'Realism and the elusive concept of "system": an application to ecological economics'

Recent work in ecological economics by Clive Spash (2012 et passim) has advocated critical realism as a preferable basis for the discipline.


Spash claims that critical realism offers philosophical grounding for an analysis of the ecology-economy nexus, which also allows ecological economics to abandon any linkage to mainstream (aka ‘neoclassical’) economics. Spash in particular cites concepts such as stratification and emergence as particularly useful, by facilitating an understanding of how the different strata of inter alia ecology and economy connect.

However, this presentation draws on Mearman (2006) and the recent contribution by Fleetwood (2016) to question whether critical realism offers as much to ecological economics as Spash claims it does. Central to this critique is an evaluation of the critical realist notion of ‘system’ which, though of central importance to the project, is left undefined and undeveloped by critical realism. This objection renders critical realism less able to support ecological economics.

This presentation acts as a precursor to that by Andrew Brown which examines how systematic dialectics may offer more promise to ecological economics than critical realism does.

Location Details

Seminar Room 1.24
Maurice Keyworth Building
Leeds University Business School

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