Society’s metabolism: Methods, trajectories, and patterns (SMET)

Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Remote students
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

We are acutely aware of our global society’s encroachment on planetary boundaries, of the climate crisis, of far-reaching and systematic occurrences of environmental injustices. All of these, and many other, phenomena stem from our so-called social metabolism – from the material and energy resource input, transformation and accumulation, and output that simultaneously sustains and threatens the future of our social reproduction. This course offers an introduction to the conceptual basis and applications of the concept of social metabolism as well as to tools of environmental accounting, focusing in particular on material and energy flow accounting. Key research findings based on the notion of social metabolism are reviewed and current questions explored, including links to the themes of (ecologically) unequal exchange, extractivism and extractive frontiers, and distribution and access to resources.

Learning Outcomes: 

At the end of the course, students will be able to

-        identify and describe the theoretical background for the concept of social metabolism,

-        define social metabolism and interpret its applications,

-        differentiate approaches within socio-metabolic research and appraise their applications,

-        design a research approach building on the concept of social metabolism


-        Active participation in class: 10%

-        Reading assignments, short written summaries, and open-book quiz: 40%

-        Final assignment: 50%