AbstractSustainability is constructed both symbolically and materially. It mediates human relationships with external nature and, in so doing, escapes human control; transforming people, ecosystems and economies. Beyond principles of intra- and inter-generational equity, sustainability demands learning, deliberation and accountability. Sustainability offers sociologists a unique opportunity to contribute to decision-making forums from which we may otherwise have been excluded. Our research has highlighted numerous ways in which those who ostensibly speak on behalf of sustainability do so in ways that seek to contain it. The market-based focus, in particular, of eco-efficiency initiatives has attracted critique for its “black boxing” of people, ecologies and values that lie outside privileged commodity circuits. The foundations provided by sustainability principles and standards have thus become essential reference points for those seeking to ensure that non-market values are considered and given voice in the regulation of commodity circuits. Anticipating and assembling future social-ecological possibilities requires us to intensify and to extend critique in a manner that supports social learning and deliberation, empowering constituencies for sustainability beyond the commodity circuits of “big capital.”
Keywords: Actor-network theory, environmental sociology, sustainability.