Accepted paper:

Meetings to change the world: declamatory politics and the knowledge society in environmentalist knowledge practices


Eeva Berglund (Aalto University)

Paper short abstract:

Environmentalists have always produced and used knowledge. The paper considers activist knowledge practices over time. Meetings used to be concerned with accessing, assessing and putting information to instrumental use but now less so, as knowledge is increasingly provisional and an unreliable ally.

Paper long abstract:

I draw on over 20 years of experience of activist meetings, in Germany, the UK and in Finland, to explore environmentalist knowledge practices. My observation, echoing the literature, has been that activist knowledge production often operates as a vanguard: from the natural sciences and engineering to the social sciences, the mainstream often follows the activist.

In this exploratory paper I will juxtapose this narrative with shifts I have identified in the way environmental activists produce, manipulate or use knowledge, or more precisely, the information that they stabilise through internal meetings. I suggest that whereas previously activists were largely concerned with getting access to and assessing information that they could then put to instrumental uses, recently activist meetings are becoming events where knowledge is treated as an inherently unstable and unreliable ally.

Meetings become not so much times and places to exchange information as opportunities to share inspirational thoughts. Planning activities and pursuing shared goals are still important reasons for coming together, but the role of knowledge seems to have shifted. The paper explores the possibility that activist practices have been subtly but significantly influenced by recent technical, institutional and socioeconomic novelties that have weakened the political force of information. What might activist knowledge production be, given the last twenty years of government enthusiasm for public engagement and for innovations like design thinking, which treats knowledge as more provisional than certain and the world as more constructed than given?

panel P14
Meetings: procedure and artifacts of modern knowledge