The river runs through it: Naturalising social policy and welfare

Johan Nordensvärd* (Lead Author), Markus Ketola, Frauke Urban

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper reconceptualises social rights through an integration of human welfare and environmental welfare. This is essential if we are making a case for the radical policy changes required to respond to the current environmental crisis, such as maximum living standards and maximum income. As living standards and the demand for social rights increase across the world, this will lead to a concomitant pressure on nature. A maximum living standard based on an ecological footprint is a starting point to think about the need to grant legal rights and resources to nature. Following Polanyi, both humans and the environment are fictitious commodities; we therefore need to rethink our approach to social policy and decommodification to include the environment. This requires approaching social rights from an ecological perspective and breaking the anthropocentric barriers welfare policies create between society and nature. Here, we draw on the work of Michel Serres on ‘the natural contract’ in order to rethink the content of the social contract and develop an argument in favour of decommodifying nature. Using rivers as legal entities in New Zealand as our example, we illustrate how this theoretical approach could provide the foundations for sustainable eco-social policies in general and maximum living standards in particular.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10415
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number16
Early online date22 Aug 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Aug 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • social policy
  • nature rights
  • environmental policy
  • decommodification
  • indigenous knowledge
  • welfare


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