Version 3.2_September 2016
Individual Paper: The razor's edge: Realist vs social constructivist conceptions of environmental limits
When doing interdisciplinary science, we need criteria that can help us choose what to integrate. Not anything goes. Since interdisciplinary science does not have common concepts at the outset, researchers need to work from some other common denominator. If not, interdisciplinarity becomes too challenging. This paper argues that developing a consistent body of theory, while at the same time taking into account the basic assumptions and goals of degrowth, requires a sound base in philosophy of science.
Contrary to what seems to be the trend within degrowth, namely a rise in constructivism, critical realism is advocated as a more appropriate philosophy of science, compatible with degrowth in at least three important respects: 1) it assumes an independent reality, e.g. environmental thresholds or limits; 2) it understands science, including concepts, as socially constructed; and 3) it promotes critical social science, i.e. a science critical of the (social) objects it studies.
The concept of 'environmental limits' will be discussed from a critical realist perspective, providing 'a third way' between naïve objectivism (e.g. Rockström et al 2012) and constructivism (e.g. Kallis 2014). Talking about 'environmental limits' in a North-South perspective requires us to walk the razor's edge by simultaneously advocating a realist world perception, while at the same time keeping in mind that science is both socially constructed and politically influenced. The paper makes the argument for a realist conception of natural limits as external constraints, and argues for why this does not necessarily imply technocracy or expert rule.
Start time: 11:30
Track: The un-common sense