1. What are your first impressions with the social science perspective on industrial ecology, and how do they relate to your earlier experience with social science ?
I didn't hurry to write this blog until I completed reading the first chapter of the reading material ( < The Social Embeddedness of Industrial Ecology > ) on Sep 15th. The introduction chapter opened my horizon to a brandnew perspective of addressing real-life problems in industrial systems.
As summarized by Frosch and Gallopoulos in 1989, industrial ecology is the industry's answer to environmental challenge, with its three important perspectives: 1. optimizing material and energy use; 2. minimizing waste and emissions; 3. economically viable roles for every product. This concept was later developed as tripple bottom line (People, Profit, Planet) in the field of industrial ecology.
However, the word "chanllenge" was very thought-provoking to me and really inspired my understanding of the concept of industrial ecology. A 'chanllege' must be a kind of interaction/correlation, most of the times detrimental or threatening perhaps, between two entities and it needs a certain development approach or treatment to alleviate/eliminate the adverse mutual interaction/impact. The image this word 'chanllenge' impressed my mind was an interaction between different participants/entities and a needed mechanism to address the problem with an aim of minimizing the environmental impact or alleviating the detrimental interaction.
By reading though the first chapter, I enjoyed my first impression of the social science perspective of industrial ecology: an embedded perspective of human/organization's decisions toward sustainability within a dynamic social interactions. As I have a solid environmental engineering/biotechnology background with untapped social science cognition, the concept of 'embeddedness' is totally new and even difficult to me. I tried to interpret the six (4+2) mechanisms of embeddedness as an interaction/coordination with the background influences from six dimensions. The social science perspective of industrial ecology is a relational perspective which emphasize the presence and importance of interaction between individuals or organizations rather than the discrete characteristics of these entities.
During my reading, I was really pleased by learning an intersting concept ---- 'strength of weak ties', which was found to be critical in job hunting. I was really happy with this concept and highly agree with it according to my personal experience. I always love to have an in-depth talk/debate with my classmates or friends who have different education/career backgrounds from me. While the professional ties between me and these friends of mine are loose, the cognition map and information I could acquire from them are very valuable sometimes to help myself develop something new. I would say, sometimes, this weak ties could open a new path to the mecca !
Besides, the 'strength of weak tie' reminds me of the 'Six Degrees of Separation' developed by Frigyes Karinthy.
Six Degrees of Separation refers to the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statement can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps or fewer.
According to my understanding, I would like to count the "a friend of a friend" relationship as a sort of "weak tie". So it demonstrate, from a certain point of view, the importance and effectiveness of the "strength of weak ties". I love this case !
I also enjoyed how we use the ecological metaphor to interpret phenomenons in social environments, and the process how the concept of "industrial ecosystem" and "industrial symbiosis" were developed. It's pretty interesting to look into the Kalundborg case to understand the material and energy flow in the symbiosis. BTW, it sounds more intersting that it was the wife of one of the managers at Kalundborg who first coined this term in 1989 for the linkages that had been established. So, rule of thumb for men: Always marry the right lady ! :-)
As regards to how my first impression of social science perspective on industrial ecology relate to my earlier experience of social science, I would admit my previous academic involvement has rarely tapped social science as I explored in the engineering fields. Nevertheless, my extracurricular activities and social experience when I studied in The University of Hong Kong had benefited me a lot in understanding the politicial and social aspects in real life. One case I would like to talk about is my experience of volunteering work in a Social Science research group of HKU in estimating the total number of participants in a big protest in Hong Kong. We stood on a building over the sole route of the protest and counted how many people passed a line for one minute in the protest movement every five minutes. And then we calculated the total numbers of heads by multiply the average current with the total movement duration. Then we could get the total protesting population. The number attracted huge public interests from citizens and government agencies. Medias loved to talk about it and citizens gossiped how many people joined the protest. I believe this is an interesting social science case. The number of people participating the protest is nomally provided by three sectors: researchers, police and protest organizer. An intestering phenomenon is that police always tried to claim less population and protest organizers always tried to boast the number of participants and the movement scale, however the number reported by researchers in HK was always medium. None of them lied about the numbers. They just used different calculation methods. For example, Police only count how many people finally reached the destination without taking into consideration of those who dispatched away halfway or fail to reach the destination due to any possible reason. However, the protest organizers will include the heads gathering at the protest departure place - Victoria Park and all those who joined the movement from halfway. Nevertheless, the decisions on applying different calculation methods could reflect the social embedded mindsets and purpose of the three sectors. It has nothing to do with industrial ecology here but it helps me to understand why individuals and organizations make different decisions under different embedded mechanisms.