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Rationality in environmental discourse : a cultural approach to environmental policy analysis


Eder, Klaus


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Abstract Does the result of the discussion that there is more than one rationality at stake in environmental policy-making imply a relativistic methodological conclusion? There are three reasons that could pull us toward a relativistic notion of rationality: (1) The existence of competing cultural models of nature forces us to abandon the idea of nature as something outside society. Nature exists for us only through culture. To the extent that we have to accept that nature is a cultural construction, the notion of 'hard facts' vanishes. Nature is - like all social facts - a soft fact. This will open our way of 'regulating nature' through environmental politics and policies to moral claims and moral discourse. (2) Environmental policy cannot be based on the authoritative nature of 'hard facts'. Nature as a collective good is a soft fact that will increase communication and argumentation about what should be done because of the possibility of competing claims of these facts. A political culture of communicating 'as-if-facts' develops. Groups begin to argue as if there were 'hard facts'. To free political communication from 'hard facts' will accelerate communication - and the remaining problem is to guarantee communicability and solve the problem of emerging communicative power. (3) Cultural analysis leads us to question the very basis of modern rationality: the idea of bare facts. Policy analysis as the most advanced form of rationalizing the reproduction of modern societies has given us the possibility to explore the cultural basis of this advanced form of formal rationality. When environmental policy analysis can no longer be based upon this type of rationality we are forced to base the rationality of policy decisions on soft facts. Thus policy-making will be drawn into the communication of 'as-if-facts' (which are soft facts) using institutional power to validate them. That there are no hard facts, that we can talk about everything, that everything is a social construction: all these claims come close to a relativistic position. We do not, however, have to draw such a relativistic conclusion from these arguments. There are again at least three reasons that limit this potential relativism: (1) As long as there is a struggle over 'as-if-facts', rationality lies in the process of communicating such soft facts. The institutionalization of procedures of negotiating and communicating interpretations of facts contains the possibility of procedural rationality. This does not imply a return to absolutism, but rather an 'anti-antirelativism' (Geertz 1984). The purity model is not only a second type of rationality developed within the European tradition that competes with others but also creates the conditions of arguing about the relative weight of each. (2) The observation of two traditions in one culture is an argument against the hegemonic role of one culture and also an argument against relativism. Therefore the purity model becomes the key to an understanding of new and so far suppressed elements of rationality in environmental policy-making. Since this model is the dominated one its thematization not only lays bare the suppressed model but also lays the bare fact of suppression as such which has repercussions on the legitimacy of the dominant model. (3) To conceive nature - in line with what we have called the Jewish model - as an indivisible, holistic entity justifies the construction of nature as a collective good to be shared equally by all. Thus a new ground for fairness and justice can be laid in the modern discourse of a just and fair society. The reconstruction of cultural traditions regulating the relationship of man to nature allows us to identify the forms of symbolically mediated relationships between the two. We do not only use nature for instrumental purposes, we also use it to 'think' the world (to use an expression of Tambiah (1969)). We use natural differences to make sense of social differences, which in turn gives meaning to natural differences (Douglas 1975). Nature, in a sense, gives lessons on how to conceive differences. Moving our focus from justice to purity gives us a better understanding of the differences underlying the emerging modern European culture of environmentalism. The analysis of cultural movements carrying counter cultural traditions thus forces us not only to broaden our theoretical notion of the cultural 'code' underlying European culture, it also forces us to see the carriers of counter cultural traditions as more than movements of protest against modernity and modernization. I claim that the two competing models relating man to nature have become the field of a new emerging type of social struggle over two types of modernity in advanced modern societies. It is my contention that the culture of environmentalism contains the elements for an alternative way of organizing social relations in modern society.
Thesaurusschlagwörter environment; environmental policy; discourse; worldview; cultural factors; rationality; ecology; Europe; paradigm; model; politics; policy studies; nature
Klassifikation Grundlagen, Geschichte, generelle Theorien und Methoden der Sozialwissenschaften; Ökologie und Umwelt; Philosophie, Theologie
Methode normativ
Freie Schlagwörter cultural studies; environmental policy; rationality; policy analysis
Titel Sammelwerk, Herausgeber- oder Konferenzband Green politics three
Herausgeber Rüdig, Wolfgang
Sprache Dokument Englisch
Publikationsjahr 1994
Verlag Edinburgh Univ. Press
Erscheinungsort Edinburgh
Seitenangabe S. 9-37
ISBN 0-7486-0469-3
Status Postprint; begutachtet
Lizenz Creative Commons - Namensnennung, Nicht kommerz., Keine Bearbeitung