Cognitive fluidity and climate change: a critical social-theoretical approach to the current challenge

European Journal of Social Theory 18 (3):236-256 (2015)
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Abstract

This article seeks to enrich the social-theoretical and sociological approach to climate change by arguing in favour of a weak naturalistic ontology beyond the usually presupposed methodological sociologism or culturalism. Accordingly, attention is drawn to the elementary social forms that mediate between nature and the sociocultural form of life and thus figure as the central object of a critical sociological explanation of impediments retarding or preventing a transition to a sustainable global society. The argument is illustrated by a comparison of the current situation of climate change to a similar situation some 10,000 years ago which conditioned the transition from hunting-gathering to farming. The crucial factor in the prehistoric transition had been the newly acquired cognitive fluidity, which not only became the defining feature of the modern human mind, but is also foundational of the corresponding social form of life. The cognitively fluid mind made possible new generative practices and the imagination of counterfactuals possessing an incursive force that is capable of transforming existing practices and social structures. The ultimate question, then, is twofold: whether there is enough potential left in the cognitively fluid mind for its societal significance to be activated to the benefit of a transformation of the current recalcitrant social formation; and whether we today are able and willing to recognize such potential and corresponding realizable possibilities upon which to act.

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