The science of ecological economics

A content analysis of Ecological Economics, 1989–2004


Address for correspondence: Valerie A. Luzadis, Associate Professor of Ecological Economics and Policy, SUNY ESF, Forest and Natural Resources Management Department, 320 Bray Hall, Syracuse, NY 13210.


The Ecological Economics journal is a primary source for inquiry on ecological economics and sustainability. To explore the scholarly pursuit of ecological economics, we conducted a content analysis of 200 randomly sampled research, survey, and methodological articles published in Ecological Economics during the 15-year period of 1989–2004. Results of the analysis were used to investigate facets of transdisciplinarity within the journal. A robust qualitative approach was used to gather and examine data to identify themes representing substantive content found within the span of sampled journal papers. The extent to which each theme was represented was counted as well as additional data, such as author discipline, year published, etc. Four main categories were revealed: (1) foundations (self-reflexive themes stemming from direct discussions about ecological economics); (2) human systems, represented by the themes of values, social indicators of well-being, intergenerational distribution, and equity; (3) biophysical systems, including themes, such as carrying capacity and scarcity, energy, and resource use, relating directly to the biophysical aspects of systems; and (4) policy and management encompassing themes of development, growth, trade, accounting, and valuation, as well as institutional structures and management. The results provide empirical evidence for discussing the future direction of ecological economic efforts.