University Of Tasmania
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In search of the ecologically responsible society : sustainability as ecopraxis

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posted on 2023-05-26, 22:26 authored by Davidson, Julie Lynette
The suite of problems peculiar to the late twentieth century and collectively referred to as the 'ecological crisis' is similar in character to the problems of general social collapse which confronted the thinkers of the early modern period. At issue is the inadequacy of established myths, values, knowledges and institutions in the face of novel societal and, in the case of the late twentieth century, novel ecological disturbances. Given the problems of technological optimism and widespread disappointment at the limited fulfillment of Enlightenment ideals, the thesis speculates about alternative paths for modernity and suggests that a modest scepticism relative to humanity's rational capacities is now a more fitting ethical, cognitive and practical stance. The inadequacy of the defining myths, norms and institutions of modern life, in the face of novel ecological and social crises, can be traced to a particular conjunction of historical circumstance that demanded stability and certainty, qualities which are now supplanted by the need for flexibility and adaptability in institutional arrangements and in their supporting values and knowledges. The deficiencies of modern institutions may be explained in part by their failure to promote responsibility as a core behavioural norm. The rejuvenation of civil society and its public spheres has been proposed as the site for potential radical social transformation, which, it is argued, is implicit in the activity of new social movements and in green movements in particular, since they are in a unique position to integrate a radical critique of modernity with a radicalized ecological consciousness. The sustainability discourse raises fundamental questions about how humans should dwell on the planet, and consequently sustainable development is examined as an attempt to respond to this quintessential dilemma of human existence in the context of generational inequity and global ecological decline. As a keystone of liberal capitalism, private property rights are found to have failed as an instrument of autonomy and of environmental protection and arguments are advanced for a different ethical basis for property ownership, one grounded in responsibility and more fitted to contemporary social and ecological realities. Ecological theorists have proved to be strong on prescriptions for end-states, but rather weak on how to get there, on praxis. At various times in western history the praxis paradigm has been useful in providing indications for proceeding in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties. Given the enormity of the problems presently confronting humankind and the apparent inability to respond to multiple danger signals, it seems appropriate to draw on the paradigm once again in order to frame a radical ecopraxis, a praxis of ecological restructuring which constitutes a programme for ecosocial transformation, radical in its objectives but modest in its means. In the disillusioned light of earlier utopian ideals, the question of whether sustainability as a project of ecopraxis can facilitate the necessary ecological restructuring, while avoiding the pitfalls of revolutionary change, is a relevant consideration. The further question of whether sustainability can rejuvenate the political economy of liberal democracy, in the face of severe legitimacy problems, is similarly germane.


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Copyright 1999 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1999. Includes bibliographical references

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