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CEFISES Seminar: Daniela Perrotti, Elisabetta Rosa, and Nicola Bertoldi, “A conceptual analysis of agency in urban metabolism studies from the standpoint of industrial and social ecology: An exploration of methodological issues”

April 19@14:00-16:00 CEST

Attention, location and time change! Exceptionally, the session will take place between 14:00 and 16:00 on the Saint-Gilles campus, room AV-02, Bâtiment Lemaire (ground floor in the fore part of the building, just before the courtyard), Rue Wafelaerts, 47-51, Bruxelles.

Series: Urban Metabolism

Speakers: Daniela Perrotti, Elisabetta Rosa, and Nicola Bertoldi (Urban Metabolism Lab, LAB, Université Catholique de Louvain).

Title: “A conceptual analysis of agency in urban metabolism studies from the standpoint of industrial and social ecology: An exploration of methodological issues.”


Industrial ecology (IE) (Kennedy, 2016) and social ecology (SE) (Fischer-Kowalski & Weisz, 2016) deploy, respectively, the concepts of urban and social metabolism to characterise the complex dynamics underlying different social-ecological systems. Both research fields are rooted in systems thinking: On the one hand, IE relies on an ecosystem/urban system concept that can be traced back to systems ecology in the vein of E. P. and H. T. Odum (E. P. Odum, 1953; H. T. Odum, 1983; E. P. Odum & Barrett, 2005); on the other hand, SE is explicitly embedded in the “metatheoretical framework” provided by Niklas Luhmann’s (1995) approach to social systems.

However, IE or SE have generally under-theorised a concept that is becoming increasingly crucial for grasping the scientific, social, and political stakes of studying social-ecological systems: the notion of agency. Therefore, how would it be possible to foster a systematic and systemic understanding of agency within an IE and SE view of the metabolism of urban socio-ecological systems?

This session explores methodological issues arising from an attempt to answer this question by analysing the concept of agency as it can be inferred from E. P. Odum’s Fundamentals of Ecology and H. T. Odum’s Systems Ecology. To this aim, we identified ecosystem, energy, hierarchy, and spatial/temporal scale as fundamental notions structuring the view of ecological and social-technical systems contained in those texts. From such notions and relying on a minimal definition of the agency concept as an entity’s capacity to exert an influence on its surroundings, we extracted further concepts, cognate to the latter, as fundamental blocks for building a systems ecology-based characterisation of what agents are and do. During our presentation, we will discuss how Luhmann’s view of social systems can be used to enrich such a characterisation and construct conceptual narratives unpacking how agency in the metabolism of cities is understood from IE’s and SE’s standpoints.


Fischer-Kowalski, M., & Weisz, H. (2016). The Archipelago of social ecology and the island of the Vienna School. In H. Haberl, M. Fischer-Kowalski, F. Krausmann, & V. Winiwarter (Eds.), Social Ecology. Society-Nature Relations across Time and Space (pp. 3–28). Springer.

Kennedy, C. A. (2016). Industrial Ecology and Cities. In R. Clift & A. Druckman (Eds.), Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology (pp. 69–86). Springer.

Luhmann, N. (1995). Social Systems. Stanford University Press.

Odum, E. P. (1953). Fundamentals of Ecology. W. B. Saunders Company.

Odum, E. P., & Barrett, G. W. (2005). Fundamentals of Ecology (5th Edition). Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Odum, H. T. (1983). Systems Ecology: An Introduction. Wiley.


April 19
14:00-16:00 CEST


Nicola Bertoldi


Faculté d’architecture, d’ingénierie architecturale, d’urbanisme
Rue Henri Wafelaerts 47/51
Saint-Gilles, 1060 Belgium
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