Hollow Ecology: Ecological Modernization Theory and the Death of Nature

Jeffrey A. Ewing


The last few decades have seen the rise of ‘ecological modernization theory’ (EMT) as a “green capitalist” tradition extending modernization theory into environmental sociology. This article uses a synthesis of political economy, world-systems theory, and political, economic, and environmental sociology to demonstrate that the EMT presumption of growth and profit as economic priorities (alongside its neglect of core-periphery relations) produces many feedback loops which fatally undermine the viability of EMT’s own political, technological, and social prescriptions, alongside creating problems for the fundamental EMT concept of ‘ecological rationality.’ Furthermore, this article attempts to explain why “green capitalist” approaches to environmental analysis have influence within policy and social science circles despite their inadequacies within environmental sociology. Finally, this article argues that in order to address the ecological challenges of our era, environmental sociology needs to reject “green capitalist” traditions like ‘ecological modernization theory’ which presuppose the desirability and maintenance of profit and growth as economic priorities (and predominantly fail to critique power imbalances between core and non-core nations), and instead return to the development of traditions willing to critique the fundamental traits of the capitalist world-system.


ecological modernization theory, capitalism, capitalist world-system, environmental sociology, political sociology, economic sociology, green capitalism, human ecology, treadmill of production, metabolic rift, world-systems theory, ecosocialism

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2017.611


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