Research study: introduction to chapter 3

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

In the previous ‘Ph.D. postings’, I did some straightforward research about 1) what constitutes the eco-crisis, and 2) the direct physical causes of the eco-crisis. I originally grouped the 2 areas of focus into one chapter, but my supervisors advised that each area of focus becomes a separate chapter. The next part of the research I’ll be posting over the the course of the following days and weeks will therefore be sub-sections of chapter 3. 

To begin, here is the…

Introduction to chapter 3:

White (1971: 11), in his essay ‘Historical roots of our ecological crisis’, makes a remark that is important to keep in mind while considering the information in this chapter: “What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to the things around them”. Due to their historical dominance, Christianity, Technology, Science and Capitalism are among the world’s most influential, pervasive shapers of discourse1 – i.e. they have all played a part in shaping the way people ‘think about themselves in relation to the things around them’. The word ‘discourse’ is used here to denote

a formalized way of thinking that can be manifested through language, a social boundary defining what can be said about a specific topic, or, as Judith Butler puts it, “the limits of acceptable speech” – or possible truth. Discourses are seen to affect our views on all things; it is not possible to avoid discourse.”2

Indeed, it could be claimed these discourses3 have via their historical dominance played parts in shaping the discursive foundation upon which conceptual frameworks have been propagated. If this claim is true, it follows that it should be possible to trace ‘themes’ in the broad histories of these discourses that add context to the ecological precariousness uncovered in Chapter One and the ‘industrial’ recklessness exposed in Chapter Two. Hadot, White, and Kovel (to list the three main contributors to the material discussed in this chapter) all identify specific aspects and characteristics of the listed discourses as influential in the precipitating the ecological crisis. This chapter identifies and traces the development of certain of these themes and characteristics of the listed discourses, themes such as:

  • Dominion over nature.

  • Anthropocentrism.

  • Metaphysical dualism where humankind transcends nature in importance.

  • Assumed judicial prerogative over nature.

  • The seizing of control over nature via technology.

  • Scientific reductionism.

  • Nature being reduced to resources for humankind’s benefit via technology.

  • Nature as instrumentally valuable rather than inherently valuable.

  • The technological view of nature as a ‘standing reserve’ of resources.

  • The equating of progress with technological development.

  • The scientific view that nature has a secret which ‘man’ takes it upon ‘himself’ to reveal

  • The conceptualisation of nature as a machine.

  • The scientific focus on things measurable and quantifiable.

  • The machine as the model to explain nature.

The details of these themes and characteristics reveal something of the discursive journey towards the ecological crisis.

1 It is noted here that democracy is a significant shaper of discourse as well; however, it features in the following chapter due to its relevance to the issue of ‘what prevents social change?’ and will not be addressed in this chapter.

3 Christianity, Technology, Science and Capitalism