The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology
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The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology

Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate

The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology is a major interdisciplinary reference work on the developing field of environmental sociology. It consists of over 30 specially commissioned essays by leading scholars from around the world. These original essays examine a wide range of environmental issues in the developed and developing world as well as formerly centrally planned countries to present a truly international perspective. Together they analyse theory and concepts, philosophical and empirical issues as well as offering practical policy advice.
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Chapter 9: Postmodernism and environmentalism: complementary or contradictory discourses?

Matthew Gandy


Matthew Gandy INTRODUCTION Since the mid- 1980s, the postmodernity debate has rapidly permeated virtually every dimension of academic discourse, extending from the humanities and social sciences to branches of physics and evolutionary biology. In trying to make sense of this vast and complex debate it is useful to divide postmodernism into three often overlapping areas of concern. First, there is the aesthetic dimension, encompassing developments such as changing styles in architecture and art; second, there is the historical debate focused on whether the period since the early 1970s represents a distinctive postmodern era; and third, there is the pervasive questioning of the ethical and philosophical foundations of knowledge in the context of radical epistemological doubt (see Table 9.1). In addition to this simplified threefold typology of postmodernist thought, it is also useful to make a further distinction between postmodernist literature which is broadly enthusiastic towards these new developments (for example, Jencks, 1986; Lyotard, 1984) and another set of literature which is deeply sceptical and pessimistic about the development of postmodernism (for example Habermas, 1987; Harvey, 1989). Readers will detect that the present author’s perspective lies somewhat towards the sceptical side of this divide, but it will be argued here that the implications of the postmodernity debate for environmental discourse remain inescapable and should form the focus of greater scholarly attention. The chapter is divided into three main sections in order to explore these three dimensions in greater detail: the first section is concerned with changing aesthetic sensibilities towards nature; the...

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