THE ORGANIZATIONAL PRODUCTION OF ENVIRONMENTAL KNOWLEDGE
We have taken science for realist painting, imagining that it made an exact copy of the world. The sciences do something else entirely – paintings too, for that matter. Through successive stages they link us to an aligned, transformed, constructed world (Latour 1999: 78-79).
Goldman (2001) explores how the World Bank (WB) produces “authoritative green knowledge” by examining the Nam Theun 2 (NT2) dam project in Laos. He draws upon fieldwork conducted in Laos as well as institutional ethnographic work at the WB.
What is “authoritative green knowledge”?
- A conception of environmentalism as sustainable development; particular sets of facts produced to differentiate, classify and categorize populations and their natural environments (p. 194)
Goldman asks: How does this type of knowledge become authoritative or dominant? How do the findings and practices of the WB make their way into the global circuit in which World Bank artifacts and idioms travel and become transformed into global knowledge and expertise?
Green knowledge production has transnational roots and effects (p. 193)
- Transnational actors gather data, decide their utility and purpose, and design institutions that continue to implement and maintain green knowledge
“Green” conditionalities on loans and investments (p. 193)
- Pressure on borrowing states to restructure environmental agencies, regulatory regimes governing resource use and access, and the business of land use in general
WB ‘pushed’ into its greening phase by a transnational social movement (p. 209)
- WB transforms critical observers into constructive participants
- Disarming and absorbing critics by incorporating them into project planning, design, implementation and monitoring (etc)
Subjugated knowledges and suppression (p. 202)
- Epistemic violence: ‘Scientized stereotypes’ ascribed to ‘beneficiaries’ as lacking, irrational, environmentally degrading and in need of development at any cost
- Capacity building (p. 205): The creation of a professional class in Laos
- TORs for consultants (p. 198): Suppression as common practice
Through Latour’s (1999) ethnography of a soil science field study in the Amazon, he examines the information, tools and practices used to produce information about a given state of affairs. While Western science is often considered a process through which truths are found out and articulated, Latour suggests that it is simply one way making sense of the world – sophisticated and technical, but not all-encompassing.
Latour describes the various steps required for the production of ‘soil knowledge’ through certain Western epistemological institutions. He uses photographs and carefully detailed observations of the language, information, practices and tools used during the field study. Throughout the essay he frequently interrupts himself, inserting photographs, models and metaphors, which makes the essay both a joy to read and a challenge to interpret.
The essay ‘Circulating Reference’ addresses the series of successive steps through which empirical evidence is gathered from the field and transformed into discourse. He describes how at each step something (matter) is transformed into a form (a signpost), which then becomes the basis for the next step in the process. This requires sophisticated tools – such as the pedocomparator or Munsell Code – as well as the documentation of the various steps so that they can be re-enacted.
For the world to become knowable, it must become a laboratory. If virgin forest is to be transformed into a laboratory, the forest must be prepared to be rendered as a diagram (p.43).
Latour concludes that constructing phenomena in successive steps – or layers – makes them more real within networks of researchers, samples, graphics, specimens, maps, reports and funding requests.
JASANOFF & MARTELLO (2004)
Jasanoff and Martello (2004) emphasize that science is a form of powerful but situated knowledge. Therefore, the mechanisms of knowledge production are a central consideration when evaluating institutions and processes of global governance. They suggest that beyond the design of specific institutions or processes, it is the ideology of global governance that they seek to influence. As such, they arrange their conclusions as prescriptions for INSTUTIONS, EXPERTISE and DEMOCRACY which, they suggest, are crucially important to the success of all governance arrangements.
In the international arena coalitions of normatively and discursively united actors brought about collective solutions to environmental problems (p. 337)
- Social interests and relationships are just as critical in the formation of scientific consensus as in any other domain of human activity
Globalization is not an unstoppable force, but a social achievement (p. 341)
- Institutions of global governance serve as construction sites for sorting out the meanings of the global and the local
Global institutions create and embody particular cultures with languages, practices and standards (p. 342)
- Policy discourses are normative in the ways that they join together, reach across, circulate through or obstruct passage between spheres held to be local or global
INSTITUTIONS (p. 343–)
- Should become more aware of the active role they play in constructing processes of globalization and localization; they often fail to see their own hand in the creation of these categories
- Are embedded in routine practices whose intellectual and normative foundations are not ordinarily subjected to radical forms of critique
EXPERITISE (p. 344–)
- Institutionalized expertise is a powerful instrument for creating boundaries between global and local environmental governance arrangements (e.g. who counts as expert and who gets to ‘participate’ are critically important choices in the development of environmental regimes)
- Long term, highly routinized, standard setting bodies that develop their own insular analytical practices and discourse are particularly in need of scrutiny
DEMOCRACY (p. 346–)
- Fears that centres of power will shift further away from people’s immediate control and that opaque administrative routines of governance will take over the often transparent process of government
- There cannot be meaningfully accountable, let alone a democratic, global order without making room for voices and epistemologies organized at levels much below the global
Mitchell (2002) examines the making of the economy in Egypt from a postcolonial perspective. He suggests that colonialism was not incidental to the development of the modern West and emergent forms of technical expertise, including modern social sciences. He argues that because of the way seemingly global forces like technology, science, imperial power and capitalism (etc) interact, it is difficult to comprehend their interactions in a way that does not afford them logic, energy or coherence they do not have. As such, the modern economy in Egypt, or elsewhere, cannot simply be understood as the materialization of pre-existing reality or as a social construction. Rather, it is a complex story of agency involving both human and non-human forces.
He critiques contemporary social theory for its shaky foundations based on universalizations of Western culture and power, which hinder its ability to move beyond the binaries of the 19th (and 20th?) century.
The idea of the economy in its contemporary form did not emerge until mid-20th century, in the context of the collapse of the imperial order (p. 4; p. 83).
- The political control of colonial resources gave way to global arrangements based on ostensible national economies; it was the object upon which the new politics of development was built after the 1930s
Generally, this new object provided the forms and formulas through with European colonial powers could attempt to restructure the relationships with their colonies in the mid-20th century (p. 84)
- The economy in Egypt emerged as something that could be measured, managed, developed, analyzed, restructured and compared
- Practices that helped form the economy involved a range of processes from mapping and statistics to property, law, agricultural transformation and colonial power (p. 114)
The rule or the institution as a variety of separations (p. 11)
- The rules establish an actor’s power to exclude or limit the claims that others may make upon an object (i.e. property); the law of property gains its power not by appearing as an abstraction based on particular claims or histories but on principles (said) to be true in every country
From the field to the office – the economy as a new sphere of calculability (p. 117)
- Moving to the survey office was not experienced as a chain of social practices, but as the distance between reality and its representation, the real world and the map (p. 116)
- Article criticizing the ‘divorce’ that had developed between the practical and technical aspects of surveying on the one hand and the legal and political on the other (p. 119)