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.

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