Society's Metabolism

The Intellectual History of Materials Flow Analysis, Part II, 1970-1 998


Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies of Austrian Universities University of Vienna A 1070 Wien Seidengase 13,


“Societal metabolism” provides the appropriate conceptual basis for the rapidly growing development and analylical and policy interest in materials flow analysis (MFA). Following the review of the earlier intellectual background of societal metabolism in the first installment of this two-part article, this paper focuses on the current state of the art by examining more recent research referring t o societal metabolism in terms of material and substance flows. An operational classification of the literature according to frame of reference (socioeconomic system, ecosystem), system level (global, national, regional, functional, temporal), and types of flows under consideration (materials, energy, substances) highlights some of its characteristic features. There follows an integrated discussion of some of the major conceptual and methodological properties of MFA, with a particular focus on the field of bulk materials flows on a national level, comparing the major empirical results. Finally, the theoretical stringency research productivity, and political relevance of the MFA-related studies are assessed.