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Nina Baur: Long-Term Processes as Obstacles Against the Fourth Ecological Transformation. Ecological Sustainability and the Spatial Arrangements of Food Markets. [Abstract]

Human social life is deeply embedded in ecological processes, and as Johan Goudsblom has stressed, the interdependencies between humans and their “natural” environment have changed in the course of history. According to Goudsblom, three great ecological transformations can be observed in the course of the civilising process: the control of fire, the transition from gathering and hunting to producing food by agriculture and animal husbandry, and industrialisation. In recent years, both scientists and the public of Western societies have become increasingly aware that a fourth ecological transformation (towards more sustainable consumption and lifestyles) is necessary in order to minimise the effects of climate change. However, although most people are aware of the need for more sustainable consumption, very little seems to change, and even consumers desperately struggling to change their lifestyle, seem to fail in their efforts. Using the example of the Berlin food market, I argue that the causes for this lack of change cannot be understood without understanding the structure and power balances in global value chains which are deeply rooted in history, which have evolved in the course of centuries, and which in the course of the third ecological transformation (industrialisation and urbanisation) not only became the keystone of modern capitalism but since then are also deeply engrained in material urban, transport routes and production infrastructures. These spatial arrangements not only stabilise a specific mode of production by forcing social processes into path-dependence. They also hide power balances and drive human social life to an unsustainable lifestyle. Knowledge plays a key role in maintaining both circulation along the commodity chain and the existing power balances.

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