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Sustainability, Systems and Meaning


  • Joachim Schuetz


Sustainability calls for the globe as a relevant unit of analysis, and systems thinking is an appropriate theoretical framework for this task. Yet systems thinking is employed in two contrary ways. The 'accommodating' systems approach is closely linked to the classical concept of science. It bases its credibility on the exclusion of values or any other subjective elements. The 'creative' way explicitly requires a subjectively recognised leading principle, according to which the system organises itself. Following the 'creative' approach, the paper argues that sustainability should be interpreted as a quest for conscious adoption of a global systems identity. It is this assigned system purpose that gives single actions and judgements within systems their meaning. Since subjective elements will always remain antagonistic in any classical approach, only a 'creative' approach offers possibilities for integrating cybernetic systems thinking, giving rise to a concept of systems guided by meaning.

Suggested Citation

  • Joachim Schuetz, 2000. "Sustainability, Systems and Meaning," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 9(3), pages 373-382, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev9:ev916

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Herman E. Daly, 1972. "In Defense of a Steady-State Economy," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 54(5), pages 945-954.
    2. repec:eee:ecolec:v:138:y:2017:i:c:p:74-81 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Viviana Asara & Emanuele Profumi & Giorgos Kallis, 2013. "Degrowth, Democracy and Autonomy," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 22(2), pages 217-239, April.
    4. Elizabeth Shove, 2010. "Beyond the ABC: Climate Change Policy and Theories of Social Change," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 42(6), pages 1273-1285, June.
    5. Ulrich Brand, 2016. "How to Get Out of the Multiple Crisis? Contours of a Critical Theory of Social-Ecological Transformation," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 25(5), pages 503-525, October.
    6. Clive L. Spash, 2015. "The Future Post-Growth Society," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 46(2), pages 366-380, March.
    7. Maddison, Angus, 2007. "Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199227204.
    8. Elizabeth Shove, 2010. "Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 42(6), pages 1273-1285, June.
    9. repec:env:journl:ev25:editev253 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Scott Cameron Lougheed & Myra J. Hird & Kerry R. Rowe, 2016. "Governing Household Waste Management: An Empirical Analysis and Critique," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 25(3), pages 287-308, June.
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    More about this item


    sustainability; systems identity; meaning; artificial outside position;

    JEL classification:

    • P00 - Economic Systems - - General - - - General
    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development


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