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Sustainability science: New book on society-nature interaction

A new book, which is published just in time for the 3rd ISA Forum of Sociology 2016 in Vienna, comprehensively presents the current state-of-the-art of the Vienna School of Social Ecology. The conceptual repertoire of Social Ecology is exemplified by a cornucopia of empirical studies presenting exciting new research.

This book presents the current state of the art in Social Ecology as practiced by the Vienna School of Social Ecology, globally one of the leading research groups in this new and interdisciplinary field. The editors Helmut Haberl, Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Fridolin Krausmann and Verena Winiwarter gave distinction to this school.

As a significant contribution to the growing literature on interdisciplinary sustainability science, the book introduces the purpose and nature of Social Ecology and places the “Vienna School” within the broader context of socioecological and other interdisciplinary environmental approaches.

The conceptual and methodological foundations of Social Ecology are discussed in detail, allowing the reader to obtain a broad overview of current socioecological thinking. “We really aim at a general theory on how society and nature interact. So it must apply, and this we probe into with our research, across very different types of societies, across many spatial scales from the village to the globe, and across history” says Marina Fischer-Kowalski, founder of the Institute.

Issues covered include socio-metabolic transitions, socioecological approaches to land use, the relation between actor-centered and system approaches, a socioecological theory of labor or the importance of long term legacies of human interaction with the natural environment, as conceived in Environmental History and in Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research. To underpin this overview of the conceptual foundations empirically, the strengths of socioecological research are elucidated in cases of cutting-edge research, introducing a variety of themes the Vienna School has been tackling empirically over the past years. “From our work, one can learn about the degree of circularity of the global economy, about the frequency of human-induced forest fires and what harm they do, about the EU offshoring its industrial production, about changing land-use patterns in Africa and about when the Austrian agriculture turned from a producer of energy to an energy sink” names Helmut Haberl, current director of the Institute, as examples.

The book differs from most edited volumes by its high internal consistency achieved through stringent editing and organization of several author’s workshops. Method Précis outline socioecological research methods and guide the reader to more detailed methodological publications through carefully selected references. Due to its nature, the book is suitable for classroom use, as a primer and overview of Social Ecology as well as its current research frontiers.

Haberl, H., Fischer-Kowalski, M., Krausmann, F. & Winiwarter, V. (Eds.) (2016). Social Ecology. Society-Nature Relations across Time and Space. Heidelberg: Springer.