Environmental Science and Expertise in Transition? New Perspectives on the Politics of Knowledge in a time of Populism and Resistance

As the “primary framework for political discourse” (Rice et al. 2015, 253), scientific knowledge has long held a privileged place in debates about contemporary environmental politics. It is often "assumed that legitimate knowledge claims about the environment can be produced only by professional scientists” (Lave 2015, 245), and scientific expertise is routinely represented as objective and legitimate. Yet, at the same time, significant critiques of scientific legitimacy and elitist politics have been mounted by anti-intellectual populist sentiments, as well as anti-hegemonic resistance movements. Subsequently, the primacy of expert science faces challenges from both conservative and progressive constituencies. 


Political ecologists have done a significant amount of work on the politics of knowledge to show that expert-only politics de-politicize debates around environmental change, while marginalizing alternative forms of expertise. Subsequently, scholars have begun to raise questions about the privileging of technical experts and scientific knowledge, and the implications of this for environmental justice. In this context, we ask: What, if anything, is shifting about the politics of expertise in a time of increased political polarization and resistance to elitist politics? In what ways does science remain a privileged form of expertise, and in what ways is that currently being challenged?


We seek empirically grounded or theoretical papers that address the following topics:


·      Which forms of environmental knowledge become hegemonic, and how?

·       How is scientific/technical expertise mobilized to generate dominant narratives of environmental change? 

·       Who are the “experts” producing, circulating and applying environmental knowledge?

·       Who are the emergent actors challenging the primacy of expert science, and what alternative forms of environmental knowledge do they produce?

·       What new relations between expertise and politics are emerging?

·       What opportunities are to be found in pluralizing narratives around the environment?

·       How might we facilitate the democratization of knowledge in order to re-politicize environmental discussions?


If you are interested in participating, please send an abstract and contact information to Emma Colven (emmacolven@ucla.edu) by November 25th. We will notify regarding acceptance into the session by November 28th. Please note, all session participants will be required to send a conference paper to the discussant, Jennifer Rice (jlrice@uga.edu), by February 10th, 2017. 


Works Cited

Lave, R. (2015) "The Future of Environmental Expertise", Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105 (2) 244-252 
Rice, J. L., Brian J. Burke, and Nik Heynen (2015) "Knowing climate change, embodying climate praxis: experiential knowledge in Southern Appalachia", Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105 (2) 253-262

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