Sustainability Research Institute

The ESEE conference, community and theory: SRI Bursary Report by Lina I. Brand Correa

17.07.2017 - 16:42

Budapest University Credit: Lina Brand Correa

ESEE Conference 2017 Credit: Lina Brand Correa

Lina with SRI colleagues Paul Brockway & Tom Smith. Credit: Matt Heun.

Since 1996, when the European Society for Ecological Economics (ESEE) was established, there have been 12 ESEE conferences. The latest one took place earlier this year (20-23 June, 2017) in Budapest, with more than 300 participants (quite a few of us from SRI) and sustainability initiatives at its core. These included minimal paper use (e.g. no printed conference programmes), the setup of a green garden at the Corvinus University of Budapest, and catering from small local business.

From my limited knowledge of the ESEE community, having been to two ESEE conferences so far, I have perceived it as being a highly trans/inter-disciplinary community, very open and friendly. I guess going beyond disciplinary boundaries is no surprise in the ESEE community, given the historical development of the field of Ecological Economics, where natural scientist were concerned about social and economic issues and vice-versa. Being open and friendly, however, does seem to me like a very fortunate product of chance (or is it?).

For my research, the ESEE conference has provided a great platform to present my ideas and receive constructive and critical comments. As with so many of these types of events, the most useful parts were, on the one hand, the preparation for the presentation, which forces you to summarise your ideas in a short and coherent way, for an audience that will not be expert on your particular little niche area of interest. And on the other hand, the informal conversations which happen on the corridors, coffee breaks, dinners, walks, over cold beers (it was summer in mainland Europe) and thermal baths (yes, we were in Budapest after all!).

But moving onto more serious matters, there has been a very interesting strand of research developing lately in the ESEE community. It is related to the need for a coherent theory of how the economy works which includes environmental limits as well as issues of social justice, but which also moves beyond merely criticising different aspect of mainstream economics. Some of our own colleagues here in SRI have been actively pursuing this strand of research (most notably Elke Pirgmaier), which goes in line with the ideological and methodological efforts from colleagues in Vienna around what they’ve called “socio-ecological economics” (Clive Spash, a bit to my surprise, was selling green socio-ecological economics t-shirts at ESEE).

The influence of this strand of research was felt throughout the conference, as people remarked how excellent the sessions around it had been. It was also mentioned as a key area to focus on for the next ESEE in Turku (Finland) in 2019. However, alongside a great excitement, I also perceived some tensions. These tensions are not new, and relate to some approaches that fit underneath the big umbrella that is Ecological Economics, but that might be, in their core, fundamentally in line with a mainstream economics world-view rather than a socio-ecological economics world-view. It’s going to be interesting to see how this emerging critical theory-building is embraced by the ESEE community.