Between incorporation and resistance

A fundamental feature of the new environmental politics is that there is no one true, or trusted, form of expertise, no single path to the truth. It is increasingly recognized that all experts have interests of their own which, in complicated ways, exert an influence on the knowledge they produce. As could be expected, there have emerged a number of competing academic, or analytical, responses to the new environmental challenges, but what is more difficult to realize is that many of these responses are contradictory, or, to put it another way, many of these responses are equally true. They are, however, true in different ways in that they are based on different ideals of scientific knowledge, different "epistemic" criteria, as well as different varieties of scientific practice. What is at work, we might say, are competing social epistemologies (Fuller 1988). And this leads, in this area as in so many others, to what Aant Elzinga has termed "epistemic drift," a situation in which knowledge production is carried out without any overall accepted framework of validation or shared set of beliefs (Elzinga 1985).

Many of the experts in greening come from the first wave of interdisciplinary environmental studies or human ecology programs that were established in the 1970s, but many others, as already pointed out, are trying to deal with environmental issues from a more traditional, or specialized, disciplinary perspective. We thus have both a variety of competing schools of human, or social, or political ecology, as well as new sub-disciplines of environmental chemistry, biology, sociology, history, political science, economics, management, engineering, etc. all vying for attention, all striving to be taken seriously. And we have a range of commercial experts, who are operating in a rapidly expanding marketplace of consultation that functions, for the most part, outside of the academic world with its established procedures of quality control and peer review.

While there is a growing literature of competing, even conflicting, interpretations of the new environmental agenda, it can be suggested that they may all be placed on a continuum between two opposing poles. The one pole is optimistic, progressive, and business-oriented, and, in some of its variants, has been characterized as signaling a new stage of modernity (e.g. Giddens 1998). The other is critical, often pessimistic, and tends to put in question the very idea of modernity and the myth of progress that is so central to modernist thinking (e.g. Torgerson 1999). As has been suggested:

the germ of a culturally attuned environmental sensibility in Europe is pincered between on the one side a dominant instrumentalist managerial standardising paradigm, emptied of human meanings, and on the other a set of populist, all too humanly meaningful, parochialist, sentimentalist and antimodern defence movements. (Szerszynski et al. 1996: 5)

The dominant interpretation has drawn on a number of new management and organizational concepts, and reflects the fact that a growing market of environmentally friendly products and technological innovations has emerged in recent years. The general idea has been to try to build environmental concern directly into established economic practices so that undesirable "side effects" can be eliminated, or prevented, at their source. Many are the former environmental activists who have become professional experts and consultants, advising companies and politicians on how best to deal with the environmental challenges and contribute to what has been termed a more sustainable socio-economic development. At the same time, new-fangled experts in environmental management, pollution prevention, ecological communication, risk and life-cycle assessment, industrial ecology, renewable energy, and many other specialty areas have begun to be trained at our universities and are institutionalizing new forms of expertise in companies, governmental agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.

For some of these new experts what is propounded is a change in production "paradigm," while for others it is primarily a shift in emphasis in the normal practices of research and development, innovation, accounting, management, marketing and public relations. For others still, what is involved are specific, incremental changes in particular sectors or branches. Increasingly, however, environmental concern is being integrated into corporate planning and innovation strategies, while many management and engineering schools have begun to provide courses in environmental economics, as well as in the new methods of cleaner production and eco-efficiency.

As these processes have begun working their way into established routines and practices, a very different kind of environmental politics has developed around the world. From the direct action of animal-liberation groups, motorway occupants and forest protesters to the efforts of so-called indigenous peoples to save their ways of life and their resource bases from being further exploited or colonized by corporate expansion, a new wave of environmental activism has emerged in the 1990s (see Rootes 1999). Here also, new forms of expertise have developed, both in the action repertoires of protest groups, as well as in the forms of communication with the media and in the mobilization of support. An interest has developed in understanding the connections between environmental problems and traditional ideas, belief systems, local knowledges and ways of life (Fischer and Hajer 1999). New sub-fields of anthropology and philosophy have sprung up, with at least some academic researchers attempting to apply their insights to the needs of ecological resistance. A kind of intellectual partisanship, a citizen science of counter-expertise, has also developed, both within environmental organizations and at the "interfaces" among environmental groups, green parties, local government and universities (Irwin 1995).

Even more significant, perhaps, are the new environmental think-tanks that have developed around the world to provide an alternative form of expert knowledge in relation to environmental politics. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), based in New Delhi, has been at the forefront of this new form of knowledge production with a long stream of books, reports, magazine articles, and, more recently, a journal, Down to Earth. Since the early 1980s, CSE has served as a model for similar efforts in public interest sciencing elsewhere, and has also been one of the important critics of new forms of ecological "colonialism" (e.g. Agarwal and Narain 1991; Agarwal et al. eds. 1999). Also from India, Vandana Shiva has applied her own particular eloquence to the cause of ecological resistance in a number of books and articles, and has also performed her expertise at meetings, for example, of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, whose policies are seen by many critics as among the main contributing factors behind the new environmental challenges (e.g. Shiva 1988; Shiva 1997).

In the United States, the Worldwatch Institute has been producing a "State of the World" Yearbook and an influential journal and report series since the late 1970s. Located at some distance from the academic world, the Worldwatch Institute produces an expertise that is meant to be put into practice (e.g. French 2000). It is an expertise of mediation or popularization that translates the findings of scientists into a more directly political language (Jamison 1996). Like the publications of the large environmental organizations, Worldwatch does not claim to be producing objective knowledge, but rather a kind of partisan or action science that takes sides and attempts to affect reality. In Europe, similar green think-tanks have developed, such as the Wuppertal Institute in Germany, the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden, and the Programme for Research and Documentation for a Sustainable Society (ProSus) in Norway, but, in comparison to the research efforts of the business world, they remain fairly weak. In the new "dialectics" of environmentalism, green expertise is not evenly distributed or balanced. There is, at one and the same time, a powerful process of incorporation going on, of bringing at least some environmental knowledge and expertise into the political and economic mainstream, while there is also a visible but more marginal process of resistance, often combining environmental protest with issues of human rights and social and economic justice.

A central assumption of critics is that contemporary industrial societies continue to be governed by an overriding capitalist or accumulative logic, what Allan Schnaiberg has termed the "treadmill of production" (Schnaiberg and Gould 1994). This logic has led, in many parts of the world, to a process of ecological marginalization, entailing the takeover of local natural resources by powerful external interests, and the subsequent disorganization of the local environments (Kousis 1998). Also important for many critics is the recognition that environmental problems are increasingly linked to issues of racism, justice, equality, and democracy, and that for many of the new protesters solutions have to be more comprehensive than was previously the case. Particularly in developing countries, there is a growing recognition that the corporate quest for sustainable development brings about new inequalities in terms of resource and income distribution, access to knowledge and information, and influence over strategic decision-making (Sachs 1999). In their transfer of responsibility to the private sector, governments and intergovernmental bodies are, perhaps unwittingly, supporting corporate expansion at the expense of local, small-scale initiatives. As the International Society for Ecology and Culture has characterized the situation in a recent analysis, "Small is beautiful, Big is subsidised" (Gorelick 1998). What is needed, according to the diverse collection of critical ecologists, is thus a new kind of politics: new forms of mobilization and opposition to the dominant forces of power.

Building on earlier distinctions between "deep" and "shallow" ecology (e.g. Nœss 1973) and between "environmentalists" and "ecologists" (Bookchin 1982), the newer generation of critical ecologists explicitly rejects the incorporation into the mainstream that is so characteristic of corporate, or business environmentalism. Instead, these critics are often seeking to foster new ways of life both in terms of relativizing knowledge claims and in building transnational alliances among representatives of civil society.

As ideal typical counterpoints, or polar opposites, green business and critical ecology have served to bifurcate what in the 1970s could be seen as a somewhat more unified and coherent social movement. While they have developed in parallel fashion, both reacting to a similar set of environmental challenges and political and economic opportunities, and both conditioned by much the same "globalizing" political economy, each of the two main interpretative strategies has tended to develop separate theories and practices. They have seldom informed one another, and they have thus contributed far less than they could have to any comprehensive solution to these serious problems. In the language of Raymond Williams, we can think of them as the responses of "dominant" and "residual" cultural formations, respectively to the emergence of an ecological sensibility, or environmental consciousness (Williams 1977). It seems, therefore, to be increasingly important to delineate a path in between the two polarized positions. As the editors of a recent anthology have put it:

Transcending this barren modernist/antimodernist, culture/nature dichotomy requires us to find a new set of terms which reflect the co-construction of nature and culture, and which in so doing may provide the grounds for a renewal of public agency and identification with environmental and related public policies. (Szerszynski et al. 1996: 5)

It is this bifurcation, or polarization, that has inflicted itself upon both the theory and practice of environmentalism and, in particular, its relations to science, technology, and societal knowledge-making more generally that forms the point of departure for this book. For while both sides propose new kinds of scientific research and technical innovation and new forms of knowledge-making their proposals are all too often incommensurable, based as they are on different kinds of intellectual tradition and the mobilization of very different sorts of cultural and political resource. The green businessmen have their own journals and conferences and networks of communication, and, in most countries, their own sources of political and economic support, while the critical ecologists tend to move in very different types of professional and political circles. By explicitly examining the cognitive praxis of environmental politics in some detail, as well as exploring some of the most relevant historical precedents and formative influences, it is my hope that more synthetic, or bridge-building, approaches to environmental politics might be easier to recognize and strengthen.

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