The research unit on “social ecological transformation” deals with policy issues and development dynamics from a specific perspective of the need for radical change. We perceive social ecological transformation as a deep historical change in our ways of living and modes of production with serious and substantive implications for culture and politics. A central issue that then rises is how politics and policy making are to be conducted in this age of social ecological transformation?
We acknowledge the increasing evidence for the need to deep structural changes of our socio-economic system and our ecological metabolism. Capitalist market economies, based on the growth imperative, consumerism and uneven access to resources, do not only lead to resource depletion and environmental degradation, but also threaten social cohesion and peaceful international cooperation.
Therefore, ‘business as usual’ is increasingly unsustainable, even in the short run. New perspectives, like a good life for all and the developing movement on a post-growth society, are needed to orient the ongoing changes towards a socio-economic system that takes biophysical reality and limits into account and remains committed to key values of wisdom and justice. A central issue that then rises is how politics and policy making are to be conducted in this age of social ecological transformation? This then links to the Institute’s research area on Governance and Policy.
The classical liberal, neoclassical economic and neoliberal approaches share a faith in the power of the individual to make all the choices (e.g. consumer sovereignty). This can quickly result in concluding that we live, like Dr. Pangloss, in the best of all possible worlds. The people have chosen and this world is what we have. Amongst other things, this assumes information is freely available and all are equally well informed. Yet information is actually heavily controlled and distributed via restrictive institutions (e.g. media control, copyright laws). There is also a failure to take into account power relationships and structures preventing change, while placing all the emphasis on the volition power of the individual. Marxist approaches in contrast have emphasised class struggle and the structure of the capitalist economy. Society is then seen as constructed through processes of countervailing powers and power struggles. Social ecological transformation then becomes part of political economy.