This is a book about the work of scientists in the era of the Anthropocene: where human beings appear to have become a driving force in the evolution of the planet. It is a diverse collection of empirical, methodological and theoretical chapters concerned with the practice of interdisciplinary social-ecological systems research. The aim of the contributors is to give the reader an appreciation for the range and complexity of the challenges faced by researchers, research institutions and wider communities trying to make sense of the causes and consequences of the this new era of global environmental change.
The tragedy of the Anthropocene, of the large scale anthropogenic habitat destruction and planet-wide impacts of anthropogenic climate change, is not that science has failed humanity but rather that it has served humanity all too well, making possible in just a few hundred years volumes and scales of human activity far exceeding anything ever seen before. Coming to terms with that success was the aim of the 1969 Alpbach Symposium, from which this book draws its name, where contributors including Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Bertalanffy, asked themselves: what theory, practices and standards are required to move beyond reductionism? Like those from 1969, the answers presented in this collection are hugely diverse, ranging from PhD students concerned with research methods and institutional obstacles, to mid-career scholars presenting their innovative ‘beyond-reductionism’ research methods, to emeritus professors looking back over what has been achieved in the past 30 years and suggesting where things might go from here.
All the contributors begin from the premise that the challenges of the Anthropocene can only be successfully met if interdisciplinary research effectively brings together social and natural sciences, the humanities, stakeholders and decision makers. They conclude, in unison, that both the institutional and the methodological foundations needed to do this work are still sorely lacking. While this may seem a dismal position, the book is full of success stories, such as: the integrative approach of MuSIASEM (Multi-Scale Integrative Assessment of Social-Ecological Metabolism) developed by Mario Giampietro’s group in Barcelona, Spain; the alternative perspectives of what Ariel Salleh calls the ‘meta-industrial’ discourse in Ecofeminism; or the innovative trans-departmental status of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden. Putting both the theoretical and methodological challenges of moving beyond reductionism on the table for discussion, this text aims to help a growing community of passionate thinkers and actors better understand themselves and their work.