Changing Nature at the European Sociological Association conference

Gisle Andersen presented the paper “Why Is Nature Valuable? The Historical Trajectory Of Environmental Debates In Norway” at the European Sociological Association conference in Manchester, on August 21.


Why Is Nature Valuable? The Historical Trajectory Of Environmental Debates In Norway

Gisle Andersen

Norwegian Research Centre, Norway

This paper analyses the changing valuation of ‘nature’ and ‘the environment’ in Norwegian parliamentary debates (1900-2015). The analysis documents substantial changes in why nature is considered valuable, and what kind of knowledge and policy instruments considered necessary and relevant.

The analysis builds on theoretical perspectives from pragmatic moral-political sociology (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006) and focus on a substantial shift in valuation of nature that occurred in the 1990s. The Norwegian parliamentary debates from this period are characterized by a harsh ecological self-critique that supported a new way of valuing nature: What is valued is not nature ‘itself’ but the function that nature has for humans and the conservation of nature as a ‘life supporting production system’ for humanity.

This has had significant implications for how environmental concerns are coordinated with other social considerations in parliamentary decisions: It is primarily nature’s function as a production system that must be protected from harm. As long as an activity can go on without diminishing the functional utility of nature for humanity – use, change and destruction of nature can be considered legitimate.

Furthermore, this can be linked to changes in environmental management systems and environmental law. It is also related to changes in systems for measuring, calculating and evaluating environmental impact. This development can be conceptualized as a shift towards ‘ecosystem-based’ or ‘holistic’ environmental policy, but are based on an anthropocentric valuation of nature. The changes in Norway are considered closely related to, and in part inspired by, international development, conventions and United Nations initiatives.

New research on language and the environment

The French journal Mots. Les langages du politique recently published a special issue on language and the environment. The issue includes contributions from three of the project members.

Together with Øyvind Gjerstad, project members Kjersti Fløttum and Anje Müller Gjesdal wrote the article Avenir et climat : représentations de l’avenir dans des blogs francophones portant sur le changement climatique”.

Abstract: This article investigates how the future is perceived in blogs related to climate change, extracted from the corpus NTAP (Networks of Text and People). The analysis, mainly undertaken in a lexical perspective, focuses on the periods 2009-2010 and 2013-2014. The results show that the negative and pessimistic perspectives are clearly more prevalent than the positive and optimistic ones.

Project member Guillaume Carbou wrote the article La topique romantique dans les discours de l’écologie politique”.

Abstract: This paper shows that what is called romanticism is an ideological engine that fuels contemporary ecology. Romanticism in this sense does not simply apply to arts but to a wide political movement: romanticism is a cultural reaction against industrial and capitalist modernity and is based on the critique of the various alienation processes this modernity generates. The present paper defines the five core axes of this critique and then highlights their presence in two separate corpuses. The first corpus consists of six texts from six authors widely seen as inspirationnal for political ecology (Bernard Charbonneau, André Gorz, Ivan Illich, Henry David Thoreau, Arne Naess and Murray Bookchin). The second corpus is composed of critical comments from internet users on online press articles dealing with regional development projects. These two different corpuses shed light on the fact that romantic ideology fuels the scholarly literature on political ecology as well as the more profane environmental protests.