Monday, March 24, 2014

Postmodernism and environmental policy

Shi-Ling Hsu has posted "The Accidental Postmodernists: A New Era of Skepticism in Environmental Policy". Though the article focuses on the present, it provokes thoughts about changes in environmental lawmaking over time. The abstract:
René Magritte, La trahision des images (1928-29)
Environmental law and policy conflicts seem to have entered a new phase. The emergence of complex problems such as climate change and of complex technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and genetic modification have created new political and legal schisms that no longer break down predictably along "pro-environment" versus "pro-business" lines. Rather, a new era of skepticism seems to be taking hold in which antagonists spar over the epistemic legitimacy of certain claims made in support of a policy position. Environmental law and policy conflicts thus divide antagonists into two camps: self-styled positivists – scientists (physical, chemical, biological, and social) and environmental postmodernists, who seek to undermine the legitimacy of the positivists.
Environmental postmodernists urge us to take a skeptical look at the claims of self-styled positivists, because they suspect their epistemic claims are part of an attempt to gerrymander environmental law. Some environmental postmodernists challenge the use of cost-benefit analysis, and others are climate skeptics, who contest the prevailing concern over global climate change. These new schisms produce strange bedfellows, but environmental postmodernists share a common objective of creating doubt and skepticism.
I argue that environmental postmodernism can make a contribution: it can highlight dangerous policy situations in which a concentration of esoteric information can generate a power imbalance, and it can highlight the usefulness of transparency measures aimed only making information more publicly accessible and otherwise broadening process inputs. If this is the upshot of environmental postmodernism, it will have articulated a policy means of power diffusion, and therefore gone beyond the failures of Twentieth-century, post-structuralist postmodernism.

1 comment:

  1. "Environmental postmodernism can make a contribution in highlighting dangerous policy situations in which a concentration of esoteric information can generate a power imbalance"

    I'm heartily in agreement about "concentrations of esoteric information". In fact, I find one of the most troubling things associated with academic and research publications in the United States is that they have fouled the nest. Because of the publish or perish requirement for getting promotion or tenure, publishing is required for scholars. Providing it is done in respected venues the content is largely irrelevant. This has irredeemably diluted and poluted what ought to be critical information channels.

    No books or ideas, regardless of how thoughtful or potentially relevant their content, gets more than passing attention. Moreover, the people and works that get the greatest visibility are rarely the most substantive. The most polarizing ideas often sell the most books.

    The consequences of this devastating situation are that the U.S. is essentially intellectually leaderless. Janine Wedel has pointed out in her book, "Shadow Elite" that in this situation, small groups of linked scholars have taken high policymaking positions in government - often promoting each other - often doing great damage - as we saw in the crash of 2008.

    I'll shortly have a blog out related to this subject.