Big Science, Big Players: The Constitution of Global Environmental Expertise

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Rolf LIDSKOG, Environmental Sociology Section, Sweden
Göran SUNDQVIST, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Numerous expert bodies and expert panels at national and international levels have evolved around environmental issues. Their aim is to review and assess scientific research and make it relevant for policy makers, but sometimes also to facilitate and shape societal transformations towards sustainability. Without doubt, these bodies are important players in the discourse on global environmental sustainability, and currently there is probably no environmental issue that is not populated by scientific expertise. But what counts as expertise and how is it shaped? What is needed to claim epistemic authority for an environmental issue? These questions are guiding the paper, which aims to contribute to a theory on global environmental expertise.

By drawing on findings from Science and Technology Studies (STS), environmental sociology and general social theory, this paper stresses that in order to give robust and relevant expert advice in environmental matters, the expertise needs to include at least two dimensions; an understanding of how society works (analysis of social dynamics) and an identification of the character of a particular environmental problem (diagnosis of pathologies). Since long time back, however, there has also been raised claims that expertise also needs to include a third dimension; proposals for how to solve the problem at stake (therapy). By reviewing current forms of global environmental expertise – not least those contributing to the narrative of Anthropocene – the paper investigates to what extent and in what ways it includes the three dimensions mentioned above. It is found that relatively often, natural scientists speak about how society should be designed in order to solve a particular environmental problem, whereas social scientists are rather silent concerning solutions. The paper ends by discussing risks and benefits of including all three dimensions in the making of global environmental expertise