Linking Ecology and Ethics for a Changing World II

During the first two days of talks at “Linking Ecology and Ethics for a Changing World: Values, Philosophy, and Action” there was no reference to challenges 1, 2 or 3—on accountability at a distance, participatory process ethics, and translocal interventions (see previous post).  Does this mean I should start working on challenge 4 (i.e., interpreting and responding to frameworks that do not pay attention to the first three challenges)?

It is possible to advance a broad-brush interpretive schema (such as the one quoted below).  But it would be more interesting to tease out or “map” the intersecting processes that lead to each person’s thought and action, then use that to help them see engagements that might allow them not simply to continue along previous lines.  That’s the step I present in the last part of Unruly Complexity (U. Chicago Press, 2005).  Moreover, in the context of discussions I am facilitating at the conference on ethics and participatory processes, I might now say: Pursue participatory processes in such a way that, instead of periodic self-mapping and identifying possible points of engagement, people should get into the swing of continuous reflective practice, cultivating themselves as collaborators, and “flexibly engaging” so that they support others in their development in those directions.  Indeed, one discussion group member asked yesterday: Can something be ethical unless participatory?  To be continued…


From a multi-person dialogue at

Sociolo: Let me illustrate the connection between science and social action with a simple classification of environmental analyses.

I distinguish three broad analytic orientations regarding environment and society. They differ in the units of analysis-the kind of person or other agent who is involved in phenomenon-and in the implied limit-that makes the phenomenon a problem. Reso’s two-countries story gives us two of those orientations. On one island there were unequal, differentiating units, linked in their economic, social, and political dynamics, facing limits that are primarily social, and only sometimes biophysically conditioned. On the other island were uniform, undifferentiated units, which can be simply aggregated, and which face biophysical limits when they grow. I would add a third orientation, which acknowledges the existence of rich and poor strata, but does not provide an account of the dynamics that generate and maintain inequality.

What’s important is not simply that the “differentiated dynamics” orientation is, as Reso showed us, probably more faithful to the actual complexity of the world. The different analyses suggest different conceptions of what social action is favored. The “differentiated dynamics” orientation, as Activo and Reso discussed earlier, means that different people have to identify where they are positioned-or where they are trying to position themselves-within the particular dynamics of each case. The “uniform units” orientation implies what I would call moral and technocratic political tendencies (Taylor 1997 [How do we], Taylor and Garcia Barrios 1997). In technocratic formulations, objective, scientific analyses-often quantitative in form-identify the policies needed in order to restore order or ensure the sustainability or survival of society or humanity. Individuals, citizens, and countries are then expected to submit to those policies. Moral formulations, in contrast, avoid coercion and rely on each individual to make the change needed to maintain valued social or natural qualities of life. Yet in many senses the moral and technocratic approaches are allied. Both command our attention by stressing the severity of the crisis and threat to our social order. The solutions invoke common, undifferentiated interests as a corrective to scientifically ignorant leadership or corrupt, self-serving or naive governance. Moreover, although the solutions are supposed to apply uniformly to all of us, special places in the proposed social transformations are reserved for their exponents. The technocrat has a place as analyst or policy advisor; the moralist has a place as guide, educator or leader.

Ecolo: The uniform orientation seems like a straw person. Everyone recognizes that there are richer and poorer people and countries that have different effects on the environment.

Sociolo: That’s where the third “stratified units” orientation comes in, but it occupies an uncertain middle ground. Suppose contraception is promoted among the poor to curb population growth and reduced consumption is promoted among the affluent to reduce the disproportionate environmental effect of their slower growing or stable population. Are these or other stratified policies and practices meant to be any different from those given by separate uniform analyses, one restricted to the poor, the other to the affluent? If so, more needs to be said. In particular, how and why are the proposals supposed to work? This question raises the need for an analysis of the dynamics, redirecting us along the “differentiated dynamics” orientation.


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