Farewello to the Heuristics of Fear? the 'affirmative' Turn in Environmental Social Theory

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:45 PM
Room: F202
Oral Presentation
Luigi PELLIZZONI , University of Trieste, Italy
Some of the most interesting developments in social theory are presently occurring at the cross-roads of environment and technoscience scholarship. The paper aims to interrogate two especially salient, and remarkably overlapping, trends. The first one is the return of ‘materiality’. This trend has been around for some years especially in the form of an expanding ‘sociology of practices’. Yet more recently new forms of ‘naturalism’ have been flourishing, which mark a sharp break with the long predominance of cultural/discursive constructivism, without reverting to traditional realist cases. Significant examples come, more than from environmental sociology strictly speaking, from post-structuralist orientations in STS, philosophical anthropology and feminist theory, which converge on accounts of the reality of matter in terms of fluidity of organic and inorganic life or of the multiplicity of (human encounters with) nature. The second trend is a reworking of the implications of risk and uncertainty. Whereas, for years, awareness of socio-environmental complexities led to a plea for ‘technologies of humility’, now an emerging tendency is for taking ‘braver’ standpoints by which, if uncertainty cannot be ‘tamed’, then it has not to be feared but rather it has to be ‘ridden’. This is signalled by burgeoning narratives and techniques of vision, anticipation and resilience, for example as regards ‘nanofutures’, human enhancement and climate change. If the ‘heuristics of fear’ has been for decades the trademark orientation of most environmental social theory, this turn towards ontology-focused ‘affirmative’ standpoints asks for reflection. Are we in front of a much-needed renovation of social theory vis-à-vis rapid sociotechnical and environmental change, or are we rather in front of a ruling imaginary which simultaneously supports and obscures a major socio-political, perhaps even an anthropological, transformation?