A New Climate for Society

Theory, Culture and Society 27 (2-3):233-253 (2010)
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Abstract

This article argues that climate change produces discordances in established ways of understanding the human place in nature, and so offers unique challenges and opportunities for the interpretive social sciences. Scientific assessments such as those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change helped establish climate change as a global phenomenon, but in the process they detached knowledge from meaning. Climate facts arise from impersonal observation whereas meanings emerge from embedded experience. Climate science thus cuts against the grain of common sense and undermines existing social institutions and ethical commitments at four levels: communal, political, spatial and temporal. The article explores the tensions that arise when the impersonal, apolitical and universal imaginary of climate change projected by science comes into conflict with the subjective, situated and normative imaginations of human actors engaging with nature. It points to current environmental debates in which a reintegration of scientific representations of the climate with social responses to those representations is taking place. It suggests how the interpretive social sciences can foster a more complex understanding of humanity’s climate predicament. An important aim of this analysis is to offer a framework in which to think about the human and the social in a climate that seems to render obsolete important prior categories of solidarity and experience.

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