Ecological modernization, techno-politics and social life cycle assessment: a view from human geography

  • Kersty Hobson
  • Nicholas Lynch



Although Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA) is a growing field of inquiry and intervention, to date, there has been a dearth of engagement between this field and critical social scientists interested in questions of the societal impacts of goods and services. In response, this paper is written from the perspectives of two human geographers, new to the field of SLCA. Our aim is to offer an ‘outsiders’ perspective of, and commentary on, the growing field of SLCA, which we frame as a form of political intervention that seeks to have real-world impacts on the lives and futures of diverse peoples and places.


To address these questions, we explore SLCA’s underpinning assumptions by critically reviewing the worldviews that inform its methods, including debates in the literature about sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.

Results and discussion

SLCA’s normative and practical applications resonate strongly with an ecological modernization framework. This framework forwards social change via incremental and institutional interventions that promotes continued development, and privileges objectivity, impartiality and the search for a totalizing knowledge of the impacts of good and services.


Exploring SLCA’s epistemological foundations illuminates, and in turn, can help to address some of the key challenges SLCA currently faces. Drawing attention to SLCA’s inheren raison d’etre encourages more debate about the overall intentions and limits of the field, and represents not a weakness but rather its inherent quality of exploring the complex world of social impacts.


Ecological modernization Social life cycle assessment Sustainable development Techno-politics 



This research was funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant EP/K026380/1 ‘Closed Loop Emotionally Valuable E-waste Recovery (CLEVER)’.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Geography and EnvironmentThe University of OxfordOxfordUK

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