(A18)
Uncertain futures: green alternatives and STS interventions
Location Bowland Lecture Theatre (Bowland Main)
Date and Start Time 28 Jul, 2018 at 09:30
Sessions 2

Convenor

  • Les Levidow (Open University) email

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Discussant Igmar Lippert (Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science)

Short abstract

Through this panel we aim to advance STS theoretical and methodological interventions into both reflecting on and making of 'green futures'.

Long abstract

We want to reflect on problems of environmental degradation and its threat to livelihoods which has become a focal point for diverse remedies promoting visions of a better, 'green' society. Such remedies came predominantly in form of various techno- and market-fixes but also as alternatives proposed by social movements demanding environmental justice and 'system change', as well as local communities and indigenous peoples operating according to non-capitalist notions of nature and alternative cosmologies. Amidst policy frameworks promoting new infrastructure for economic growth, alternatives propose 'green infrastructure' in various forms. There are, however, also other responses, coming from indigenous peoples, local communities, such as, for example, de-growth communities.

Through this panel we aim to advance STS theoretical and methodological interventions into both reflecting on and making of 'green futures'. The main questions to engage with are:

(1) What theoretical and methodological approaches in STS have proven to be most fruitful for studying how various visions of 'green futures' are made and how they stabilize into social orders? We are interested in conceptualizing technologies for making 'futures' and 'the predictions of future', new agencies, as well as new socio-technical orders, their scales and temporalities.

(2) How can we advance the existing STS approaches to studying 'uncertain futures' and 'green futures'?

(3) How do various remedies for the environmental crisis engage with the neoliberal order of contemporary capitalism, either by strengthening or subverting it? In other words, we are also interested in the politics of 'uncertain futures' and 'green futures'.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Crafting the sustainable future: the values, knowledge and technology of Lammas ecovillage

Author: Willow Leonard-Clarke (Cardiff University ) email
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Short abstract

Here SCOT is used to shed light on sustainable development, adding 'symmetry' to understanding its success or failure. Lammas 'ecovillage' at Tir Y Gafel is used to explore craft, knowledge and technology in sustainable development, highlighting how human values and social practices shape our world

Long abstract

The view persists that technological innovation presupposes sustainability with blame placed in technology itself, though technology is a product of social values. A 'green future' relies on re-imagining not just our technological world but our practices and values, and understanding the way these all intersect. I draw on the social construction of technology (SCOT) and the sociology of knowledge to examine craft, knowledge and technology within sustainable development community projects. The concept of 'interpretive flexibility' (Collins 1981, Pinch and Bijker 1986) I propose brings new methodological light to understanding sustainable development projects, and adds symmetry (Bloor 1976) to their success or failure; here focusing on materiality and the way this is embedded with, shaped by and reproducing of human values and practices.

The case study in this paper is from participant observation conducted at Tir Y Gafel, an 'ecovillage' in West Wales and alternative community development which gained retrospective planning permission under Welsh One Planet Development policy. Here life is centred materially and socially around values of sustainability, in a functioning example of the 'green future' now, with alternative energy, buildings and agriculture e.g. 'permaculture'. Residents are eager to transfer knowledge, promoting the site as a replicable 'model' of sustainable living. There is conflict however with the 'technological frames' (Bijker 2007) of wider society, from large scale technical systems like transport, to policy, to having a capitalist economy. Sites like Tir Y Gafel challenge, resist or are halted by these wider material and ideological frames.

Green futures between respecting and transgressing boundaries

Author: Georg Jochum (Technical University of Munich) email
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Short abstract

The presentation discusses to what extent current visions of sustainable, green futures turn away from the Baconian project of the "enlarging of the bounds of human empire" by technical mastery of nature, or continue this project and radicalize it.

Long abstract

The spiritual ancestor of the modern industrial society is Francis Bacon. With the maxim "plus ultra" (further beyond), he announced an "enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire" through the technical mastery of nature. Today, in the face of ecological "planetary boundaries" (Rockström), the limits of the Bacon Project become apparent and a transformation to a sustainable society is called for.

The aim of the presentation is to juxtapose two radically opposed visions of green futures and to compare them on the basis of Bruno Latour's considerations in "Facing Gaia".

On the one hand, concepts of sustainability will be analyzed, which are in continuity with the technoscientific project of Modernity. In particular technocentric future visions inspired by posthuman and postbiological utopias, which are particularly influential in Silicon Valley, are examined. These deny the idea of natural boundaries and radicalize the Baconian program of nature control.

On the other hand, ecocentric visions of the future are analyzed, which are associated with the indigenous concept of "buen vivir" and are in particular discussed in Latin America. As argued in the presentation, these concepts are more in line with the transition from the plus-ultra-modernity to the age of "Earthbound (which) have to explore the question of their limits (…) because their maxim is 'Plus intra'" (Latour). The project of the infinite expansion of the bounds of the human empire is abandoned.

Hopeful extinctions? Tesla, technological solutionism and the Anthropocene

Author: Sy Taffel (Massey University) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores why Tesla's self-declared 'War on fossil fuels' should not be taken seriously as a green future. Telsa relies on market-led technological solutionism based on the extraction of lithium, cobalt and other materials that perpetuate globalised forms of social and ecological harm.

Long abstract

Over thirty years since Jean-Francois Lyotard declared the death of metanarratives, we currently find two apparently incompatible discourses that dominate imagined planetary futures. On the one hand, we encounter a metanarrative of technological progress has been fuelled by decades of advances in computational, networked, mobile and pervasive technologies. On the other, we find the apocalyptic discourse of the Anthropocene, whereby human activity is understood to be responsible for precipitating the sixth mass extinction of life in Earth's geological record. This paper explores how the divergent futures of technological solutionism and ecological catastrophism encounter one another, focussing on Tesla as a case study where technological consumerism is posited as the solution to ecological catastrophe. Critically examining the materiality of digital technoculture challenges the immaterialist rhetoric of technological solutionism that permeates both neoliberal and leftist discourses of automation, whilst questioning the 'we' that is implicit in the problematic universalisation of Anthropocenic catastrophism, instead pointing to the deeply entrenched inequalities that perpetuate networked capitalism.

Ultimately, the paper asks whether it is possible to move beyond bleak claims that we must simply 'work within our disorientation and distress to negotiate life in human-damaged environments' (Tsing 2015:131), to assemble the fragile hope that Goode and Godhe (2017) argue is necessary to move beyond capitalist realism. Hope suggests an optimism that sits uncomfortably with the reality of mass extinctions, however, the scale of the ecological crises means that we cannot afford the fatalism associated with losing hope.

Modes of urban greening? Civic urban natures in-between familiar engagement and green critique

Authors: Anders Blok (University of Copenhagen) email
Jakob Laage-Thomsen (University of Copenhagen) email
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Short abstract

Based on a mapping of 'urban green communities' (like community gardens), we deploy Laurent Thé-venot's notion of plural engagements to expand the STS frame on the socio-material politics of urban green futures, in ways that tie familiar attachments to green critiques of urban political economies.

Long abstract

Science and technology studies (STS) increasingly participates in cross-cutting conversations on urban sustainability, low-carbon transition and overall 'greening' of cities, by paying attention to how urban practices, institutions, infrastructures and environments come to be relationally reassembled. However, while front-staging socio-material politics, it remains an open-ended question whether established STS resources will be sufficient to analyze the wide variations in modes of political engagement with urban sustainability. In this paper, we deploy the loosely bounded phenomenon of 'urban green communities' - in the shape of urban gardening, tree planting, beekeeping, food collectives, biodiversity enhancement, river restoration and kindred civic group practices towards urban greening - in order to probe the conceptual gaps opened up in-between everyday lifestyle politics, green social movements and critiques of hegemonic urban political economies. Building on a comprehensive digital mapping exercise set in Denmark, we trace differences in modes of urban-green politics at the level of everyday citizen practices and group interaction styles across a diversity of urban green communities, paying attention to dynamic shifts and relational contexts shaping such socio-material, lay-expert interactions. In doing so, we conclude, STS concepts profit from being put into conversation with wider developments in political sociology and green political theory, including not least the pragmatic-sociological work of Laurent Thévenot on 'regimes of engagement' and 'commonality in the plural'. Thévenot's concepts, we suggest, allow us to trace translations in-between familiar attachments and public critiques in ways that expand the frame on socio-material politics relative to current STS conversations on urban green futures.

Science, faith and environmental apocalypse

Author: Hauke Riesch (Brunel University London) email
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Short abstract

This paper will reflect on catastrophic environmental futures as a millennial narrative, drawing parallels between ecological apocalypse and millennial redemption narratives.

Long abstract

With climate change, environmental degradation, and renewed threats of nuclear war often being discussed in apocalyptic terms sometimes directly borrowed from eschatological literature, this paper will use Moscovici's (2001) social representation approach to look at how contemporary accounts of the catastrophic future are influenced by older millennial narratives of the apocalypse. Millennial narratives include not only dire warnings about a catastrophic future, but also offer chances of redemption and hopes of a possible better world. While a few studies have looked at environmentalism as a millennial movement from a perspective of the sociology of religion, I will argue that combining these perspectives with an STS-based analysis can bring new insights into how environmental apocalypses can be understood and ultimately communicated. Discussing examples from UK and German environmental literature, I will use Moscovici's approach recast as a sociology of the public understanding of science (Bauer and Gaskell, 1999) with insights from O'Leary's (1994) rhetorical analysis of the apocalyptic, to construct our fears of current environmental catastrophe as a (late) modern eschatological narrative, and discuss the implications of the eschatological account of our ecological future on efforts to mitigate against it.

Bauer, M. W., & Gaskell, G. (1999). Towards a paradigm for research on social representations. Journal for the theory of social behaviour, 29(2), 163-186.

Moscovici, S. (2001). Social representations: Explorations in social psychology. New York University Press.

O'Leary, S. D. (1994). Arguing the apocalypse: A theory of millennial rhetoric. Oxford University Press.

Visions of green futures in energy research

Author: Thomas Harboell Schroeder (Chung Yuan Christian University ) email
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Short abstract

This paper makes a linguistic discourse analyses extracts from selected papers representing different branches of academic literature related to energy consumption and energy demand in order to reveal and critically reflect on values and visions of green futures in relation to energy use.

Long abstract

Within academic literature, there are several approaches to the understanding of society's energy consumption each with a vision of a green future. From an STS perspective, it is obvious that those approaches are both situated and carries certain values with them. Being aware of what such values and situatedness are, can be an advantage when determining the possible effectiveness of various visions of green futures. This paper therefore contains a linguistic discourse analysis of selected academic writings on energy demand to reflect on the world views within them. The topic of energy demand is chosen because energy is fundamental for civilisation and most visions of a green future therefore will carry some idea of future energy demand. The paper will focus on three different branches of literature. The first branch revolves around ways to use energy more efficiently. Problems of energy demand are seen partly as a result of barriers to rational decision making, and the goal is to eliminate such barriers to create a future where less energy is wasted. The second approach points out that energy demand is a not very well-understood result of complex socio-technical practices. It envisions that a gradually more thorough understanding of energy demand can limit undesirable use of energy by serving as the foundation for informed intervention. A third approach is concerned with the difficulties of reducing demand resulting from rebound effects of improved energy efficiency, and a green future is consequently often mainly seen as possible if fossil fuels are completely abandoned.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.