Exploring the Foundations of Human Environmental Behavior: A Deep Dive into Relevance Systems and Practical Intelligibility

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:30
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Ossi OLLINAHO, Independent Researcher, Brazil
This paper argues that answering late Ulrich Beck’s question: “Why is there no storming of the Bastille because of the environmental destruction threatening mankind” we have to understand the non-epistemic dimension of human behavior. I claim, building on Alfred Schütz's, Theodore Schatzki's and others' thoughts, that the intellectual nature of environmental predicament for the bulk of urban citizens is incommensurate with the pragmatic dimension of their everyday activities. The relating between the pragmatic necessities borne upon the lifeworlds and the cognitive dimension – knowledge, morality, ethics and values in terms of the natural environment formed through experiences, education, mass medias and so forth – of human activity has to be better understood if environmental sociologists want to provide better founded guiding for public policies. It is obvious that this relating is partly cultural, but to what extent it is and can be so?

The exacerbation of global environmental predicament requires that we social scientific scholars take a close look at our assumptions of the nature of human behavior. Instead of assuming that behavior is either epistemically or pragmatically motivated, Schütz argues that people do according to what appears relevant for them in daily situations with their actual biographical state. For Theodore Schatzki it is the practical intelligibility that governs action by specifying what makes sense to do and causes what an actor does next in the continuous flow of activity. The key to understand Beck's dilemma is that environmental experts' system of relevances differs from that of all the other people in terms of the environmental predicament – what seems to be relevant on one level may become entirely irrelevant on the other. This paper contributes to and recapitulates the recent critique against cognitivism in environmental social sciences.