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The profile of human time allocation across hierarchical levels of organization as an emergent property of societal metabolic pattern
The metabolic pattern of human societies is associated with the expression of a set of societal functions resulting in a given profile of human time allocation across different levels of analysis. This profile is determined by a combination of socio-economic, biophysical and cultural factors. The analysis of the entanglement of these factors is essential to identify the option space for a radical transition to more sustainable consumption and production patterns. This analysis shows that the current definition of concepts such as “work” or “leisure time” is ambiguous and it depends on the chosen framing of the analysis. A metabolic and systemic perspective, addressing the complexity of societal and economic functions across different hierarchical levels of organization, allows to understand the contingency among the different uses of time within the given option space. This paper uses a well-established accounting framework - Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism (MuSIASEM) - to illustrate the existence of impredicative relations between different profiles of “allocation of human time” defined at different levels of analysis. The amount of human time invested in the various compartments of the society must respect relations of congruence between the relative sizes of these compartments across scales. The total amount of hours of human time per year associated with the population of a given society – i.e. the budget of human time – has to be allocated among the various competing activities in a zero-sum game: if a larger share of time of human activity is spent in expressing a given function, less human activity is available for the others. A multi-scale analysis can be used to identify trade-offs and possible “bottlenecks” associated with changes in profiles of human activity at the individual level (work vs leisure), economic sectors (investments in work vs technical capital), the whole society (reducing the size of primary sectors vs reducing the size of the services and household sector). The discussion is illustrated with empirical data.