Critical Political Ecology: The Politics of Environmental Science

By Tim Forsyth | Go to book overview

5

The coproduction of environmental knowledge and political activism
The previous chapters have summarized a variety of debates relating to the social and political influences on science. Chapter 3 described arguments in Philosophy of Science that claim scientific “laws” are not universally applicable, but instead reflect a variety of social and institutional influences on how inference is made. Chapter 4 drew largely from debates in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge to indicate how supposed scientific “facts” about environment reflect wider social framings and discourses, which have also evolved historically. Now, in Chapter 5, we look at how these themes may be combined to identify how social change and environmental science co-evolve dynamically. The chapter will:
introduce and define the concepts of coproduction and hybridization that describe how environmental knowledge and politics co-evolve dynamically;
demonstrate how environmentalism, as a “new” social movement, helped shape many general beliefs and discourses about environment that have since been used to explain the causes of environmental degradation; and
illustrate how such general beliefs-when used uncritically in new contexts-may fail to acknowledge complex biophysical causes of environmental changes, or alternative framings of environmental change by people not included in the formation of the explanations.

In particular, this chapter focuses upon general beliefs such as linkages between environmental degradation and capitalism; or the association of degradation with political oppression and the “domination of nature.” The chapter does not suggest that criticisms of capitalism or social oppression are misplaced, but argues it is necessary to see how political activism linked to the criticism of capitalism or oppression has shaped beliefs about the causes of environmental degradation.

This chapter therefore helps to build a “critical” political ecology by showing how science and politics co-evolve, and by arguing that many common assumptions about environmental degradation need to be reconsidered in order to acknowledge such political influences. Chapters 6 and 7

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