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Decentering Environmental Sociology: Lessons from Post-Humanist Science and Technology Studies
Unformatted Document Text:  automatically bring with it any form of material determinism or necessarily preclude the importance of social meaning, language, and other factors in shaping or constructing how the physical world is understood and experienced. In her discussion of the philosophical tensions between ecology and feminism, Soper (1995) proposes the adoption of what she calls “pragmatic realism,” through which she offers a similar and instructive understanding of “nature:” The term nature here refers to material structures and processes that are independent of human activity (in the sense that they are not a product of human action) and whose forces and causal powers are the precondition of and constraint on any human technological activity...Nature is invoked here not to discriminate between human and non-human beings but to refer to what is common to all animate and inanimate entities and whose particular laws and processes are the presupposition and condition of any cultural practice or transformation. (322) Soper proposes this pragmatic perspective as a means of transcending the increasingly counterproductive debate between “strict” realists and constructivists. Under this perspective, the agency of “nature” is recognized as a causally important, but in no way deterministic, factor in understanding socio-environmental relations. As Soper (1995) explains, material agency “may ‘recommend’ certain types of action, and it will always have its say in determining the effects of ours actions, but it does not enforce politics” (327). Taking seriously constructivist critiques of science and scientific knowledge, 6 sociologists are left with the conceptual and methodological problem of how to account for material agency in socio-environmental interactions. Murphy (1995) takes a first step in this direction with his recognition that “[h]uman activity finds in the natural world not only external limits but also external possibilities” (702). In many sociological analyses of social-environmental interactions, realist and constructivist, “the social” is attributed exclusive or primary agency for initiating and directing such engagements. We (society) recognize the value or utility of a particular resource and so set about taking advantage of it. However, such a perspective limits our thinking about how those decisions were made in the first place, divorcing the reason or perceptions of the human mind from the practical experiences and engagements that “spark” or inform cognition. 7

Authors: Asplen, Lisa.
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automatically bring with it any form of material determinism or necessarily preclude the
importance of social meaning, language, and other factors in shaping or constructing how the
physical world is understood and experienced. In her discussion of the philosophical tensions
between ecology and feminism, Soper (1995) proposes the adoption of what she calls “pragmatic
realism,” through which she offers a similar and instructive understanding of “nature:”
The term nature here refers to material structures and processes that are independent of human activity
(in the sense that they are not a product of human action) and whose forces and causal powers are the
precondition of and constraint on any human technological activity...Nature is invoked here not to
discriminate between human and non-human beings but to refer to what is common to all animate and
inanimate entities and whose particular laws and processes are the presupposition and condition of any
cultural practice or transformation. (322)
Soper proposes this pragmatic perspective as a means of transcending the increasingly
counterproductive debate between “strict” realists and constructivists. Under this perspective, the
agency of “nature” is recognized as a causally important, but in no way deterministic, factor in
understanding socio-environmental relations. As Soper (1995) explains, material agency “may
‘recommend’ certain types of action, and it will always have its say in determining the effects of
ours actions, but it does not enforce politics” (327).
Taking seriously constructivist critiques of science and scientific knowledge,
sociologists
are left with the conceptual and methodological problem of how to account for material agency in
socio-environmental interactions. Murphy (1995) takes a first step in this direction with his
recognition that “[h]uman activity finds in the natural world not only external limits but also
external possibilities” (702). In many sociological analyses of social-environmental interactions,
realist and constructivist, “the social” is attributed exclusive or primary agency for initiating and
directing such engagements. We (society) recognize the value or utility of a particular resource
and so set about taking advantage of it. However, such a perspective limits our thinking about
how those decisions were made in the first place, divorcing the reason or perceptions of the
human mind from the practical experiences and engagements that “spark” or inform cognition.
7


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