A broader perspective

In my view, if we are to be able to make use of our scientific and technological developments in socially appropriate and ecologically sustainable ways, we must wander outside the confines of any one discipline and any one mode of interpretation into the wider worlds of culture and history. Without adopting a broader perspective, our decision-makers and our opinion-formers will continue to steer developments into trajectories that are too narrow and one-sided, and, as a result, all too often counterproductive. But what does such a broader understanding involve? Let me briefly specify three central elements of the perspective that I will be trying to put to work in the chapters that follow.

First and most fundamental to my understanding of reality is the historical dimension, and the overriding importance of historical reflection. Social and cultural changes unfold over time, and if we take reality only as it presents itself to us at any one point in time, or if we consider developments only in a short-term time perspective we can be led to make serious lapses in judgment and profound misunderstandings of the situation. History is important not merely as a narrative chronology of events, as the way things once were, but as an essential component of the present, helping to form or shape contemporary activity. In this respect, history should be seen as a kind of collective memory, as those traditions or legacies of the past which are selectively and continually being mobilized in the ongoing construction of the present (Eyerman and Jamison 1998). Lewis Mumford once likened history to a reservoir of human experiences out of which each generation identifies its own currents and flows.

Without the perpetual rediscovery and reinterpretation of history, without free access to that reservoir, the life of any single generation would be but a trickle of water in a desert. The limited conventions of historians have made us forget, however, that history has an anticipatory side: it is the domain of the possible, the starting point of the ideal... The creation and selection of new potentialities, the projection of ideal goals, is, with reference to the future, the counterpart of an intelligent commerce with the past. (Mumford 1944: 12-13)

In the pages that follow, historical reflection will be used to help to identify the roots of contemporary processes, both in terms of precursors and formative traditions, as well as in relation to long-term tensions that have an influence on contemporary events. In order to understand the factors that lead to the emergence of new social actors and processes, as well as the underlying forces of inertia and resistance, historical analysis needs to be given a much more explicit role in our understanding of science, technology, and sustainable development. A historical perspective is also necessary to identify the conditions which serve to differentiate one culture or region from another in its way of "appropriating" technological and other socio-economic developmental processes into the various worlds, or domains, of social life (Hard and Jamison 1998).

Secondly, a broader understanding of the relations between environmental politics and cultural transformation should be informed by a pluralist, or comparative, sensibility. The alternative to the dominant technocratic and universalizing conceptions cannot merely be a relativist particularism, such as those proposed by writers identifying with one or another ethnic or "deep ecology" ideology. Both within environmental-ism, as well as in the broader discourses of socio-economic development and international relations, it has become fashionable to counter Western, or technoscientific, imperialism by reinventing traditional identities, and although there is much to sympathize with in the writings of many of the new cultural critics, they often exaggerate the contemporary relevance of traditional belief systems (Jamison 1994). A technocratic mindset cannot be adequately challenged by ethnically specific or by explicitly "ecocentric" alternatives. Science and technology are global possessions and they provide humanity, for the most part, with progressive achievements, but what is not to be neglected are the different contributions that different cultures have made, the different "rivers" - in Joseph Needham's metaphor - that have flowed into the ocean of technoscientific knowledge (Needham 1969).

Pluralism means that we give proper recognition to the diversity of technology interactions and, in particular, the ways in which national cultures indigenize international trends, both in relation to ideas as well as artifacts. As Arnold Pacey has argued, innovation in the past has often been shaped by a technological dialog among civilizations (Pacey 1990). Techniques have not merely been transferred from one society to another, as the dominant ideology would have it; rather, they have been selectively exchanged and communicated in processes of dialogue and creative interaction. Technological change, we might say, is a multicultural movement of ideas and experiences, and in the contemporary world no policy decisions are taken without reference to contexts which transcend national borders. But neither are policy decisions the result of truly international, or global, processes. Policy-makers and their experts operate in particular national settings at the same time as they belong to transnational, or cosmopolitan actor-networks - academic, economic, civic, and bureaucratic - which share certain common values and ways of life.

The insights of the Latin American dependencia theorists have shown us that Western economic development was part of an international process, and that the development of the North was fueled by exploitation of resources and oppression of peoples in the South. Capitalist development was, in large measure, driven by the quest for expansion and domination that characterized colonialism and imperialism (e.g. Frank 1978). Later attempts to reduce economic and political change to the machinations of an all-encompassing world system, or globalization process, however, are not helpful in understanding either the dynamics of scientific and technological, or of social and cultural, change. As Ulrich Beck has recently emphasized, there is a tendency in much of the globalization literature to neglect the complexity of different underlying globalizing processes, and, in particular, to confuse an ideology of globalism with the myriad social and economic processes of globalization (Beck 1998).

What needs to be distinguished within any kind of world system, or globalization, process are the complicated and simultaneous patterns of interaction and competition, of centralization and localization: what Ulf Hannerz has termed "cultural complexity" (Hannerz 1992). Globalization is not of one piece; and to understand what is going on it can be helpful to identify different, and often competing, alliances, coalitions, and campaigns, that are organized into a range of transnational actor-networks. As Edward Said, who has analyzed the role of colonialism in the development of literature, put it:

A confused and limiting notion of priority allows that only the original proponents of an idea can understand and use it. But the history of all cultures is the history of cultural borrowings. Cultures are not impermeable; just as Western science borrowed from Arabs, they had borrowed from India and Greece. Culture is never just a matter of ownership, of borrowing and lending with absolute debtors and creditors, but rather of appropriations, common experiences, and interdependencies of all kinds among different cultures. (Said 1993: 217)

It is well to remember that environmental politics, like all political activities, is the work of people with different agendas, constituencies, and patterns of development, translating or reinterpreting "global" doctrines and approaches into local, or national, contexts. We might well liken the flows of ideas and experiences and policy initiatives to the flows of resources and energy in ecosystems, as different actors seek out particular niches in the diverse landscapes of science and technology and of economics, culture, and politics.

As Karel Kosik once put it, in arguing for the continued relevance of dialectical philosophy, we need to "divide the one" (Kosik 1976), to separate what confronts us as a unified picture of reality into its component parts, and this is a kind of deconstruction activity. In viewing knowledge-production and social development as dynamic cultural processes, we need to understand the ways in which conflicting values, norm systems, and programmatic ambitions come to be combined in the making of "projects" both big and small. Scientists following what they imagine to be their own intellectual curiosity are often more interested in different components of scientific knowledge than are industrialists who are looking for commercially viable new products. The governmental and intergovernmental agencies that have been established to regulate production processes or to improve public health similarly have their own, rather specialized, interests, as do the various groups, organizations, societies, political parties, and just plain concerned citizens who populate the heterogeneous realm of "civil society."

It is important not to lose sight of the conflictual nature of socioeconomic development in general, and of scientific, technological, and other forms of knowledge-making in particular. For while it is widely recognized that there are distinct national patterns of industrial and innovation policy (e.g. Nelson 1993), it is essential to investigate the cultural shaping of these "national systems," the ways in which particular geographical conditions, intellectual traditions, and cultural visions have come into play in the making of regionally differentiated socio-technological complexes.

In order to better understand these relations, or tensions, it is necessary to go beyond the surface manifestations to the underlying cognitive dimensions ofsocietal interactions, and this is the final, and perhaps most important, element of my approach. Using perspectives from the fields of science, technology, and society studies - and from the cognitive approach to social movements that I have previously developed with Ron Eyerman - I will attempt in this book to elucidate the knowledge interests, or cognitive praxis, of environmental politics. This means exploring what we might term the social epistemology of sustainable development, and trace some of the deep-seated assumptions and beliefs - the epis-temic commitments - that condition contemporary activities (Elzinga 1985; Jacob 1996). Our actions are informed by ideas and traditions that are seldom brought into the open, and it is important to make those assumptions and proclivities explicit and identifiable. In this respect, a broader cultural approach, as Kay Milton has put it, can help to "dispell the myths" that are all too often taken for granted in social and political interactions, and not least in environmental debates and policy decisions (Milton 1996).

My own political, or social, epistemology involves an effort to pay attention, serious attention, to oppositional and critical voices. By representing the responses to, as well as the victims of, so-called modernization, critical and oppositional movements have often functioned as an important means for reorientation and redirection in the course of scientific, technological, and social development (Jamison 1988). Social movements, we might say, are a recurrent source for the reconstitution of societies and their modes of knowledge-production. As carriers of critique and alternative visions, social movements - from the religious movements of the early modern era to the labor movements of the nineteenth century and on to the environmental, feminist, and postcolonial movements of our own day - have served to articulate alternative criteria for social and cognitive development. They thus provide an important source of renovation in long-term shifts of societal direction. Taking such critical voices seriously is not easy; but if our technological advancements are to serve more than the interests of one group in our societies, it is necessary to develop new and broader ways of understanding, conceptualizing, and institutionalizing processes of technological change.

For the analyst, this means recognizing one's own partisanship. Rather than seeking to achieve a false sense of objectivity and academic distance in relation to the topics that are under investigation, we should instead try to develop a more conscious sense of our own intellectual engagement, combining the detachment of the scientist with the passion of the participant. As citizens, as human subjects, we are inevitably part of the processes we study, and our research, whether we like it or not, is always a form of political intervention. By focusing attention on some aspect of social reality we also give it form, voice, and meaning, however scientific and impartial we might try to be. The challenge is to use our involvement - and our research "role" - creatively, not by dismissing it or rejecting it, or being ashamed of our own values and beliefs, but by trying to build those values and normative attachments into our understanding. We have opinions about the things we study, and we should try to use our engagement in our analyses by being honest about the choices we make and the sides we take. Here, intellectual engagement means, among other things, an attempt to put the different sides of the environmental political debate on speaking terms, and to use the theory, history, and sociology of science to help to fashion a multilogical discursive space and to build some bridges, and make some connections, across the divisions of environmentalism.

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