On the Logics of Social and Biophysical Change: From the Asian Carp Invasion to the Reversal of the Chicago River

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Jordan BESEK, University at Buffalo, SUNY, USA
Increasingly unsustainable relationships amongst societies and environments are drawing considerable attention across disciplines. In sociology, this attention has largely focused on developing theoretical frameworks for explicating how various social processes negatively impact the environment, however, what this literature has done less well is develop rich understandings of the other side of this relationship, namely how ecological change can create instability in social processes. To fill this gap, I connect recent theory from environmental sociology geared towards explicitly “bringing nature back in” with contemporary theoretical developments in historical sociology. In particular, I incorporate how George Steinmetz, Neil Gross, Chares Demetriou, and the late Charles Tilly have developed an approach in which social relationships are understood to be loosely structured via interactive causal tendencies, articulated as “mechanisms”, which, contingent upon social context, can organize particular sorts of social events. I then demonstrate how biophysical “mechanisms” can also structure social relationships through an extended case study of the interplay between the social and ecological processes related to the introduction of Asian carp, an invasive species that has set into motion considerable contestations across political, cultural, economic and scientific social processes in the greater Chicago area as well as the Great Lakes. Through this case study I demonstrate how biophysical “mechanisms” such as invasion can impact social processes. I finally provide an historical analysis of the 1900 reversal of the Chicago River to show how social responses to the Asian carp invasion are structured through previous histories, thus demonstrating that the interaction of social and biophysical mechanisms is not, in itself, a single transformative process, but rather a cumulative development generated and constrained via several connected social and ecological histories.