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 16: Science and the environment

Steven Yearley


Steven Yearley INTRODUCTION: ‘PROSECUTION’AND ‘DEFENCE’ PRESENTATIONS OF THE RELATIONSHIP The important yet complex relationship between scientific understanding and approaches to the environment is widely discussed. At first sight, it appears tempting to try to resolve the issue philosophically by establishing in a general way whether science benefits the environment or whether it is injurious to it. And there is some value in surveying the pro and contra views precisely because they sketch the series of levels at which the argument can be made. However, the attempt to resolve the argument in this way runs into difficulties because there seems to be more than ample evidence for each viewpoint. Those, for example, who see science as fundamentally deleterious to the environmental cause often point first to the epistemological presuppositions of science. Science proceeds by establishing a distance between the scientific observer and the natural world. We are the subjects and the natural world the object; hence science reifies the distinction between the world and us and produces a certain form of alienation. Moreover, science has tended to proceed by conceptually dividing up the natural world, by working to understand the behaviour of the whole from the behaviours of the parts. Accordingly, it is possible to argue that the scientific world view separates mankind from nature and breaks up the organic unity of the natural world. Furthermore, some key scientific beliefs, most conspicuously Darwinian ideas about the centrality of competition and selection, appear to underwrite an antagonistic interpretation of natural relations (Wynne-Edwards,...

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