See the term sustainability | languaging & other keywords in our glossary
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Reciprocal sustainment

  • What we assume to be a unidirectional cause and effect is usually a state of working co-dependency.
  • By adopting the term reciprocal sustainment we would become more attuned to the need for a symbiotic, or integrative (rather than temporal) nature of ecological systems.

The ideological context

  • Many paradigms that sustain enduring habits are also sustained by processes of languaging.
  • For example, the term sustainable development emerged when the collapse of the Soviet Union rendered the term 'alternative' (as in 'Alternative Technology') politically unthinkable.
  • Its primary context was how much regional or economic development the environment might be able withstand without disaster.
  • Since its usage in the original context of 'development' the term has been more commonly used on its own (i.e. sustainability) to refer to the environmentalist agenda that has proved to be a dominant and inescapable aspect of human development.

Unhelpful usage of the term sustainability

  • Literally speaking, the 1994 term sustainable consumption is an oxymoron.
  • Similarly, practical (mis)use of the term sustainable business often seems to signify 'business as usual' with an apparently stable system of money-flow.
  • This is especially poignant if one agrees that the unspoken (temporal) aspiration of sustaining human lifestyles is seldom justified within ecological terms.

Towards a more ecological concept

  • Although the meaning of the adjective 'sustainable' is diffused, it gains credibility from the verb 'to sustain'.
  • In its transitive form this can mean either to hold together (i.e. integrative) or to prolong (i.e. over time).
  • It is rare to find anyone clearly specifying which of these two options they mean.
  • In most uses it implies the latter meaning, which is the more stridently humanistic and ecologically presumptuous.
  • Without a subject, and in its transitive mode, the idea of 'sustaining' does not specify what sustains what.
  • How might one differentiate between 'that which sustains', and 'that which is sustained'?

square-50cm-spacer.jpg Lettuce
square-50cm-spacer.jpg Freshness cannot be sustained


  • Wood, J. (2000, June). Un-managing the butterfly; co-sustainment and the grammar of agency. In Conference Proceedings, Second International Conference on Sociocybernetics," Designs for Globalisation and Sustainability", Panticosa, Spain (Vol. 29). See Abstract or download draft version
  • Wood, J., (2011), Languaging Change from Within; can we metadesign biodiversity?, Journal of Science & Innovation, Vol. 1, November 2011, pp. 27-32, ISSN 2078-5453