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CEFISES Seminar: Nicola Bertoldi, “The concept of urban metabolism: A tool for understanding humanity’s agency over nature in times of global ecological changes?”

January 19@14:00-16:00 CET

Livestream https://youtu.be/b24YKw_6Th4

Series: Urban Metabolism

Speaker: Nicola Bertoldi (UCLouvain)

Title: “The concept of urban metabolism: A tool for understanding humanity’s agency over nature in times of global ecological changes?”


Against the backdrop of growing concerns about humanity’s contribution to global ecological changes, the concepts of urban and social metabolism are gaining prominence in sustainability studies. Rooted in attempts to rationalize city planning undertaken in the mid-1960s, those concepts have laid the groundwork for quantifying the material and energy exchanges through which cities, regional agglomerations, nations, etc., interact with nature. In particular, they have allowed framing such exchanges as flows or cycles unfolding within social-ecological systems that can be studied through accounting approaches. However, to what kind of hybrid systems do expressions such as “urban metabolism” and “social metabolism” refer?  Under which conditions and to what extent do the urban and social metabolism concepts foster a better understanding of the impact that anthropic activities bear on the stability of ecosystems at different levels? This talk explores such questions based on insights from the “aISTnexus” project, currently pursued at the Urban Metabolism lab (UCLouvain/LAB) under the supervision of Professor Daniela Perrotti, which aims to shed light on how the concept of agency – alongside those of information and space-time – contributes to shaping the conceptualization and modelling of the urban metabolism as an urban social-ecological system. First, I will trace the history of the urban metabolism concept from the perspective of theoretical questions related to the challenge of thinking about agency in the context of (systemic) interactions between society and nature. Second, I will present insights from an agency-oriented computational analysis of a body of research literature related to the urban metabolism. Third, I will highlight connections between those two ways of examining the notion of urban metabolism by emphasizing the foundational role played by E. P. Odum’s systems ecology.


January 19
14:00-16:00 CET


Nicola Bertoldi


Salle Ladrière
Place du Cardinal Mercier 14 (bâtiment Socrate, a.124)
Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348 Belgium
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