The varieties of activism

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A first step is getting a somewhat clearer idea of who the critical ecologists are. As I argued in chapter 1, there are serious problems with the ways in which environmental politics are usually examined and reflected upon. There is a gap between theoretical and empirical work, there are disciplinary divisions, and there are differences in knowledge interest. But, perhaps most seriously, there are too many categorizations at large, too many mutually incompatible ways to characterize the emerging ecological culture and who is involved in it.

The groupings that I propose here are based on different forms ofprac-tice, and, more specifically, on different forms of cognitive praxis. They divide the emerging ecological culture into four ideal-typical types, which I have adapted from the work of Bronislaw Szerszynski at the Centre for the Study of Environmental Change in Lancaster, Britain. What I have learned from his work and from the work of CSEC in general is the need to combine our eclectic tendencies in a creative way. In many respects, CSEC can be considered as a kind of green public sphere, created at the interface between the academic and the activist worlds. In Szerszynski's case the academic discourses of religious studies and sociology have been combined with environmental politics in order to differentiate forms of what he has termed ecological "piety" (Szerszynski 1997). He distinguishes between purposive and principled action, the first aiming to change political decisions or achieve direct political results, the second concerned to modify values or behavior. Szerszynski further distinguishes between counter-cultural and mainstream forms of practice.

Thus we have, first, what Szerszynski calls a "monastic" piety, which is principled and counter-cultural and characteristic of closely linked groups that develop common "lifestyles" and attempt to practice an ecological way of life often in production collectives of one kind or another. There is here an attempt to withdraw from the larger society, to establish an enclave, a liberated zone, outside of the dictates of consumerist capitalism. As in the monastic tradition as it developed historically in Christianity, this is a "piety of self-enunciation - the giving up of self-serving desires, or the surrendering ofthe individual to the collective" (Szerszynski 1997:40).

Secondly there is "sectarian" piety, which is purposive and counter-cultural, characteristic of direct action protest groups, such as those opposing motorway construction and animal experimentation, and, more generally, reclaiming the streets. By characterizing them as sectarian, Szerszynski links them to the sects of the Protestant Reformation, stressing the sense of moral, personal, "witnessing" against evil, as well as the feeling of urgency and personal commitment that the eco-warriors share with the Protestant sectarians.

Thirdly, there is "churchly" piety, which is purposive, but also established, and is characteristic of groups such as Greenpeace or the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). Here, one participates in environmental politics by paying one's dues to a professional organization: a green church:

Just as membership of the church became disconnected from any need for conspicuous displays of personal piety and commitment, Greenpeace accommodates itself to worldly existence by constructing a passive identity for its supporters entirely compatible with a non-heroic world of employment and family. And whereas the 'community of saints' in one ofthe small direct action groups such as the Dongas or Earth First! is experienced by each of its members in the form of face-to-face affectual relationships, the community that is Greenpeace is thus experienced, like that of a church, more in the imagination, as a quiet confidence in its ongoing activity. (Szerszynski 1997: 45)

Finally there is a "folk piety," which is principled and mainstream and characteristic of less organized, more personal forms of participation in environmental politics, such as green consumerism, waste recycling, and energy conservation. Here membership, or activism, is much more "part time" than in a social movement, and it is also highly flexible in its criteria for involvement. Szerszynski names it "folk piety" in order to underscore its similarity to the "religion of the peasant majority of late medieval and early modern Europe, which was dismantled by the forces of the Reformation and Counter Reformation in the sixteenth century." Like peasant religion, the folk piety of green consumerism involves the "ritual-isation of the everyday," and, in the emerging rituals and taboos, serves to "affirm the identity of the individual, and their social bonds with others, as much as to navigate around a risky world" (Szerszynski 1997: 48-49).

My own categorization, which is inspired by Szerszynski's, takes its point of departure in the actual development of different types of green knowledge-making. There are dynamic relations among the different types and, as we shall see, significant personal trajectories, or life-histories, that enter into the world of ecological activism. There are both relations of cooperation and of a common, collective identity, as well as relations of competition, as the different types of critical ecologists propose and develop different tactics, values, beliefs, and practices. Of particular importance is the specific type of cognitive praxis that characterizes the varieties of environmentalism, the approaches to knowledge and the ways in which knowledge production and dissemination are constituted. Adopting Szerszynski's method I employ four categories which I call community, professional, militant, and personal. Presenting the categories like this may provide some new ways to consider what they represent and the dilemmas they present.

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