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Environmental History, World-Ecology, and Critical Realism

This is a guest blog post by Alvin Camba (Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the John Hopkins University) reflecting upon his recent experience participating in the Philosophy of Social Sciences Graduate Student Summer Seminar 2016 in Tacoma, WA.

Environmental History, World-Ecology, and Critical Realism

Before I read any of Bhaskar’s texts, I’ve been immersed in the literature on environmental history, political ecology, and world-ecology. During the seminar, I realized that Bhaskar and the wider engagement with (and challenge of) positivism coincides with a variety of environmental literature’s common theme of the co-construction of the social and natural worlds. These scholars have written widely on the construction of the sciences, (generative) ecological structures, and the relational aspects of humans and nature.

Building off Laura Donnelly’s blog post on CR and interdisciplinary approaches, here are a couple of books listed below that deal with integrating the social and natural as a point of departure for a post-positivist social science.

Moore, J. W. (2015). Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. Verso Books.

Abstract: Finance. Climate. Food. Work. How are the crises of the 21st century connected? In Capitalism in the Web Life, Jason W. Moore argues that today’s global turbulence has a common source: capitalism as a way of organizing nature, including human nature. Drawing on environmentalist, feminist, and Marxist thought, Moore offers a groundbreaking new synthesis: capitalism as a “world-ecology” of wealth, power, and nature. Capitalism’s greatest strength and the source of its crisis today has been its capacity to create Cheap Natures: labor, food, energy, and raw materials. That capacity is now in question. Rethinking capitalism through the pulsing and renewing dialectic of humanity-in-nature, Moore takes readers on a journey from the rise of capitalism to the crisis today. The limits to capitalism are real enough. But they cannot be reduced to “natural limits” or “economic crisis.” They are both and they are more than their social and environmental dimensions. Capitalism in the Web of Life shows how the critique of capitalism-in-nature rather than capitalism and nature is key to understanding the crisis today and to pursuing the politics of liberation in the century ahead.

Wolf, E. R. (1969). Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century. University of Oklahoma Press.

American Political Science Review description: “Eric Wolf’s study of the six great peasant-based revolutions of the century demonstrates a mastery of his field and the methods required to negotiate it that evokes respect and admiration. In six crisp essays, and a brilliant conclusion, he extends our understanding of the nature of peasant reactions to social change appreciably by his skill in isolating and analyzing those factors, which, by a magnification of the anthropologist’s techniques, can be shown to be crucial in linking local grievances and protest to larger movements of political transformation.”

Merchant, C. (2006). The Scientific Revolution and the Death of Nature. Isis97(3), 513-533.

Abstract: The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, published in 1980, presented a view of the Scientific Revolution that challenged the hegemony of mechanistic science as a marker of progress. It argued that seventeenth-century science could be implicated in the ecological crisis, the domination of nature, and the devaluation of women in the production of scientific knowledge. This essay offers a twenty-five-year retrospective of the book’s contributions to ecofeminism, environmental history, and reassessments of the Scientific Revolution. It also responds to challenges to the argument that Francis Bacon’s rhetoric legitimated the control of nature. Although Bacon did not use terms such as “the torture of nature,” his followers, with some justification, interpreted his rhetoric in that light.

Lohmann, L. (2010). Climate Crisis: Social Science Crisis. In Der Klimawandel(pp. 133-153). VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Introductory Paragraph: One superficial indication of the difficulties that have resulted is the failure to meet even the weak emissions targets that have already been negotiated. As Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner point out, the Kyoto Protocol has produced “no demonstrable reductions in emissions or even in anticipated emissions growth” (Prins and Rayner 2007: 973). But this failure is a sign of deeper problems and is not a mere “problem of implementation” attributable to “teething pains” (Lohmann 2005). Rife with measurement impossibilities and property rights paradoxes (Lohmann 2006), the market instruments in question, singularly inappropriate for use with the global warming problem, tend to sacrifice the longterm environmental progress needed to address industrialized countries’ contribution to global warming to a notion of short-term cost-effectiveness (Driesen 2008). In the process, decisionmaking about technology options and the earth’s climatic future has increasingly passed into the hands of polluting corporations and big players in the financial markets. By and large, social scientists have failed not only to anticipate the problems that have resulted, but even to grasp them fully once they have occurred.

Crosby, A. W. (1986). Ecological Imperialism. Cambridge University Press; 2nd edition (January 12, 2004)

Book Description: People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world–North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain because in many cases they were achieved by using firearms against spears. Alfred Crosby, however, explains that the Europeans’ displacement and replacement of the native peoples in the temperate zones was more a matter of biology than of military conquest. Now in a new edition with a new preface, Crosby revisits his classic work and again evaluates the ecological reasons for European expansion.

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