A History of Ecological Economics as Political Thought, 1980–2000
What should a sustainable relationship between society, economy, and nature look like? Climate change has spurred renewed interest in such political questions on the environment, and their history. But ideas about how the environment should be managed — ideas that are political in character — are often found outside of the political movements or works of political philosophy on which historians of political thought tend to focus. This project explores a key part of this kind of hidden history: a significant but understudied body of thought that was developed within the academic field of ecological economics between 1980 and 2000. At this time, the politics of the environment in national and international institutions increasingly came to rely on market solutions and economic instruments. Ecological economics developed concepts which, while ostensibly focused on economics, were deeply political in the sense that they incorporated conflicting views on human nature, what a good life means, what an economy fundamentally is, and what goals society should strive towards. This project studies ideas developed in ecological economics as part of the history of political thought by teasing out such underlying views and relating them to broader historical contexts. This will be done by historical analysis of debates around four vividly debated concepts in ecological economics that have been influential beyond the academic realm: ecosystem services, natural capital, steady state economy, and coevolutionary development.
About the Project