Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Governing Environmental Flows: Global Challenges to Social Theory

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Review: Governing Environmental Flows: Global Challenges to Social Theory

Article excerpt

Spaargaren, Gert, Arthur P.J Mol. and Frederick H. Buttel (Eds.). Governing Environmental Flows: Global Challenges to Social Theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006. 377 pp. ISBN 0- 262-69335-9 (pbk.) US $27.00.

From any perspective, this is a challenging book. Currently, changes in global structures and relationships demand a re-assessment of the central place of the nation-state concept in sociological thinking. This book is an exploration of that issue, and focuses upon the concept of flows as a move away from the dominance of structural considerations.

The authors walk a narrow path between the overall thinking of sociology as a discipline and the application of the discipline specifically to understanding and governance of environmental issues. This is a fortunate and extremely appropriate perspective from which to explore the overall question.

However, it also demonstrates the extent to which the world of sociology is indeed a tribal one and this is part of the intellectual challenge of the topic. The references cited demonstrate that the environmental sociology tribe apparently believes that significant insights from the literature have appeared only since 1990! As one example, in their inevitable need to draw upon the concept of hegemony, they accept the concept as clearly given and ignore the very powerful understandings generated through Gramscian theory.

Similarly, they make extensive use of the term and concept of globalization, ignoring and even demonstrating, the ways in which there are so many multiple meanings that the word fails to precisely and adequately communicate the intention of the user. Further, several of their contemporaries (e.g., Bauman) who have made significant contributions to understanding the impacts of neo-liberalist hegemony are overlooked, even though they should not be. One must assume they are seen as belonging to a different tribe!

Nevertheless, one must hope that other tribes will read and heed this book. It is in itself a very effective challenge to traditional thinking and deserves attention from theorists and practitioners in both social theory; and hence it is difficult to condense in a brief summary.

The first page opens with two graphic examples of flows: the commonly recognized global warming issue and the less familiar but probably equally important flows of waste across the surface of our world. …

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