Environmental Adaptation and Eco-cultural Habitats
A coevolutionary approach to society and nature
In this challenging and highly original book, the author tackles the dynamic relationships between physical nature and societies over time. It is argued that within each eco-cultural habitat, the relationship between physical nature and society is mediated by specific entanglements between technologies, institutions, and cultural values. These habitat-specific entanglements are neither ecologically nor culturally predetermined, but result from mutual adaptation based on variation (trial and error) and selection. It is shown how a variety of eco-cultural habitats evolves from this coevolutionary process. The book explores how these varieties come into being and how their specific characteristics affect the capacity to cope with environmental or social problems such as flooding or unemployment.
There are two case studies illustrating the potential of a coevolutionary understanding of the society-nature nexus. In the first, rural and urban settlement structures are conceptualized as distinct paths of eco-cultural adaptation. It is shown that each of these paths is characterized by predictable spatial correspondences between dwelling technologies, modes of social reproduction, cultural preferences, and related patterns in energy consumption (i.e. social metabolism). The second case study deals with flood protection in liberal and coordinated eco, welfare, and production regimes, drawing on lessons from the Netherlands and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. As a contribution to theory in environmental sociology, the coevolutionary perspective developed provides deeper insights into the intricate interplay between physical and social nature.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction 2. The Ecological Determination of Behavioral Strategies and Cultural Preferences 2.1. Rainfed Agriculture and the Advantages of Solitary Action 2.2. Irrigation Farming and the Advantages of Cooperation 3. The Cultural Determination of Physical Nature 3.1. The Emergence of Cultural Preferences 3.2. Cultural Stickiness and its Ambivalent Effects on Eco-cultural Habitats 4. In a Nutshell: the Concept of Eco-cultural Coevolution 5. Rural and Urban Paths of Environmental Adaptation and their Metabolic Characteristics 5.1. Spatial Correspondences between Settlement Patterns, Dwelling Technologies, Mobility, and CO2 Emissions on the National Level (Germany) 5.2. Elective Affinities between Dwelling Technologies, Cultural Preferences, and Social Metabolisms on the Regional Level (Bavaria) 5.3. Self-similarities: Intraurban Patterns of Density and Dispersion in Munich and Bolzano 5.4. The Concept of Eco-cultural Adaption – a Robust Analytical Tool 6. Social Welfare and Flood Protection in River Deltas 6.1. Similar Approaches for Regulating Natures and Societies 6.2. Case Studies 6.3. Synthesis and Further Research 7. Résumé
Johannes Schubert is a Research Assistant and Project Manager in the Department of Sociology at Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, Germany.