Keywords: public discourse, institutional economics, production theory, sustainability, sustainable production, sustainable development, economic assessment, narrative methodology
Sustaining production: material and institutional considerations
The concept of 'sustaining production' is based on an integrated understanding of sustainability that recognises the limits to the regenerative capacity of natural and social systems within which all economic activity takes place. Sustaining production thus is defined as a quantity and quality of production that does not result in perturbations of natural and social systems that impede their assimilative and regenerative capacities to a critical degree. This definition places production not only within the temporal and spatial context of biological and ecological processes and functions but also within the socio-cultural context of social processes and functions. The knowledge demand of sustaining production is dramatically different from the standard concept of production put forth in mainline production theory. Sustaining production requires knowledge particularly of the linkages between production processes and the social, biological, chemical and physical parameters and functions that characterise their context. This contextual knowledge cannot rely on the contributions of experts alone, but needs to include the experience of those who provide essential social and environmental sustaining services, and of those most severely effected by their loss. In addition, the need to explicitly consider path-dependent definitions of sustaining production scenarios points to the limits of markets as allocation mechanisms. The need for participatory discourse in the public sphere between markets and macroeconomic institutions is offered as an institutional alternative. An example of narrative methodological expansions to standard economic assessment methods is presented to illustrate possibilities for a broad based participatory assessment process based on discourse.