Building knowledge for change: methodologies and ontologies for investigating socio-metabolic regimes

Despite the claims promising a reduction of greenhouse gases to mitigate the climate crisis, the accumulation of these gases in the atmosphere is increasing day by day, as is the consumption of nature, which is at the root of climate change. Reversing these societal metabolic trends is first and foremost a scientific challenge, as a good understanding of the factors at play is needed to define effective strategies to guide societies towards stable decarbonisation. Beyond the mere quantification of the impacts of human activities, a deeper understanding of the processes responsible for their production is therefore particularly urgent. The policy and scientific community can rely on many well-established tools to account for the inputs (energy and materials) and outputs (waste and emissions) that shape the metabolism of socio-material systems (such as the 'footprint family' or material flow analysis or Life Cycle Assessment or Input/Output Analysis). Despite the robustness of these approaches in terms of measuring social impact on the planet, the social mechanisms by which this impact is likely to be produced still remain a black box, thus hampering any effort to achieve a concrete and sustainable breakthrough. 

An interesting alternative in this respect is MUSIASEM - Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism. Being the operation of an interesting narrative focused on the interaction between scales and functions of the social system, this approach is able to identify different metabolic patterns, measure their impact on natural and social systems and assign them to specific social configurations. 

The workshop aimed to promote an informed discussion among experts on MUSIASEM with a focus on presenting its current use and potential applications and exploring potential contaminations from both methodological and conceptual perspectives.

The first part of the Seminar presented the logics and the main operational tools that define the MUSIASEM approach with the objective of providing critical insights and observations on this tool in order to clarify its real potential in identifying and significantly qualifying material flows across socio-material systems.

The second part aims to open the black box of the social dynamics, organisation and regulation of the production/consumption complex through which these material flows are produced and driven. Understanding the social basis of metabolic flows could mitigate or resolve conflicts that, given the current structure of metabolic regimes, may arise from the implementation of sustainable policies. What often happens, in fact, is that as soon as changes in these flows occur, people immediately rebel against these changes. This shows that the road to decoupling economic growth from material consumption is very difficult to achieve. To avoid a conflictual 'politics of suffering' we need a new understanding of how metabolic regimes affect the social conditions of reproduction to find ways in which institutions and communities begin to regulate, plan, and manage these flows based on principles of socio-material justice.

22 November 2019 10:00am-5:00pm

Aula 3D233, CLE, Univeristà di Torino


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