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GSDP workshop as a Satellite Meeting at ECCS’11 Vienna—European Conference on Complex Systems

12.09.2011, Vienna, Austria

Social energy: a useful notion for analysing complex socio-ecological systems?

The metaphor social energy, based on an analogy to energy in physics, is supposed to facilitate the study of complex socio-ecological systems. It has been, to some extent, discussed in the GSDP network. 

A half-day workshop to further the discussion around social energy was scheduled during the European Conference on Complex Systems ECCS’11 in Vienna between September 12 and 16, 2011.



The workshop was intended to further the discussion around the social energy concept, considering questions like 

  • How far does the analogy between energy and social energy carry?
  • What can be learnt from exploring social energy for the analysis of the dynamics of complex socio-ecological systems?
  • Where does social energy need to differ from energy as known in physics?
  • What are parameters that help grasp and measure forms of social energy?
  • Which mathematical tools and methods (used in physics models) can be successfully used for studying the dynamics of SESs?

As a Satellite Meeting of ECCS’11, the workshop aimed at involving interested complex systems scientists from different disciplines in the development of this concept. It should further pave the way towards new cooperations in relation with the Global Systems Dynamics & Policy network.




Workshop Report

Energy, as used in physics, is a concept that species a capacity to do some work. In everyday language, the concept energy is used in a related but broader sense: for example, people may feel \full of energy", expressing not only a capacity but also a willingness to do something. In physics, the energy in a system, and in particular a mathematical representation of it, can serve as a tool for analysing the dynamics of that system. The concept \social energy" is intended as a metaphor that can play a similar role in the context of socio-ecological systems (SESs). Via an analogy, it sets a frame in which to develop models that facilitate the study of such systems and their dynamics. Investigating which features of the well-defined energy concept in physics will carry over to a broader interpretation in a social context and which ones will not, may help ask good questions about SESs.

Read full report …


Some background material can be found at


Organizing and programme committee

  • Sarah Wolf, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
  • Antoine Mandel, Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
  • Ilan Chabay, Gothenburg Center for Public Learning and Understanding of Science (gc PLUS), Chalmers University of Technology
  • Carlo Jaeger, European Climate Forum and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research 
  • Imre Kondor, Eötvös Loránd University, Institute of Physics 



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