1. We put 'natural' in quotation marks because there are many ways in which the notion of natural ecosystems is complicated or contested. Many analysts argue that there are no longer any ecosystems unaffected by humankind, although clearly, even in this view, there is wide variation in the degree to which human activity dominates non-human ecosystems. More subtly, the notion of 'natural' is socially constructed and subject to varying interpretations across cultures (Williams 1980; Cronon 1996).
2. Multiple meanings extend to other terms in the field. 'Industrial ecology' is variously used to mean (a) a field of study, (b) a set of environmentally desirable practices and (c) the same practices as in meaning (b), but viewed neutrally. Such plurality of meanings is not unusual, however: 'history' refers both to past events and to the discipline that systematically studies those events.
3. Disagreement about industrial ecology's boundaries are exacerbated by more pedestrian conflation of the ethics and values, the social sciences and public policy analysis. In particular, non-social scientists sometimes do not realize that the social sciences have a primarily positive/analytical focus, characterizing how humans behave, whereas it is the humanities that investigate and debate matters of values. Public policy analysis is often instrumental, asking how effectively certain strategies accomplish a set of public goals. Few industrial ecologists would suggest that the field offers powerful tools for adjudicating disputes over values, even if those disputes are important to the field.
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