Social Closure in the Anthropocene: The Environment As a Medium for Monopolisation and Exclusion

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 09:30
Oral Presentation
Raymond MURPHY, University of Ottawa, Canada
This paper introduces the Weberian concept of social closure to environmental sociology, and argues it helps elucidate the drivers of environmental problems, victimisation from them, and the resulting reaction. Closure refers to the process whereby one group monopolizes resources thereby closing off opportunities to others. It enabled Weber to analyse property classes, status groups based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc., and the reaction of the excluded using one overarching coherent framework. The paper analyses emerging environmental social closure involving the appropriation of biophysical resources, including waste sinks, by the present generation disproportionately benefiting some, resulting in the risk of excluding latecomers from such benefits: ‘issues of climate justice include the excluded non-living generations, who are going to suffer most’ (Beck). The global biophysical environment constitutes a commons that present and future generations share, and is a medium that carries social relations of monopolisation and exclusion from risk makers to risk takers across space and between generations over time. Giving priority to near-term economic benefits to the exclusion of long-term costs constitutes social closure embedded in culture, practices, and physical infrastructures. Waste and pollution are dumped into “land fill”, “atmosphere fill”, and “ocean fill” to diminish present costs of production. Monopolisation of resources by high consuming humans also excludes other species from resources and habitats they need, resulting in high rates of human-induced extinction. Reaction against such environmental closure is led by environmental movements, impact scientists, social democratic governments, and nature as an actant whose biophysical dynamics can strike back against their manipulation by humans, and destabilize monopolies. Human activities driven by monopolisation are unleashing new frequencies and intensities of biophysical forces and letting loose threatening new constructions of nature, thereby socially constructing uncertainty about the consequences, with one possibility being the Anthropocene undermining itself.