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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Placing culture in an Ecological Economics ontology beyond a pillar approach

This paper defines a new model that interprets the role of culture in an ecological economics ontology. The model is based on current ecological economics thinking and emphasizes the critical role of culture in organizing complex socio-economic systems including the economy. In recent years, cultural economics and cultural heritage economics scholars have begun to grapple with sustainability and the role of culture. Culture is defined as beliefs, customs, values, attitudes and social behaviors of human groups. Culture undoubtedly shapes human societies in distinct ways over time and space, including how people produce and consume goods and services and value nature. There are many models that add culture to the somewhat outdated three-pillar model of sustainability (Environment, Economic, and Social). However, an up-to-date ecological economics ontology places all complex systems of human societies within the limits of biophysical systems that support life on earth. Until now, this central element was missing from many culture-centred approaches. This new model impacts the understandings of cultural capital; the relationship of humankind to nature; and the fundamental and evolving methodologies for measuring culture’s impacts in a transition to a sustainable economy. An example of the circular economy is discussed to illustrate how this new model may be applied. This theoretical article contributes to the philosophical foundations of transdisciplinary studies of culture, economics, and sustainability.

Gillian Foster
Institute for Ecological Economics, Vienna University of Economics and Business

Sigrid Stagl
Institute for Ecological Economics, Vienna University of Economics and Business


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