The function of Chapter 3 is twofold. First, we introduce the epistemological assumptions underlying our exploration of the different disciplines that allow us to study environmental literacy. We assume that the social-epistemic and material–biophysical aspects of human systems and their environments can be viewed from a realist, objective perspective. At the same time, we assume that the realist view is compatible with a functional constructivist perspective.
Second, the chapter lays important groundwork that enables the reader to take in the generic framework for conducting research on human–environment systems (HES). Two complementarities are fundamental components of the blueprint that this book offers for coping with HES. First, the HES complementarity is based on the assumption that human and environmental systems are disjointed but inextricably coupled systems that cannot be well comprehended when considered singularly or disconnectedly. Second, the material–social complementarity, also called the material–biophysical versus social–epistemic or body versus mind complementarity, describes our assumptions about different types of processes within human systems. These complementarities are the building blocks of the HES framework put forward in Chapters 16–19.