Martin Fritz and Matthias Schmelzer speak at the conference “Bioeconomy Policies, Actors, and Transformations: Achievements, Challenges, and Recommendations” at Humboldt-Universität Berlin, 22-23 February 2023

Mentalities in the bioeconomy as a social-ecological transformation: Historical and sociological perspectives

In our presentation we show how a comprehensive understanding of the transformations envisioned and contested in the bioeconomy debate can be achieved by broadening the view beyond policy debates and stakeholder positions. We focus on the views and social-ecological mentalities that are present within the general population towards different aspects of the transition from a fossil economy towards a post-fossil bioeconomy. While existing mentalities are historically shaped by the extensive use of fossil resources, exerting dominance over nature and modes of living relying on the ever-increasing use of existing fossil stocks of resources and energies, the intensifying climate crisis has made many people more and more aware that transforming society is necessary. Yet there are different ideas how this transformation should take place and some even doubt that a transformation is desirable at all – the stances towards bio-economic change in the general population are diverse and go beyond the usual divide between green growth and postgrowth/sufficiency that dominates the political debate.
Starting from a historical discussion of the making of existing fossil mentalities, we use data from our representative multi-mode survey conducted in Germany 2021/22 that gathered information about respondent’s social and ecological attitudes, preferences and values, their stances towards the bioeconomy as well as social status and position to explore social conflicts and coalitions for and against the bioeconomy as a social-ecological transformation. Applying factor and cluster analysis we identify social-ecological mentalities in Germany and locate them in a ‘bioeconomic option space’ (Hausknost et al 2017) constructed from the views of the general population instead from the concepts discussed among stakeholders and experts. The results show that issues around the bioeconomy as a social-ecological transformation are more contested among the population than in policy debates. As this entails significant potential for social conflicts, it will be important to establish ecologically sustainable and socially just transformation pathways in democratic and participatory ways.