Monthly Archives: August 2015

Origin of environmental sociology

Since its beginnings, environmental sociology has thus placed emphasis on studying the dependency of social life and cultural development from its natural surrounding, and on those factors that cause environmental problems and efforts to solve those problems. (Gross & Heinrichs, 2010:2)

Gross, M., & Heinrichs, H. (Eds.). (2010). Environmental sociology: European perspectives and interdisciplinary challenges. Springer Science & Business Media.

Experimental governance and pre-scientific knowledge

In a previous post it was addressed the concept of experimental governance, understood “as a means to launch an environmental project in spite of uncertainties and uphold the project without disrupting the overall process” (Gross, M., & Heinrichs, 2010:283). This point, the authors continues “is wholly pragmatic to create and facilitate the building of a community of inquirers who locally deliberate social problems, form hypothesis about appropiate means and ends of practice, and put their assumptions to test”.

In this context, insofar non-scientist community members are enriching the research process with “pre-scientific” knowledge (formation of hypothesis and ends of practics to be test) they are taking actively part of such process. This moves away the experimental governance from the Habermas communicative approach or “participatory paradigm”. The pragmatist ideas developed by Habermas “have trickled down to environmental planning discourse since the 1970s and researchin environmental sociology has examined a wide range of participatory decision processes” (Gross, M., & Heinrichs, 2010:282). However, the authors argue, in the ideal case, it is not enough to bring local actors into deliberation where their varying presumptions and biases will succumb to the force of the better argument (by scientist and practicioners?). Hence, the actual power to have a say in political decision making is easily taken away from the participants (the lack of arguments among local actors and the consistent of the scientifist discourse ultimate take the former ones away from decision making. Public participation is reduced to a information session where scientist show how powerful they are in base of their consistent discourse). Furthermore, the authors suggest that the Habermassian ideal type case could not be further from real-world decision making which is characterized by many unknows and uncertainies that cannot even be fathomed via risk assessment and computer modeling, let alone by mere citizen participation.

But the experimental governance consists of not only bring local actors into deliberation but also allow them to “form hypothesis about appropiate means and ends of practice, and put their assumptions to test”. In other words, the experimental governance consist of allowing local actors for forming hypothesis based on their everyday experience, i.e. pre-scientific knowledge, as a previous step to objetivize the phenomon, it is, to produce scientific knowledge.

Gross, M., & Heinrichs, H. (Eds.). (2010). Environmental sociology: European perspectives and interdisciplinary challenges. Springer Science & Business Media.

Ecological modernization

Ecological modernization is an optimistic school of thought in the social sciences that argues that the economy benefits from moves towards environmentalism. It has gained increasing attention among scholars and policymakers in the last several decades internationally. It is an analytical approach as well as a policy strategy and environmental discourse (Hajer, 1995).

Hajer, M. A. (1995). The politics of environmental discourse: ecological modernization and the policy process (p. 40). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Experimentalist governance

We note that although American pragmatism has influenced environmental sociology through the writings of Jürgen Habermas and his influence on the “participatory paradigm”-i.e. the idea that public participation is necessary to create legitimate decisions (Parkins and Mitchell 2005)-the generally negative attitude toward ecological reform in North American environmental sociology has somewhat obliterated the many positive aspects of a sociological pragmatism and its potential for environmental issues. Instead, American environmental sociology is captured by alarming stories about the world inexorably in environmental decline-sometimes marked under the label of “sociological criticism”-engulfed by rising oceans as the inevitable outcome of climate change, the human demand on the Earth´s ecosystem and natural resources, as well as the claim that capitalism is the source of all evils. In contrast, after a similar phase of doom-and-gloom literature in the 1970s and 1980s, today hardly any European environmental sociologist is interested only in, e.g., Marxist musings on ecological degradation or the purely negative stance on anything “modern” anymore. The general goal is to search for possibilities of human adaptation to natural changes, to fathom the resiliency potential of human societies, and strategies to successfully link ecological issues with social development. Along side of the well-known ecological modernization paradigm, in recent years a framework has resurfaced in Europe and elsewhere, which tries to develop a more experimental strategy at solving environemntal problems. This framework, although heavily influenced by North American pragmatism, leaves pessimistic North American environmental sociology behind.

Whereas the faith in total control and full knowledge of ecological system and social processes implies an ability to act only when everything is known in advance, an experimental approach allows us to accommodate different factors in spite of gaps of knowledge. Experimental governance is thus to be understood as a means to launch an environmental project in spite of uncertainties and uphold the project without disrupting the overall process. In this framework, experimentation is a mechanism whose aim is not to overcome or control environmental uncertainty, but to live and blossom upon it.

In particular, the neo-pragmatists lean much further toward the need to supplement ideal speech situations with active public experimentation.

Extracted from: Gross, M., & Heinrichs, H. (Eds.). (2010). Environmental sociology: European perspectives and interdisciplinary challenges. Springer Science & Business Media.

Habermas communicative rationality and how discourse ethics and a vibrant public sphere could break the stranglehold on rationality by elites

Te belief that meaning and reason were social in nature-i.e., required mutual cooperation and collaboration in its contruction-led early pragmatists to belive that an important part of the route to progressive social change lie in democratic deliberative approaches to addressing pressing social problems. These ideas are best illustrated by Dewey´s lifelong commitment to extensive citzen participation in politics as opposed to technocratic decision-making and his emphasis on public education as a means of achieving a more democratic society (Dewey 1927). These pragmatist insights on knowledge, language, and community, inspired Habermas (1987) to develop his ideas of communicative rationality and the public sphere. From pragmatist insights, Habermas saw the possibility that a discourse ethics and a vibrant public sphere could break the stranglehold on rationality by elites, a major concern of the critical theorists with which he was conversant. He argued that embedded in the logical relations of the pragmatist conception of meaning was an emancipatory potential in modernity (Habermas 1987). Namely, that if it is the case that partners in communication agree that communication is legitime, then setting up participatory discursive opportunities where speakers can be challenged to present the reasons underlying a claim and be confronted with competing reasons could liberate more work legitime (i.e., deeply socially justified) decisions. Discourse ethics created the best, in Haberma´s view, potential institutional design to free communication of distortion by strategic elites. Decision made through communicative processes offered, he argued, a more legitimate basis for democratic politics, policymaking and planning.

Extracted from: Gross, M., & Heinrichs, H. (Eds.). (2010). Environmental sociology: European perspectives and interdisciplinary challenges. Springer Science & Business Media.


Church removal: coal mining, cultural heritage and social cohesion

Heuersdorf  was a village in the Leipzig lowlands, Saxony, Germany. The area of the village belongs to the city of Leipzig since 2004. After a long but ultimately futile resistance of the inhabitants since 1935 the village was evacuated and devastated. See bellow the description, taken from, illustrates the struggle:

The villagers were forced to accept financial assistance offered by MIBRAG to move from Heuersdorf, since they did not have the monetary resources for resisting the evacuation by legal means. For many years, younger adults refused such enticements to leave their homeland. They were raising families and wanted to preserve the village and its community values. However, any further refusal to give up their homes would now lead to forced eviction and unendurable financial losses. Contrary to the declared intention of the state government of Saxony to keep the village community intact, people from Heuersdorf have been resettled at more than a dozen different locations. The singular interest of MIBRAG over the years was directed at coercing individual families out of the village, eroding human bonds and heightening the insecurity of those inhabitants remaining

In 2007 the regional legislature approved plans to dig up the remaining town to get at some 50 million tons of lignite, or brown coal, to supply a nearby power station. Village authorities fought the plan for years but lost their appeal in Germany’s Constitutional Court in 2005. Most of Heuersdorf’s 320 residents were resettled, most of them farmers and/or retirees. In addition to individual compensation, one important fact deserve to be remarked. An important element of the local cultural heritage was also relocated: a 700-year-old Romanesque-style stone church. As part of the negotiations, the Mibrag mining company spent $4.2 million to move the church from their original location in Heuersdorf  to the near town of Borna.


This operation represents a good example of engineering masterpiece, but also of cultural heritage conservation. It is also an example of how social cohesion is linked to such heritage. Any threat to this heritage is, therefore, a threat to the community itself:


Die große Reise einer kleinen Kirche; The long journey of a little church” (2007). Leipziger Universitätsverlag. Leipzig.

A Holy Journey: Church Moved to Make Way for Coal Mine. (2007, October 24). Spiegel. Retrieved August 24, 2015, from

Conversation with Prof. Dr. Sigrun Kabisch, Head of the Department of Urban and Environmental Sociology, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung (UFZ).

Heuersdorf. Geschichte und Abschied eines mitteldeutschen Dorfes. Pro Leipzig Verlag, Leipzig 2009, ISBN 978-3-936508-36-9


Texto de Manuel Delgado, extraído de El Cor de les aparences. Mi aportación al final, con un link a la bibliografía mencionada.

He leído algún comentario derivado de lo que dije a propósito de la centralidad política en la entrevista que me publicaron en vilaweb hace unos días y he visto que esa idea de centralidad política puede confundirse, como concepto, con la de centro político. El editorial de El País de hoy, 18 de agosto, insiste en ese malentendido. Nada que ver. En la vida social, el núcleo de la actividad, el epicentro desde el que actúa la creatividad de las dinámicas sociales, está casi siempre no en el centro físico o topográfico de nada, sino al contrario, en lo que podrían antojarse sus márgenes o sus límites. A nivel político hay varias ilustraciones teóricas en esa dirección. Si se clica en google “centro centralidad” aparecerán varios artículos en que se insiste en la identificación entrecentralidad y hegemonía. Así, “¿Disputar el centro o la centralidad política?”, de Mariám Martínez-Bascullán, o “Centralidad no es centro”, del mismo Pablo Iglesias.

Como contribución a ese desmentido, me permito aportar una visión procedente de Henri Lefebvre, que suele emplearse en ciencias sociales de la ciudad y que distingue entre centro urbano y centralidad urbana.  No hace falta que se explique qué es el centro de una ciudad. En Barcelona, el centro de la ciudad es la Plaça de les Glòries, pero es un centro carente de centralidad. ¿Qué es un centro urbano, no como centro físico de una ciudad, sino en el sentido de espacio dotado de centralidad? En el plano funcional, se entiende que la centralidad de un área urbana debe propiciar una serie de relaciones eficientes entre los elementos que componen una determinada estructura territorial, para lo cual da forma y condensa una amplia gama diferenciada, pero articulada y complementaria, de entidades, dispositivos y actividades. Pero desde una perspectiva que entendiera la centralidad en términos sociales, está remitiría a lo urbano mismo como centralidad. Henri Lefebvre nos subrayaba en La revolución urbana (Alianza) que esa centralidad de lo urbano no tendría centro, no estaría o no tendría por qué darse en un lugar céntrico. Es el espacio urbano el que, al intensificarse, genera centros, pero constituye en sí mismo un vector nulo, puesto que en él “cada punto, virtualmente, puede atraer hacia si todo lo que puebla los alrededores: cosas, obras, gentes”. La centralidad urbana es simultaneidad de percepciones, de acontecimientos, puesto que es la forma concreta que adopta “el encuentro y la reunión de todos los elementos que constituyen la vida social.”

En el marco general definido por todo tipo de procesos negativos de dispersión, de fragmentación, de segregación…, lo urbano se expresa en tanto que exigencia contraria de conjunción, de reunión, de redes y flujos de información y comunicación… Es así que la centralidad de un lugar sería el escenario donde vemos activarse una compleja red por la que circulan, de manera constante y generalizada, intercambios e interacciones, pero también campo de confrontación de diferencias y de apropiaciones compartidas. Es también un polo saturado de valores compartidos o compartibles. Me remito, al respecto, al capítulo “El centro urbano”, del libro de Manuel Castells Problemas de investigación en sociología urbana (Siglo XXI).

Ah, y ante todo, vindico un libro que para mí tuvo una virtud iluminadora: el de Alfonso Álvarez Mora y Fernando Roch, Los centros urbanos (Nuestra Cultura). Es de 1980 y no se encuentra en librerías, pero merece la pena buscarlo en librerías de viejo —en la calle o la red— o en bibliotecas. Allí se explica cómo el centro urbano puede y debe estar cargado de centralidad social, en tanto que la sociedad está ahí, en un —copio— «espacio de todos y de nadie, lugar a un tiempo de paseo festivo y del pasar cotidiano, de la fiesta, del trabajo y de la revolución; síntesis del orden y de la subversión, camino abierto del trabajo, de la compra y del estudio, esto es, de la reproducción y camino roto por las barricadas; lugar de las conductas pautadas y de los comportamientos marginales, espacio de lo cotidiano y de lo excepcional, lugar de cita de lo vulgar y lo misterioso, de lo viejo y de lo moderno. Espacio de la reproducción del sistema y a la vez espacio de la contestación del orden establecido, lugar de permanencias y de mutaciones, del orden y de su negación; espacio equipado sin “equipamientos” porque es un compendio de todo lo necesario y de lo superfluo». Un espacio viviente.

Es verdad que, como acabo de recordar, a pesar de los esfuerzos por desactivarlos, los centros históricos suelen coincidir con los centros provistos de centralidad urbana, tal y como acaba de ser descrita. Esos esfuerzos consisten en intentar aislar los cascos antiguos de las ciudades para recrear en ellos una cierta atmósfera de autenticidad, lo que requiere trasladar funciones y dinámicas que conceden centralidad fuera de ellos, incluso a la periferia. En eso han consistido la políticas urbanísticas de dispersión en el territorio de organismos, servicios y actividades que generaban centralidad: las “ciudades” sanitarias, judiciales, universitarias…, lejos del centro; los grandes mallscomerciales en nudos de autopistas; la expulsión de las cárceles fuera de los cascos urbanos; las ciudades-dormitorio que permitían exiliar a una clase obrera siempre dispuesta a convertir los barrios populares céntricos en fortines de resistencia; los espacios abiertos y alejados destinados a grandes concentraciones lúdicas o festivas. Me viene a la cabeza el caso del sandrómo en Rio de Janeiro… Es también el caso de las “nuevas centralidades” artificiales, como las que se pretenden abrir en la Sagrera o Diagonal Mar en Barcelona.

Esa voluntad de extirpar la centralidad de los centros históricos, para consagrarlos al simple consumo de pasado, puede ser del todo explícita. Así, uno de los artífices del supuesto “modelo Barcelona”, Oriol Bohigas, escribía: “Nuestras ciudades necesitan una doble intervención simultánea y coordinada: rehabilitar el centro histórico, actuando en ellos a fondo y dar ‘centralidad’ —urbanidad, identidad, monumentalidad, espíritu colectivo, participación politica— a la periferia”. Esto está en “La reconstrucció de la ciutat”, en Bruno Gabrielli et al., La ciudad històrica dins la ciutat (Ajuntament de Girona). Al respecto, cabe decir que esa meta de desproveer a las ciudades viejas de centralidad no siempre se ha obtenido o se ha conseguido solo parcialmente, es decir para ciertos recintos acotados. Es obvio que los avances en la tematización turística y consumista de los centros monumentalizados han neutralizado muchas de sus antiguas cualidades de centralidad, pero no por ello han podido siempre esconder su ingrediente fundamental, que no es otro que la condición intrínsecamente alterada y conflictiva de la vida urbana.

La centralidad es fuente fundamental de sentido en la configuración de una sociedad urbana. En efecto, la centralidad supone el apogeo espacial de la acción social urbana, aquella que cualquier orden político querría someter a constante escrutinio, pero que en la práctica se convierte en el escenario asiduo de todo tipo de desviaciones o desafectos respecto de los códigos dominantes. Se reconoce centralidad cuando en un lugar se concretan todas las variables de sociabilidad que un universo complejo puede generar, entre ellas. y sobre todo, las vinculadas a su dimensión más conflictual. La centralidad en una ciudad o en cualquier sociedad está siempre donde están sus luchas.


ÁLVAREZ MORA, A., & ROCH, F. (1980). Los centros urbanos. Edit. Nuestra Cultura. Madrid, 47.

Castells, M. (1975). Problemas de investigación en sociología urbana.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space (Vol. 142). Blackwell: Oxford.

Lefebvre, H. (2003). The urban revolution. U of Minnesota Press.

Socio-spatial differentiation in southern Leipzig post-mining area

Bellow it is showed the three types of communities (Kabisch, 2004) adjacent to the coal mine, now pit lakes, in the southern leizig.

Rural villages: Dreiskau-Muckern (469 inh. in 2014), Oelzchau (610 inh. in 2014), Pötzschau (374 inh. in 2014), Mölbis (515 inh. in 2014), Störmthal (512), Auenhain , Wachau, Güldengossa (394 inh. in 2014): High satisfaction with the housing conditions regarding the apartment, very high satisfaction with the local living conditions (share of respondents who would recommend a good friend to move to their community), quiet location, attractive surroundings, pleasant social atmosphere, close to future recreation areas. (TOTAL POPULATION. APPROX: 4.000 inhabitants)

These communities are characterised by a relatively large proportion of farmers and farming employees, the other inhabitants working in the mining industry. The level of qualification is relatively low, while the average age is relatively high. Others: out-migration of younger, well-educated inhabitants during the last few decades. The main burden affecting these communities was their classification as “mining protection areas”. Although this classification was abolished after 1990, the local population suddently had to face new worries such as unemployment and early retirement.

Suburbs: Markkleeberg-Ost, Grossstädteln: hight satisfaction with the local housing conditions regarding the apartment, very high satisfaction with the local living conditions (share of respondents who would recommend a good friend to move to their community), quiet location, close to the city of Leipzig, varied infraestructures, good transport links, close to future recreation area.

Relatively high level of qualifications and higher household income among the inhabitants. Urban morphology: detached family housing. Most of the employees work in the city of Leipzig. Consequently, the collapse of the brown-coal industry did not affect these inhabitants to the same extent as the residents of the other community types. No out-migration tendency.

Small towns affected by industry: Gaschwitz (671 inh. in 2014), Grossdeuben, Rötha (3,704 inh. in 2014), Espenhain (2,267 inh. in 2014): Low satisfaction with housing conditions, very low satisfaction with the local living conditions (share of respondents who would recommend a good friend to move to their community), close to the city of Leipzig, good transport links, poor infraestructures, vehicle pollution, devastated landscape, buildings in bad state of repair. TOTAL POPULATION: APPROX: 7.000 inhabitants.

Most of the inhabitants worked in the former brown-coal industry. The majority of the residents rent flats in three-or four-storey blocks owned by the industrial enterprises. In this small towns, the collapse of the brown-coal industry led to social disaster, with unemployment suddenly mushrooming. High unemployment has persisted, despite the migration of sections of the population.


Kabisch, S. (2004). Revitalisation chances for communities in post-mining landscapes. Peckiana, 3, 87-99.

“Bye Bye Barcelona” #masstourism #globalization

Bye Bye Barcelona is a documentary about a city and it’s relationship with tourism, about the difficult coexistence between Barcelona and it’s people with tourism and tourists. It is a documentary that exposes through the thoughts of some of it’s residents, the grave effects that mass tourism has in the city. You can watch this documentary from beginning to end, or you can watch it through it’s chapters and at your own rhythm. It’s sole purpose is to serve as counterweight to the much repeated idea that tourism is a win-win business. This documentary is about what we lose because of it.

“The shrinking mining city: urban dynamics and contested territory” by Martinez-Fernandez (2012)


Shrinking mining cities — once prosperous settlements servicing a mining site or a system of mining sites — are characterized by long-term population and/or economic decline. Many of these towns experience periods of growth and shrinkage, mirroring the ebbs and flows of international mineral markets which determine the fortunes of the dominant mining corporation upon which each of these towns heavily depends. This dependence on one main industry produces a parallel development in the fluctuations of both workforce and population. Thus, the strategies of the main company in these towns can, to a great extent, determine future developments and have a great impact on urban management plans. Climate conditions, knowledge, education and health services, as well as transportation links, are important factors that have impacted on lifestyles in mining cities, but it is the parallel development with the private sector operators (often a single corporation) that constitutes the distinctive feature of these cities and that ultimately defines their shrinkage. This article discusses shrinking mining cities in capitalist economies, the factors underpinning their development, and some of the planning and community challenges faced by these cities in Australia, Canada, Japan and Mexico.