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Chapter 11: The Emergence Model of Environment and Society
John Hannigan Introduction In mid-September 2008, world financial markets were rocked by a steady succession of shocks: the collapse of rescue attempts and subsequent filing for bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the fire sale of Merrill Lynch & Co. to Bank of America Corp., the US government bailout of insurance giant American International Group Inc., and finally, a mortgage ‘bailout’ plan proposed by US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that could end up costing taxpayers $750 billion or more. Writing in the Canadian daily newspaper, The National Post, chief business correspondent Theresa Tedesco observed that old game plans had been rendered irrelevant and new standards of panic established. ‘Clearly’, Tedesco opined, ‘this is one financial crisis that doesn’t come with a playbook.’ Tedesco’s comments apply equally well to the environmental challenges of the early twenty-first century, whose ‘playbook’ is similarly missing in action. In this chapter, I propose a sociological approach to the society–environment relationship that spotlights elements of novelty, uncertainty, emergence, improvisation and social learning. My goal here is neither to explain the origins of the environmental ‘crisis’, as did a critical mass of seminal thinking in environmental sociology in the 1970s and 1980s, nor to identify and assess the most effective mechanism of environmental reform or improvement, the object of much recent work (see Buttel, 2003). Rather, I aim to frame the study of nature, society and the environment within an interactionist tradition in sociology, as it first developed at the University of Chicago under the guidance of...
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