Living in and coping with world risk society – Ulrich Beck

In this talk (from a few years ago, 2011 I think), sociologist Ulrich Beck outlines and updates his theory of reflexive modernization and the ‘risk society’. He suggests that, to the extent that risk is experienced as omnipresent in the current age, there are only three possible reactions: denial, apathy or transformation. The first, he says, ‘is largely inscribed in modern culture, the second resembles post-modern nihilism, the third is the “cosmopolitan moment” of world risk society’.

In the talk that follows he structures his argument around three key points. In  the first he outlines the distinctive, new features of this world risk society. There is a distinction between risk and catastrophe – they are not the same things. Risk is about the anticipation of catastrophe. This is why, despite the fact that Europe and ‘The West’ are relatively safe, globally speaking, or perhaps even ‘objectively’ so, it is the global anticipation of catastrophe (propagated via symbolic forms in the mass media etc) that is fundamental to the shaping of contemporary societies. These global perceptions of risk have three features: de-localization ( in spatial, temporal and social terms), incalculableness, and non-compensatibility.

His second key point stresses the fundamentally global character of these process, over and against the nation-state as a political level of analysis, and transformative action. Against this methodological nationalism he offers a defence of his cosmopolitan vision for the social sciences, outlined in more detail in his Power and the Global Age (2005). His final point offers some consequences of his position, in general, and a (sympathetic) critique of alternative theoretical conceptions of risk, most notably those of Mary Douglas and Michel Foucault. What is needed is a paradigm shift in the social sciences – the emergence of a cosmopolitan social science – a ‘cosmopolitan turn’.

This defence of cosmopolitanism – his cosmopolitical realpolitik –  is, of course, open to many criticisms and questions, as are his wider arguments about risk, decision-making etc.  There are some questions/discussion after 26 mins or so.

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Kari Norgaard — Living in Denial


In this excellent talk, recorded in 2013, Kari Norgaard offers a wonderful and concise overview of her well known book on the sociology of climate change Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life (2011). What is most interesting, from my perspective, is the way that she deploys conceptions of both emotion (specifically: guilt, fear of the future, and helplessness) with questions of power and power relations (especially Lukes’ notion of 3D power) in her analysis to explain how knowledge of climate change is negotiated, and denied, in everyday life. Drawing on ethnographic data from fieldwork in Norway, Norgaard shows how this power-emotion nexus is fundamentally social, and constitutive of the social organization of climate denial. Both the book and this short (36m) lecture are well work checking out.

Via Youtube:

In her lecture, professor Kari Norgaard uses interviews and ethnographic data from a community in western Norway during the unusually warm winter of 2000-2001 to describe how knowledge of climate change is experienced in everyday life. Stories in local and national newspapers linked the warm winter explicitly to global warming. Yet residents did not write letters to the editor, pressure politicians, or cut down on the use of fossil fuels. Norgaard describes the disturbing emotions of guilt, helplessness and fear of the future that arose when people were confronted with the idea of climate change — and then builds a model of socially organized denial to describe how people normalized these disturbing emotions through the deployment of conversation norms and discourses that served as “tools of social order.” Using literature from sociology of emotions, environmental sociology and sociology of culture, she describes “the social organization of climate denial” through multiple levels, from emotions to cultural norms to political economy.

The lectures shared here were given on October 5th 2013 in the following order:

Guðni Elísson: “Earth101”

Stefan Rahmstorf: “The Climate Crisis”

Michael Mann: “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”

Kari Norgaard: “Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life”

Peter Sinclair: “Communicating Climate Science in the Disinformation Era”

Recorded by Phil Coates and edited by Ryan Chapman.

Diana Coole talk on May 20th, NUI Galway – on the ‘Population Question’

Make_Room!_Make_Room!

We are delighted to announce the second guest speaker of the Power, Conflict & Ideologies Cluster (School of Political Science & Sociology) this year is Prof Diana Coole of Birkbeck  University of London. The talk, based on the ‘Population Question’ (specifics below), will take place at 3pm on 20th May in the SAC Room/CA110, Cairnes Building (St. Anthony’s, ground floor)  NUI Galway. All are welcome.

The title of the paper will be ‘From Population Control to Behaviour Modification: Liberty, Coercion and Behaviour Modification in Pursuit of Sustainable Wellbeing’. The abstract is below, but a useful introduction to these issues and Coole’s perspective on the population question in general may be found in her 2013 paper ‘Too Many Bodies? The Return and Disavowal of the Population Question’, which is currently open access (as one of Routledge’s ‘most popular’ politics papers of 2013).

The abstract for the Galway talk, and the speaker’s bio, are below the fold.

 

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Multispecies Cosmopolitics: 2013 IHR Distinguished Lecture with Donna Haraway

(Haraway appears about 10 mins in)

‘As the IHR’s 2013 Distinguished Lecturer, Donna Haraway, Distinguished Professor Emerita of the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of “Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature,” calls upon her audience to work, play and think in terms of multispecies cosmopolitics, a new approach to recuperating the Terrapolis on which we live.

After centuries of genocides, environmental destruction and its unevenly distributed suffering, and rampant killing of species, as well as individuals, Haraway suggests that humans turn to SF – string figures, science fiction, speculative fabulation, speculative feminism – as mechanisms for envisioning the future.

Working homing pigeons provide guidance for SF thinking, especially as seen through the methodologies and theories of practicing zoo-ethno-graphers. Their investigations of multispecies attachment, detachment, inter- and intra- patience, and inter- and intra- action bring together the social sciences, humanities, arts, and biological and physical sciences and offer crucial tools and knowledge(s). However, these investigations also reveal stunning human ignorance(s) about how to inhabit the world with other animals, rather than to observe and control them’.

Facing Gaia: A new enquiry into Natural Religion-Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures 2013

Bruno Latour’s recent (Feb,2013)  Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh deserve to be more widely viewed than they have been.  Indeed, if history is any guide, they probably will be, eventually.  Already I have heard about an upcoming workshop organized around the lecture series, and a book based on the series is forthcoming.  Past luminaries of these lectures, which were established to ‘promote and diffuse the study of natural theology in the widest sense of the term’ have included some of the most influential thinkers (and books) of the last century, including William James (1900-1902, The Varieties of Religious Experience), Henri Bergson (1913-14, The Problem of Personality), Hannah Arendt (1976, Life of the Mind), and, with particular significance for Latour, Alfred North Whitehead (1927-28, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology).

This last work, still notoriously troublesome despite its various revisions since Whitehead delivered it in Edinburgh almost a century ago, echoes throughout Latour’s six lectures.  Latour speaks; Whitehead stands at his shoulder.  It is clear that Professor Latour enjoyed following in ‘his philosopher’s’ footsteps. The key themes of the lectures circle around the implications of living in a new epoch in which humans are significantly affecting the earth’s ecosystem: the anthropocene.  The abstract for the series as a whole reads:

Facing Gaia. A New Inquiry into Natural Religion.

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of ”natural religion” is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ”natural religion”.

Politics, science and religion are brought into dialogue, via a sustained contemplation of Gaia, rather than nature.  What this shift calls for above all is a (political) shift from matters of fact to matters of concern, which is, in itself, a Whiteheadian shift.  The draft text of the lectures is available here (pdf), but the published book is on the way.  The remaining five lectures are below the fold.  I have only recently finished viewing them all and I am not ready to offer a critique just yet.  I may have to read (and re-read) the notes or the book that emerges to fully grasp what Latour is  saying.  His project is vast, and requires, demands, serious attention.  These lectures are a good place to begin.

The abstract for the first lecture is:

Once Out of Nature – natural religion as a pleonasm

Lecture abstract

The set of questions around the two words “natural religion” implies that only the second word is a coded and thus a disputed category, the first one being taken for granted and uncoded. But if it can be shown that the very notion of nature is a theological construct, we might be able to shift the problem somewhat: the question becomes not to save or resurrect “natural religion”, but to dispose of it by offering at last a ”secular” version of nature and of the natural sciences.

They get better as they go on.  Persevere.  And enjoy!

Continue reading “Facing Gaia: A new enquiry into Natural Religion-Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures 2013”

Latour’s Tour of Dublin 2012

Bruno Latour is a troll.  A very interesting, witty and often brilliant troll, I grant you but a troll nonetheless.  Earlier this year he was in Dublin and gave two different talks.  The first, at Dublin City University on Friday, February 17th, was given at  a special seminar on interdisciplinarity, the arts and the sciences.  The talk, entitled ‘From Critique to Composition’, addresses nature, science and climate.  We need, he says, to shift our thinking about these matters from one of ‘critique’ to one of ‘composition’ and change matters of fact (back) in to matters of concern. The seminar, and Prof Latour’s trip to Ireland, was organised by the Celsius interdisciplinary research group at DCU, the French Embassy and the Science Gallery, and also to Trispace, DCU.  The second talk, ‘Reenacting Science’, was delivered at Science Gallery, Trinity College a few days later.  Some aspects of the talk are covered in this paper. 

I recommend both but the second is more typically a lecture, with slides etc.  It is perhaps composed a little better.

Human-Made Climate Change: A Moral, Political, and Legal Issue James E. Hansen

Interesting talk, here, from the “father of global warming”, given at the Institute for Advanced Study on November 19, 2010.

Observations of ongoing climate change, paleoclimate data, and climate simulations concur: human-made greenhouse gases have set Earth on a path to climate change with potentially dangerous consequences for humanity. James Hansen, climatologist and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, explains the urgency of the situation and discusses why he believes it is a moral issue that pits the rich and powerful against the young and unborn, against the defenseless, and against nature. He explores available options to avoid morally unacceptable consequences.