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Dorninger Christian | Fellow Postdoctoral
2019-04-01 - 2019-09-30 | Research area: Sustainability Research
Biophysical Human-Nature Disconnections as a Form of Sociocultural Niche Construction

This project investigates the sustainability of biophysical human-nature connections and disconnections from a sociocultural niche construction perspective. Many regions across the world have disconnected themselves from the productivity of their regional environment by (1) accessing biological products from distant places through international trade, and (2) using non-renewable resources from outside the biosphere to boost the productivity of their natural environment. Both mechanisms allow for greater resource use then would be possible otherwise, but also lead to fundamentally different feedbacks between humans and the environment. For example, a social-ecological system that is biophysically disconnected from its regional environment does not get direct feedback from overconsumption or transgressing natural boundaries, because those are outsourced to distant regions or veiled by industrial technology respectively. Different countries in the world position themselves differently along the gradient of connectedness and disconnectedness, which should be grasped as niche construction. Cultural evolution undoubtedly plays a critical role in how humans interact with the biosphere and the scientific literature on cultural evolution and sociocultural niche construction is potentially able to shed light on the evolution of the institutions that play a vital role in mediating biophysical human-nature disconnections. However, cultural evolution and institutional path-dependency have largely been overlooked by the sustainability science literature. This project aims to create new insights and concrete knowledge about the evolution of biophysical human-nature disconnections and its sustainability implications. Thus, it contributes to the emerging field of integrating evolutionary theoretical thought and social-ecological systems research for sustainability.