The transformation of provisioning systems from an integrated perspective of social metabolism and political economy: a conceptual framework

Anke Schaffartzik*, Melanie Pichler, Eric Pineault, Dominik Wiedenhofer, Robert Gross, Helmut Haberl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Energy, food, or mobility can be conceptualized as provisioning systems which are decisive to sustainability transformations in how they shape resource use and because of emissions resulting from them. To curb environmental pressures and improve societal well-being, fundamental changes to existing provisioning systems are necessary. In this article, we propose that provisioning systems be conceptualized as featuring integrated socio-metabolic and political-economic dimensions. In socio-metabolic terms, material stocks—buildings, infrastructures, and machines, for example—are key components of provisioning systems and transform flows of energy and materials into goods and services. In political-economic terms, provisioning systems are formed by actors, institutions, and capital. We loosely identify and closely analyze, from socio-metabolic and political-economic perspectives, five phases along which provisioning systems are shaped and in which specific opportunities for interventions exist. Relying mainly on examples from the fossil-fueled electricity system, we argue that an integrated conceptualization of provisioning systems can advance understanding of these systems in two essential ways: by (1) facilitating a more encompassing perspective on current forms of provisioning as relying on capitalist regulation and on material stocks and flows and by (2) embedding provisioning systems within their historical context, making it possible to conceive of more sustainable and just forms of provisioning under (radically) altered conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1405-1421
Number of pages17
JournalSustainability Science
Volume16
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021

Keywords

  • Capital
  • Capitalist provisioning
  • Distribution
  • Fossil energy system
  • Material stocks
  • Socio-ecological conflicts

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