, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 139-150

Cultural Theory and integrated assessment

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Most scientific work, integrated assessment included, tries to avoid bias. Cultural Theory, however, suggests that bias is unavoidable, and it predicts the various biases that are possible, the social conditions under which each will occur and the essentially complex nature of their interaction. If Cultural Theory is right (and examples from energy modelling and human land use in mountain ecosystems suggest that it is) then it is important that it and integrated assessment come together. The paper begins by explaining how this has, in fact, been happening, and then explores the implications of this for integrated assessment.

Cultural Theory, in completing the fourfold typology of forms of social solidarity that is implicit in the classic markets‐and‐hierarchies distinction, gives us human systems that are complex: non‐linear, indeterministic, far from equilibrium, highly sensitive to initial conditions, and with future states that are unpredictable. Since the same has now been done to the classic ecological distinction between pioneer and climax communities, we find ourselves trying to manage a system, of which we ourselves are part, that is not manageable in the way that simple systems are manageable.

Coming to terms with that new understanding, and putting together the tool‐kit appropriate to policy in a complex world, is the task we face. “Always learning, never getting it right” captures the new understanding: a sentiment that many integrated assessors will find congenial. The new tool‐kit, however, with its emphasis on reflexivity, on scenario planning and on micro and macro each as the cause of the other, presents more of a challenge.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.