Around 1987 the environmental movement began to take on a new character. Metaphorically we might say the seeds that had been planted in the cultural soil had started to take root. The utopian practices which had characterized much of the activity of environmental movements up until then have gradually given way to the somewhat more complicated and diffuse work of instituting and implementing: cultivating and nurturing the seeds that have been planted. As a result the underlying meanings of environmental politics have come to be fundamentally altered. Other interests have had to be taken into account in the launching of campaigns, the development of programs and the taking of initiatives. The terms of discussion have shifted from making particular improvements or pointing to particular environmental problems to integrating environmental concerns into all other kinds of social, economic, and political activities.
In this volume, I have put into a broader historical perspective some of the original visions and practices of the environmental movement, and have traced what has happened to them over the past thirty years. The theoretical contribution incorporates recent experiences of institution-alization and professionalization that have affected environmentalism to highlight fundamental processes of cultural and cognitive change. In so doing some of the underlying conflicts in the cultural transformations that are currently taking place in our societies in the name of ecology have been brought to light.
My account has been based on the assumption that in the quest for more sustainable paths to socio-economic development there have emerged a number of tensions within and between countries, and especially between the rich, advanced, nations of the North and the less developed, all-too-impoverished nations of the South. Using the concepts I developed with Ron Eyerman in writing on social movements, I focus on the cognitive dimensions of these tensions to provide a better understanding of the various programs and activities that different actors are pursuing. This focus on the intellectual content of "greening" is needed for practitioners and analysts alike, many of whom tend to disregard the views expressed by other participants in the quest for sustainable development.
While representatives of the bureaucratic culture, the domain of the state, have emphasized the formal aspects of knowledge production, agents of the economic culture have increasingly directed their attention to institutional and instrumental innovations, and to fostering new forms of management and accounting. The representatives of civic culture have sought primarily to mobilize latent forms of knowledge in the quest for sustainable development and have emphasized the significance of lay, or local, knowledge in political processes and policy-making. In his recent attempt to disentangle the different meanings of sustainable development Wolfgang Sachs has focused his attention on the definitions of "finiteness" that are contained within the several perspectives (Sachs 1999: 78ff). Where one perspective has the quest for sustainability as a "contest," a matter ofcompetition and economic growth (the "economic" culture), another frames the quest in systemic, holistic, terms, from an "astronaut's" perspective, as Sachs calls it (the "bureaucratic" culture). A third approach sees the quest for sustainability from the vantage-point of the individual, or what Sachs terms the "home" perspective: an approach to sustainable development articulated by representatives of the "civic" culture.
As readers will gather, the research presented here has not been written with what Robert Merton once termed "disinterestedness." My observations and empirical investigations have been conducted in direct relation to the theoretical approach that I outlined in chapter 1.
In terms of methodology I have attempted to combine what anthropologists term "participatory observation" with intellectual engagement, seeking to confront the "discourses" or theories of environmental politics and the broader politics of knowledge with some of the emerging practices that are taking place.
I have tried to raise some doubts about how well the available interpretations help us understand what is actually going on in the world of environmental politics. "Ecological modernization," for instance, is a misleading term with which to describe green commercial activities. These activities of green business are filled with both modernizing and anti-modernizing tendencies, and, even more, they are shaped by changing conditions, opportunities, and contingencies.
"Deep ecology" may be a misleading term as all too often it takes on the function of ideology. The deep ecologist originally was meant simply to go further with his or her involvement in environmentalism than the "shallow" pragmatic, ecologist was wont to do in order to explore the deeper philosophical aspects of the environmental problematic, that is, to conduct what Arne N^ss called "ecophilosophy" (N^ss 1973). But as deep ecology became an ideological term it tended to become a concept to distinguish the radical, or the extremist, from the more pragmatic or practical-minded. So it became counter-productive in that it helped to strengthen a kind of backlash or rejection of environmental arguments. The deep ecologist, for better or worse, has also tended to spawn the not-so-deep anti-ecologist.
So it seems we need to modify our use of terminology. More fluid terms are needed: dialectical, open-ended terms to characterize the ebbs and flows, nuances and subtleties and the ambiguities of environmental politics.
Was this article helpful?