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Transforming Participatory Science into Socioecological Praxis

Valuing Marginalized Environmental Knowledges in the Face of the Neoliberalization of Nature and Science

Brian J. Burke and Nik Heynen

Citizen science and sustainability science promise the more just and democratic production of environmental knowledge and politics. In this review, we evaluate these participatory traditions within the context of (a) our theorization of how the valuation and devaluation of nature, knowledge, and people help to produce socio-ecological hierarchies, the uneven distribution of harms and benefits, and inequitable engagement within environmental politics, and (b) our analysis of how neoliberalism is reworking science and environmental governance. We find that citizen and sustainability science often fall short of their transformative potential because they do not directly confront the production of environmental injustice and political exclusion, including the knowledge hierarchies that shape how the environment is understood and acted upon, by whom, and for what ends. To deepen participatory practice, we propose a heterodox ethicopolitical praxis based in Gramscian, feminist, and postcolonial theory and describe how we have pursued transformative praxis in southern Appalachia through the Coweeta Listening Project.

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Introduction

Science/technology as politics by other means

Simone Abram

This article introduces a series of ideas about the categories of science and politics, by way of actor network theory, Gell's theories of index and agency, and governmentality studies. It explores the ways in which science has become a discursive element in contemporary government, and examines the tensions between the purifying categorizations of politics and science, and the re-embedding (or hybridizing) of science into national political discourse. What emerges is a series of practices by which science is nationalized, domesticating the ideal of a generalized science into localized political debates at both national and sub-national levels, practices which may be transformed at national boundaries. While we acknowledge that science in practice is not abstract or generalizable (since it must engage with a world which is not abstracted), it is the abstracting and purifying work attributed to science which makes it attractive as a political alibi for particular political projects. Rather than seeing science as politics by other means, perhaps we should be examining the creation of a rehybridized science-politics.

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Jerome Ravetz

In this essay I review my own involvement in climate science, and attempt to draw some useful lessons. I start with a critique of the theory of post-normal science (PNS). This is derived from the experience of the effective criticisms of PNS that were made on the blogosphere. I proceed to a critique of climate science itself, which might be described as the attempt to solve a post-normal problem by "normal science" methods. Since quality, in a variety of aspects, became crucial in the Climategate debates, I analyze that concept in the fraught context of a politicized, contested science. Such sciences have the seeds of tragedy for those who innocently engage with them believing that their task is simply to speak truth to power. Finally, out of my personal history I suggest that we keep in mind the personal investment of anyone holding a contested view, and respect their struggles to maintain integrity when their core beliefs are under attack. This motivates the fostering of non-violence in debates on policy science issues.

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David E. Long

In an ethnographic study set within a biology department of a public university in the United States, incongruity between the ideals and practice of science education are investigated. Against the background of religious conservative students' complaints about evolution in the curriculum, biology faculty describe their political intents for fostering science literacy. This article examines differences that emerge between the department's rhetorical commitment to improve science understanding amongst their students and the realities of course staffing and anxieties about promotion and tenure. Because tenure-track faculty are motivated to focus their careers on research productivity and teaching biology majors, other biology courses are staffed with adjunct instructors who are less equipped to negotiate complex pedagogies of science and religion. In practice, faculty avoid risky conversations about evolution versus creationism with religiously conservative students. I argue that such faculty are complicit, through their silence, in failing to equip their students with the science literacy which their own profession avows is crucial for a well-informed citizenry in a democracy.

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Data Moves

Taking Amazonian Climate Science Seriously

Antonia Walford

Drawing on fieldwork with researchers and technicians involved in a scientific project in the Brazilian rainforest, this article explores specific aspects of climate science in the Amazon. It suggests that taking science seriously anthropologically requires an investigation into the relation between endo-anthropology and exo-anthropology. This is done recursively by exploring a particular way in which what is 'inside' and what is 'outside' are achieved and negotiated in the scientific practice under study. Researchers and technicians 'do' some crucial distinctions with data, and the article points to the importance of the flux of data and the boundaries and sides that emerge from the control of that flux.

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Believed Belief

Science/Religion versus Sukuma Magic

Koen Stroeken

Typically, magic takes no stance against the socialized beliefs that determine it, in contrast with both science and modern religion, which, in the face of doubt, assert the truth-value of their propositions against such determination. In other words, science and religion engage in 'believed belief'. Their aversion to magical belief is the one thing they can agree on. Believed beliefs produce convictions of truth sufficiently intense to base actions on, such as the killing of someone identified as a witch. Ethnography on Sukuma healing allows us to distinguish this experience of the witch from that of oracles and magical remedies. While research in terms of belief(s) tends to oppose cultures, an approach based on experiential structures links up seemingly distinct practices from different cultures, while differentiating seemingly similar practices within a culture.

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Heli Saarikoski and Kaisa Raitio

This article illustrates the interconnectedness of science and politics through a case study of old-growth forest conflict in Finnish Upper Lapland. It demonstrates the ways in which “traditional science“ has failed to settle the decades-long conflict between state forestry and traditional Sámi reindeer herding, and discusses the potential of democratization of science through more inclusive forms of knowledge production. The analysis, which is based on qualitative interview data, shows that a traditional science focus on biological indicators and mathematical modeling has provided only a partial account of the reindeer herding-forestry interactions by ignoring the local, place-specific practices that are equally important in understanding the overall quality of pasture conditions in Upper Lapland. It concludes that an inclusive inquiry, structured according to the principles of joint fact-finding, could create a more policy-relevant, and also more scientifically robust, knowledge basis for future forest management and policy decisions.

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Introduction

Writing History and the Social Sciences with Ivan Jablonka

Nathan Bracher

This introduction outlines Ivan Jablonka’s theory and practice of writing the social sciences as foregrounded in three of his most noted, recent books, A History of the Grandparents I Never Had, History is a Contemorary Literature, and Laëtitia. As he outlines in his own contribution here, Jablonka advances rigorous, methodical research that nevertheless details the subjective investment of the researcher while at the same time utilizing creative “literary” techniques to engage a wide spectrum of readers well beyond the habitual circles of academic specialists. The essays contributed by Julie Fette, Sarah Fishman, Melanie Hawthorne, Don Reid, and Nathan Bracher explore various facets of Jablonka’s approach, including, respectively: writing history with family stories, resisting the erosion of factual reasoning in the Trump years, pursuing biographies of supposedly non-descript lives, appreciating the importance of Communist cultural networks in postwar France, and revisiting the role of the subject in the social sciences.

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Roger A. Pielke

This essay explores the management and creation of ignorance via an exploration of the landscape of eastern Germany, which has seen profound social, political, and technological changes over the past several decades. Like in many places around the world decision makers in eastern Germany are seeking to reach a future state where seemingly conflicting outcomes related to the economy and the environment are simultaneously realized. The management of ignorance is an important but often overlooked consideration in decision making that the concept of "post-normal science" places into our focus of attention.

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Bryan L. Moore

Early science fiction (SF) is noted for, among other things, its conservatism and lack of interest in ecology. Brian Stableford, a well-known SF writer and critic, writes that "there are very few early stories with ecological themes" (1993, 395). This article shows that, in fact, many early SF works (those written between the Enlightenment and World War II) employ ecological themes, especially as applied to questioning our anthropocentrism. These works suggest that humans are but one species among many, that we are not the end of nature/history, that the natural world may be better off without us, and, in some cases, that humanity is fated to go extinct, the result of its own hubris. Such views are undoubtedly pessimistic, yet these works may also be read as warnings for humans to seek a more humble view of ourselves as members of what Aldo Leopold calls the land community.