Human agency in the Anthropocene

Summary

The human species has been recognized as a new force that has pushed the Earth's system into a new geological epoch referred to as the Anthropocene. This human influence was not conscious, however, but an unintended effect of the consumption of fossil-fuels over the last 150 years. Do we, humans, have the agency to deliberately influence the fate of our species and the planet we inhabit?

The rational choice paradigm that dominated social sciences in the 20th Century, and has heavily influenced the conceptualization of human societies in global human-environmental system modelling in the early 21st Century, suggests a very limited view of human agency. Humans seen as rational agents, coordinated through market forces, have only a very weak influence on the system rules.

In this article we explore alternative concepts of human agency that emphasize its collective and strategic dimensions as well as we ask how human agency is distributed within the society. We also explore the concept of social structure as a manifestation of, and a constraint on, human agency. We discuss the implications for conceptualization of human agency in integrated assessment modelling efforts.

Information

Link to centre authors: Donges, Jonathan
Publication info: Otto, I.M., Wiedermann, M., Cremades, R., Donges, J.F., Auer, C. and Lucht, W., 2020. Human agency in the anthropocene. Ecological Economics, 167, p.106463.

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