Local Studies Manual: A researcher's guide for investigating the social metabolism of rural systems

This manual provides concepts, methods and variables to describe the biophysical features of rural local systems. Based on the paradigm of social metabolism, we provide a framework for conceptualising and operationalising society-nature interactions for a sustainability analysis at the local level. In other words, the manual offers a systematic understanding of the environmental relations of local communities in terms of their dynamics and metabolic profiles. The emphasis here is on the ‘hardware’ (biophysical elements) side of the social system, and not so much on the ‘software’ (cultural elements). This distinction is based on the premise that social communities are not only cultural entities and systems of communication, but also represent biophysical realities in the sense that they draw materials and energy from the environment in order to maintain or reproduce themselves and their (man-made) artefacts. This throughput of matter and energy is determined for any given social system by the resource base, the mode of production, available technology and lifestyle. They together determine a social community’s sociometabolic profile.

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