An emerging culture

It will be the contention here that while the dominant, or hegemonic, culture seeks to incorporate environmental concern into its established modes of operation, seeds are also being planted, in the name of sustainable development, for new forms of social solidarity. Almost wherever we choose to look, top-down strategies compete with bottom-up approaches in the integration of an environmental awareness into social and economic life. And while some important attempts have been made to sort out the various theories, or discourses, of the new environmental politics (e.g. Pepper 1996; Harvey 1996; Dryzek 1997; Darier 1999), little attempt has been made to confront an analysis of the discursive "level" with the variety of practical activities that are taking place.

In my view, environmental politics are perhaps best understood in terms of what the literary critic and novelist Raymond Williams once called an "emergent" cultural formation:

by "emergent" I mean, first, that new meanings and values, new practices, new relationships and kinds of relationship are continually being created. But it is exceptionally difficult to distinguish those which are really elements of some new phase of the dominant culture and those which are substantially alternative or oppositional to it: emergent in the strict sense, rather than merely novel. (Williams 1977: 123)

As experimental practices, an emergent cultural formation is continually being formed and reformed, and, as Williams also emphasized, it is in inevitable struggle with the dominant culture. In particular, an emergent culture must contend with the complex forms of "incorporation" that the dominant culture develops in response to the new practices and visions. For Williams, what was most characteristic of an emergent cultural formation were the alternative "structures of feeling," the disposition or sensibility or underlying values that are in continuous danger of being destroyed by the incorporating efforts of the dominant culture. But he also stressed that the emergent culture could easily be captured by and retreat into "residual" cultural formations, those traditional ways of life and ideologies that had been overtaken by the dominant culture, but which lived on in the collective memory (Williams 1977: 122-23).

We can perhaps most adequately identify the structures of feeling in the emergent, or what I prefer to call emerging, ecological culture as an ongoing set of social and cultural processes that contain elements of both thought and action, and which are both ideational and material. As Williams put it, they are "social experiences in solution" (ibid.: 133). But they are experiences whose practitioners must wage, as it were, a battle on two fronts: against a dominant, or hegemonic, culture seeking to incorporate them, and against a residual, or reactionary, culture seeking to envelop them. It is this active work of innovation and synthesis, this simultaneous struggle against the twin dangers of cooption and reaction, that is so crucially important to understand.

In order to grasp these processes that are taking place before our eyes we need to fashion a dynamic style of interpretation so that we might be able to explore the myriad types of coalition-forming, network-building, identity-fashioning, and symbol-creating that are often difficult to disentangle and which are seldom examined explicitly. My effort here will draw, somewhat eclectically, on several different academic fields and theoretical traditions, and present findings from a number of recent research projects, to try to grasp what is proving to be neither a particularly straightforward nor coherent process of social and cultural change.

In what follows, I will be considering the ongoing "greening" of our societies primarily as a kind of knowledge-making, or cognitive praxis. Like many other social and economic activities, environmental politics contain at their core a cognitive dimension, which we can think of as diverse, and sometimes competing, attempts to construct reality (Berger and Luckmann 1967).

Cognitive praxis is the way that human consciousness is acted out or put into practice; it is knowledge in the making (Latour 1987; Golinski 1998). Like the new "modes" of knowledge-production that have been delineated in the social study of science (Gibbons et al. 1994), cognitive praxis consists of both ideas and the procedures that are used to validate them, and of both organizational forms and spatial relations. Cognitive praxis is situationally determined, or context specific, and it consists both of formal and informal types of knowledge making (Haraway 1991). As Michael Polanyi was one of the first to recognize, there is almost always a "tacit" or personal dimension that is of crucial significance in the development of knowledge (Polanyi 1958). In different settings, in different parts of the world, different shades of green theory and practice are being combined in different ways.

My aim in the chapters that follow is to track some of them down, trace their historical roots, and tell some stories along the way. I want to try to identify broader historical patterns in the processes under investigation, and, at the same time, elucidate some of the ways in which different members of the "public" take part in the making of green knowledge. As such, it will be a book of juxtapositions: of past and present, local and global, national and international, academic and activist, personal and political.8


Some of the formulations in this chapter build on the final report of the project, Public Engagement and Science and Technology Policy Options (PESTO) (Jamison 1999). An earlier version has been published in Innovation - The European Journal of Social Sciences, autumn 2000.

1 Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1961) is usually heralded as the harbinger of the women's liberation movement in much the same way that Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is seen as the starting-point for environmental-ism. The internet grew out of the so-called ARPAnet, which developed as part of the manned space program, and, of course, rock music seems, in retrospect, to have been the main event of the 1960s, soaking up into its many varieties much of the cultural and political energy of that turbulent decade (see Eyerman and Jamison 1998: 106ff for details).

2 Yrjo Haila (1997) makes a distinction between wilderness, which he sees as an ideological construction, and wildness, which can be fostered and revitalized among humans as well as non-humans; see also Turner 1996; Abram 1996.

3 In his book on the toxic-waste movement in the United States, Andrew Szasz shows how NIMBY protests are perhaps more "progressive" than many commentators have suggested. Many of the originally local protests over toxic waste sites grew into broader struggles of environmental justice, he contends; but he also suggests that local protests over pollution were a major source of the "paradigm shift" to preventive approaches that took place in the 1980s. We will return to these matters in chapter 6 (see Szasz 1994).

4 As this manuscript was being finalized, I attended a conference on environmental social science in Finland where I heard a similar, but far more comprehensive, review of these matters by Riley Dunlap. See also Cohen, ed., 1999 and Redclift and Woodgate, eds., 1997.

5 A detailed historical review of these developments, particularly as they took place in the United States, can be found in Ross 1991. The articles collected in Wagner and Wittrock, et al. 1991, provide additional insights into the insti-tutionalization of the social sciences.

6 The so-called science wars of the 1990s represented the angry response to the criticism of science from some self-appointed defenders of a traditional scientific faith (e.g. Gross and Levitt 1994), who have depicted science studies and much of the environmental debate, as well, for that matter, as a form of "(higher) superstition". For responses to the response, see the articles collected in Social Text 46-47 (1996), which also contains the infamous hoax article by Alan Sokal, in which some of the more exaggerated science studies rhetoric is thrown back at its perpetrators.

7 For some information about European and American institutional processes in the interface of the human and the natural-technical sciences, see the websites and publications of the organizations, 4S (The Society for Social Studies of

Science) and EASST (The European Association for the Study of Science and Technology). In 1995, 4S produced a Handbook in Science and Technology Studies, which presents some of the main contributions to the subject area (Jasanoff et al. 1995). The bifurcation into "two cultures" was famously identified by the scientist and novelist C. P. Snow in 1959, and his characterization was one of the sources of inspiration for the emergence of a "science of science" and, eventually, a hybrid field of science-technology-society studies (STS) in the 1960s (Snow 1959; Goldsmith and Mackay 1966).

8 In their recent studies of activism in the United States, James Jasper and Paul Lichterman have focused on the individual "life-story" as an important source for understanding protest activity. As Jasper puts it, "Individuals, with their idiosyncrasies, neuroses, and mistakes, are troublesome for social science But a good social observer, if only to renew her humility, must look at the individuals now and then, to see what motivations and symbols and strategies her models have overlooked" (Jasper 1997: 216). Lichterman has traced what he terms the "search for political community" in the lives of three activists in different environmental organizations in the United States, as a way to relate the individual to the social (Lichterman 1996). As a modest attempt to follow their lead, I will try to bring out some of the personal aspects of the processes I write about.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment