Towards a Critical Environmental Management

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 15:03
Location: H├Ârsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Harris ALI, York University, Canada
Peter MULVIHILL, York University, Canada
This presentation explores the question of how theoretically-informed sociological analyses of the environment may be useful in developing innovative and critical environmental management perspectives. That is, to foster environmental management as a force of change and not as an enabling agent for business as usual practices.

We start by identifying the limitations of “conventional” state and industrial environmental management strategies that prevail today. These limitations involve: the adoption of a reactive orientation, the emphasis on the “correction” of single issues rather than a broader consideration of overall environmental health and sustainability, and the adoption of a technical paradigm that lacks consideration of the social, economic, political and economic context. Such limitations ultimately contribute to the emergence of the common fallacy that certain formal tools or processes such as Environmental Management Systems or Environmental Impact Assessments, as well as other auditing and regulatory policies, are up-to-the-task of achieving environmental management goals. 

We argue that these types of environmental management limitations may be analyzed through the incorporation of insights from critical sociology. For instance, Horkheimer and Adorno note that the Enlightenment tradition has meant that the natural environment has come to be valued only in instrumental terms, and is thought to possess value only because it is usefulness to humans. Many of the limitations of contemporary environmental management could probably trace their origins back to this ideology.

We conclude by demonstrating how work from contemporary environmental and disaster sociology could be used to reposition the philosophical orientation of environmental management.  This would move environmental management in a more innovative and decidedly alternative direction premised on a critique of the restrictive prescriptions of conventional environmental management that rely upon a technocratic paradigm and/or performance-based standards. The case of exploratory scenario development and weak signals research is used as an illustration of this potential.