The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition
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The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition

Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate

This thoroughly revised Handbook provides an assessment of the scope and content of environmental sociology, and sets out the intellectual and practical challenges posed by the urgent need for policy and action to address accelerating environmental change.
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Chapter 12: Peering into the Abyss: Environment, Research and Absurdity in the ‘Age of Stupid’

Raymond L. Bryant


Raymond L. Bryant Introduction In a world of runaway climate change, apocalyptic capitalism and endemic political hand-wringing, scholars need new concepts to make sense of the contemporary human predicament. In doing so, they must endeavour to grasp the sheer oddity of that predicament. How even to begin to comprehend, for example, the logical yet illogical thinking behind such things as green munitions (bombs that harm people, not the environment), celebrity conservationism (the rich and famous ‘save’ nature from a global political economy that they helped to create), the public bailout of banking bosses in the latest global recession (taxpayers reward bankers for catastrophic failure) or food neocolonialism (wealthy oil-rich countries safeguard food supplies by depriving poor farmers of productive land in the South)? Or what of the relationship between the ever-more strident scientific and environmentalist calls for immediate action to avert climate catastrophe on the one hand, and the more or less business-as-usual approach to the issue shown by most politicians and publics alike? This chapter argues that an approach based on a theory of absurdity might just do the trick here. That theory situates the current human predicament in a wider perspective, seeing it not so much as the absence and/or presence of ‘rational’ thought per se, but rather as the manifestation of a more fundamental (and hence less ‘fixable’) lack of coherence and reasonableness in human thought and its ability to grasp an elusively alien world. In this view, the human fate is one indelibly shaped by illogical,...

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