Ecological Economist Joan Martinez-Alier Receives 2023 Holberg Prize

portrait view of Martinez-Alier
“[Joan] Martinez-Alier has the unusual distinction of both anticipating and actively engaging with the interrelated planetary challenges of poverty, climate change, and food security. His innovative theories and mentorship continue to build the capacity of new scholars and policy makers to address these intersecting crises of global economic life,” said Heike Krieger, chair of the Holberg Committee Chair. (Photo: Joan Vidal/HolbergPrize.Org)

Joan Martinez-Alier, a scholar in ecological economics and political ecology, received the 2023 Holberg Prize from Crown Prince Haakon of Norway today The international award is presented annually to individuals who have made outstanding research contributions in the humanities, social sciences, law or theology.

The Norwegian government established the award on behalf of the University of Bergen Ministry of Education and Research in 2004. The prize pays tribute to Ludwig Holberg, a Danish and Norwegian writer and playwright. Recipients receive 6 million Norwegian kroner, which is equal to about US$600,000.

Martinez-Alier has dedicated his career to analyzing economics and the environment. Specifically, his research has reviewed ways societies can regulate economic activity to foster benefits in other areas like sustainability. He has served as a key figure in the degrowth movement, which argues humans should make economic changes to avoid climate crises and should value ecological prosperity more than economic growth. His research has questioned traditional economic theory and existing paths to economic growth and has established ecological economics as a transdisciplinary field.

“This generous award from the Holberg Committee and board places ecological economics and political ecology, and the debates on degrowth, in the academic spotlight and nearer to the center of politics,” said Martinez-Alier. “Our main purpose is indeed to make visible the many environmental conflicts that exist around the world, arising from the growth and changes in the social metabolism.”

Martinez-Alier is a professor emeritus and researcher at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Latin American Social Sciences Institute in Ecuador. He has directed and edited Ecología Politica, an international journal on ecological issues, since 1990. He is also co-director of the Atlas on Environmental Justice, a platform which documents social conflict surrounding environmental issues.

Some of his prominent works include his 1987 book Ecological Economics: Energy, Environment and Society and his 2002 book The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation. In addition to the Holberg Prize, Martinez-Alier was also the recipient of the 2017 Leontief Prize and the 2020 Balzan Prize.

He was one of the founders of the International Society for Ecological Economics, serving as president of the organization in 2006 and 2007. He was also a member of the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency from 2000 to 2008. His career also included time as a visiting scholar at the Free University of Berlin, St. Antony’s College, the University of Oxford, Stanford, the University of California Davis, and Yale University.

During his acceptance speech delivered at the university’s Agula, or ceremony hall, in Bergen, Martinez-Alier explained that issues between the environment and the economy are not solved by the sustainable development measures currently in place, and that agreements protecting human rights and the environment are unlikely.

“Who has the power to simplify complexity and hide injustice and uncertainty? Political science studies power. That is why political ecology studying such conflicts is political ecology.”

Previous recipients of the Holberg include:

Holdberg Prize logo with line drawing of Ludvig Holberg

Sheila Jasanoff (2022)
Martha C. Nussbaum(2021)
Griselda Pollock (2020)
Paul Gilroy (2019)
Cass R. Sunstein (2018)
Onora O’Neill (2017)
Stephen Greenblatt (2016)
Marina Warner (2015)
Michael Cook (2014)
Bruno Latour (2013)
Manuel Castells (2012)
Jürgen Kocka (2011)
Natalie Zemon Davis (2010)
Ian Hacking (2009)
Fredric R. Jameson (2008)
Ronald Dworkin (2007)
Shmuel N. Eisenstadt (2006)
Jürgen Habermas (2005)
Julia Kristeva (2004)

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Emma Richards

Emma Richards is a student at the University of Florida studying public relations. She is the social science communications intern at Sage Publishing.

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