Climate change and science studies an uneasy relationship
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Climate Change and Science Studies: An uneasy relationship. Reiner Grundmann, Aston University Nico Stehr, Zeppelin University. Paper presented at the workshop Science Studies Meet Climate Change: A Rendezvous with Consequences? Copenhagen University, 23-24 April 2009. Five theses.

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Climate change and science studies an uneasy relationship

Climate Change and Science Studies: An uneasy relationship

Reiner Grundmann, Aston University

Nico Stehr, Zeppelin University

Paper presented at the workshop

Science Studies Meet Climate Change: A Rendezvous with Consequences?

Copenhagen University, 23-24 April 2009


Five theses

Five theses

  • Sociology and nature: long term neglect, now alarmed discovery

  • Climate change as top global policy issue: Social sciences cannot ignore it.

  • Science studies in the past well placed but seem uneasy in the face of the politicisation of the climate change debate.

  • The social sciences do not always make genuine contributions to climate change debates.

  • Sociology and science studies: the role of constructivism.


Isi database ssci 1992 2009 global warming or climate change in topic articles all languages

ISI database (SSCI) 1992-2009 ‘global warming’OR ‘climate change’ in topic (articles, all languages)


Sorted by authors

Sorted by authors


Articles in two main sts professional journals using climate change or global warming in abstract

Articles in two main STS professional Journals, using “Climate change” or “Global warming” in abstract


Thesis 1

Thesis 1

  • Sociology has had a difficult and distanced relationship to climate change because of its theoretical heritage

    • Durkheim, Weber (Marx!)

    • nature/society dichotomy (reinforced on both sides of the divide)

    • boundaries between what is beyond our ability to transform and what is beyond our control are shifting

    • Holocene /Anthropocene (Chakrabarty 2008; Crutzen and Stoermer 2000).

  • Modern sociologists have largely neglected climate change as an issue (but good at analyzing ‘globalization’)

  • Climate change science provided ‘social analysis’

  • largely dominated by modelling community

  • Problem: Modellers tend to have specific concepts about

  • the relation between knowledge and decision making, between

  • facts and values, between experts and laypeople…


  • Thesis 2

    Thesis 2

    • Over the past 20 years anthropogenic climate change has evolved from a science based issue to a top global policy and business issue.

    • There have been countless political controversies around the issue and scientific arguments have been used to justify political positions.

      • IPCC and skeptics

      • Policy instruments (cap and trade; targets and timetables; etc.)

      • Annex 1 countries, ‘tiger’ economies

      • Renewable energies or Nuclear comeback?

      • Lifestyle and technology

    • This raises the problem of involvement and detachment (Elias)


    Thesis 3

    Thesis 3

    • Science studies well placed but have a tense relationship because of the politicisation of the climate change debate.

      • Science studies scholars feel uneasy in a polarized debate where academic research might be seen as politically counterproductive.

      • It may be that this constellation had a paralyzing impact on Science Studies as well as there has been very little research on this topic in recent years

    • Science studies need to stick to their guns

      • Principle of symmetry

      • Analysis of scientific practices/ of practitioners’ communities

      • Knowledge and action /new institutional forms (IPCC and beyond)

    • Science studies need to reconceptualise the ‘Political’.

      • ‘everything is political’, no special attention should be given to Politics

      • Strategies of actors and their rhetoric


    Why has critique run out of steam

    Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?

    • … entire Ph.D programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth […] while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives.

    • Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we meant? Why does it burn my tongue to say that global warming is a fact whether you like it or not? Why can't I simply say that the argument is closed for good? Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004)


    Thesis 4

    Thesis 4

    • The social sciences in general need to re-focus their core contribution to debates.

      • Advantage of ‘reflection theories’/disciplines: geography, economics, politics (including IR) and of interdisciplinary fields

      • What role for sociology? (Giddens on Climate Change Politics)

      • Science studies need to revive their heritage: social construction of knowledge, framing and discourse, hybrid roles of scientists and policy makers, new institutional forms

      • Public engagement

    • Joining a chorus of alarmist voices will not be beneficial

      • Not for academia, not for the political process

    • ‘10 more years’ before the point of no return: Why has the timeframe of 10 years been given? Who has come up with it? What if we miss the deadline?

    • Magical 2˚C (Copenhagen March 09  4˚C)


    Thesis 5

    Thesis 5

    • Sociology has been founded on social constructivism

    • Re-discovery of nature has led some to abandon it

      • Lever-Tracey in a recent contribution to Current Sociology writes: ‘Preoccupied with analyzing […] social facts, sociologists are unwilling to be disturbed by the voices of natural scientists, reporting from inaccessible upper atmospheres, ancient ice cores or deep oceans, where no social fact exists.’ (Lever-Tracey 2008:454).

      • ‘[I]t seems to me that a respectful division of labour is essential now that natural and social change are operating in tandem, on the same time scales. Since we are not ourselves competent to evaluate the debate between climatologists and skeptics, we have no option but to accept the professional authority and integrity of the accredited experts…’ (Lever-Tracey 2008: 457).


    Conclusion

    Conclusion

    • Anthropogenic climate change exemplifies shifting boundaries between nature and society

    • ought to move into the center of sociological concern

    • Sociology needs to learn from STS that constructivism does not mean playing into the hands of climate change deniers.

    • STS needs to take on board the broader dimensions, P

    • Both should study

      • Technological innovation

      • Social shifts that contribute to or mitigate against climate change (and its consequences)

      • Relation between knowledge and decision making

      • Discursive constructions and their implications

      • Values that inform our dealing with nature (social equality, economic growth, environmental protection=SD)

      • Comparative studies: across countries/cases

      • Keep the bigger picture: what if CC was solved? SD?


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