The Thing Called Environment: What It Is and How to Be Concerned With It

Oxford Literary Review 32 (1):109-130 (2010)


This paper wants to think beyond the science-politics divide that is omnipresent in sustainability discourse. With Bruno Latour, we investigate if and how decomposing matters of fact and recomposing them back as matters of concern can open up a scientific-political space in which sustainability challenges can be addressed in an adequate manner. By connecting Latour's constructivist account of science in action with Rudolf Boehm's concept of topical truth, we aim to lighten up the normative-political entanglement between science and politics, facts and values. Rather than conceiving of knowledge in terms of representations of the world, a constructivist topical perspective emphasises the socio-material practices from and within which these representations arise. Such a view then also changes the way we think about ourselves and our place in the world in fundamental ways: the world now becomes something that we are embedded in and part of rather than something we are detached from and merely observers of, as representationalism suggests. In this way, decomposing environmental matters of fact such as climate change, which have never been a human-independent entity out there to begin with, allows to adequately recompose them as societal matters of concern, which they have been from the very beginning.

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Karen Francois
Vrije Universiteit Brussel

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