During the last two decades, social metabolism has become a recognized field of research. Rooted in the intellectual background of ecological economics (see Martinez-Alier 2009), its purpose is to study complex socio-economic systems and their interactions with the environment. For the intellectual history and basis of the social metabolism concept see Fischer-Kowalski (1998a; 1998b) and Fischer-Kowalski et al. (1999).
The social metabolism approach is “based on the premise that any social system not only reproduces itself culturally but also biophysically through a constant flow of materials and energy with its natural environment as well as with other social systems.” (Singh et al, 2010: 5) To study these exchange relations of material and energy flows, the conceptual framework of the Material and Energy Flow Accounting (MEFA) is used (Singh et al, 2010: 6).
Most of the social metabolism studies are conducted on a national level. There is a unified methodology approved for the EU countries by Eurostat (EUROSTAT, 2007), and comparable data are already available for the EU countries (e.g. Weisz et al., 2005), and also on a global scale (Dittrich et al., 2012).
For the Czech Republic, a comprehensive study of the country’s social metabolism and land-use was done by Kušková et al. (2008) for the period between 1830 and 2000.
For the regional and local level, there is a limited number of social metabolism studies (for their overview see Hammer et al., 2003). Most are focused either on countries of global South or, in countries of global North, on cities and their hinterlands.
As regards local food system studies, only a few pilot studies conducted in the context or industrialized rural areas are available (Krausmann, 2001; Krausmann et al., 2003; Haberl & Krausmann, 2007; Haas 2002).
Recently, a big international project on Sustainable Farm Systems is helping to broaden the data and case studies available on different scales (local, regional and national) and also in different geographical contexts (Canada, Colombia, Spain, Austria etc.). More information on the project, and very nice (and accessible) case studies from various countries are available at the NICHE (Network for Canadian History and Environment) websites. Also one Czech case study of traditional and current organic farming is available there.
- Dittrich et al. (2012) Green economies around the world? Implications of resource use for development and the environment. SERI, Vienna.
- EUROSTAT (2007) Economy-wide material flow accounting. A compilation guide. Eurostat and the European Commision. Lead author: Helga Weisz. Available at http://www.scb.se/statistik/MI/MI1304/_dokument/Compilation%20Guide%20MFA%20%202007.pdf (19.6.2012)
- Fischer-Kowalski, M. (1998a) Society’s metabolism. In: Redclift, G. & Woodgate, G. (Eds.) International Handbook of Environmental Sociology. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.
- Fischer-Kowalski, M. (1998b) Society's Metabolism. The Intellectual History of Materials Flow Analysis, Part I, 1860-1970. Industrial Ecology 2 (1), 61-78.
- Fischer-Kowalski, M.& Hüttler, W. (1999) Society's Metabolism. The Intellectual History of Materials Flow Analysis. Part II, 1970-1998. Journal of Industrial Ecology 2 (4), 107-136.
- Hammer et al. (2003) Material Flow analysis on the regional level: Questions, problems, solutions. NEDS working papers 2, 04/2003.
- Krausmann, F. (2001): Land Use and Industrial Modernization: an empirical analysis of human influence on the functioning of ecosystems in Austria 1830 – 1995. Land Use Policy 18 (1), pp. 17-26.
- Krausmann, F. et al. (2003) Land-use change and socio-economic metabolism in Austria. Part I: driving forces of land-use change: 1950-1995. Land Use Policy 20 (1), pp. 1-20.
- Kušková et al. (2008) Long-term changes in social metabolism and land use in Czechoslovakia, 1830-2000: An energy transition under changing political regimes. Ecological Economics 68 (1-2), pp. 394-407.
- Martinez-Alier J. (2009) Social metabolism, ecological distribution conflicts, and languages of valuation. Capitalism Nature Socialism 20 : 58-87.
- Singh, S.J. et al. (2010) Local studies manual. A researcher’s guide for investigating the social metabolism of local rural systems. Social Ecology Working Paper, Vienna. Available at http://www.uni-klu.ac.at/socec/downloads/WP120_Web.pdf (19.6.2012)
- Weisz et al. (2005) The physical economy of the European Union: Cross country comparison and determinants of material consumption. Social Ecology Working Paper 76, Vienna.