Complexity, Black Swans and Environmental Sociology

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Harris ALI, York University, Canada
Ulrich Beck observes that at an institutional level, the bio-physical sciences that deal with environmental problems must adapt to a new reality based on the changing nature of modern environmental risks. This adaptation, for instance, may take the form of the demonopolization of technical knowledge and the rise of sub-politics. But what of the recent changes in the epistemological and ontological basis of the sciences themselves – what implications do these have for addressing current environmental challenges such as climate change from a societal perspective? How do we take these implications into account as environmental sociologists? The epistemological/ontological shift may be seen in the increasing prominence of approaches such as those based on complexity theory and the black swan perspective in ecological thinking. Front-and-centre to these approaches are matters pertaining to confronting irreducible systems uncertainties (due to such mechanisms as positive feedback loops, non-linearity, tipping points, irreversibility, emergent and network effects, and so on) and making decisions while confronting the inherent limitations and incompleteness of scientific knowledge. In this context, we will explore the following: How do these new ways of conceptualizing and understanding socio-ecological systems converge or diverge with conventional and contemporary sociological approaches to the environment? How do they represent new ways of approaching the society-nature nexus that go beyond recent Actor-Network, Post-Humanism and New Materialism formulations? How can such approaches inspire conceptual development within environmental sociology based on a more explicitly socio-ecological positionality? How can these approaches help move towards a philosophical reorientation of environmental management and environmental sociology?