, VHB***].