Biopolitics, complex systems theory and ecological social work: Conceptualising ways of transitioning to low carbon futures

Uschi Bay


INTRODUCTION: Social work is engaged with understanding and acting into change processes within society at various levels. How new social and environmental movements are conceptually framed can be usefully explored to enable new ways of understanding their role in change processes, particularly in addressing the most significant problem of our times, climate change and excessive non-renewable energy use.

METHODS: Complex systems theory and deep ecology are two of the theoretical conceptualisations that inform the Transition Town movement transnationally. Social workers share these two theoretical frameworks with the Transition Town movement as ways of thinking about effecting change processes. A brief introduction to a biopolitical lens, based on Lemke’s reading of Michel Foucault is added to offer another way to conceptualise the movement’s naturalistic logic.

CONCLUSION: A biopolitical lens seeks to make visible the precarious and contingent difference between nature and culture as well as politics and life. Biopolitical analytics aims to focus social workers on investigating the network of power relations, knowledge practices and modes of subjectification evident in change processes. The intersection of life and politics has transformed modern society and biopolitics aims to bring this into focus to understand what we are doing to ourselves.


Transition Town movement; biopolitics; complex systems theory; ecological social work; deep ecology

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