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Research Design and the Politics of Abstraction: Unpacking the Environmentality of Scientific Practice in Socioecological Assessments

Abstract

Scientific assessments of socio-ecological systems are becoming mainstays in guiding policymaking and other interventions in response to global environmental change. The environmentality literature emphasizes the institutional architecture of emergent science-policy regimes and how scientific research is used in political settings, creating new modes of governance and subjectivities. However, there has been relatively little attention to domain-level socio-ecological assessments as socially produced technologies where specific scientific choices are mechanisms connecting governance architecture and popular subjectivities.

Combining empirical case study and literature review, assessment technologies are analyzed in three domains: vulnerability assessment, ecosystem services assessment, life-cycle assessment. Using conceptualization, operationalization, and institutionalization as analytical lenses, the cases illustrate ways that scientific choices simplify complex socio-ecological relationships with implications for both governance practices and subjectivities. Furthermore, findings explore the possibility for assessments to be more inclusive of diverse social values and practices, enabling more empowering subjectivities.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    These issues are notably mirrored in the fields of post-normal philosophy of science Funtowicz and Ravetz (1995) ‘Science for the Post Normal Age’, In Westra, L. & Lemons, J. (eds) Perspectives on Ecological Integrity. Springer Netherlands, Funtowicz and Ravetz (2003) ‘Post-normal science’, Online Encyclopedia of Ecological Economics. International Society for Ecological Economics., and participatory co-production of science and policy Meadow et al. (2015) ‘Moving toward the Deliberate Coproduction of Climate Science Knowledge’, Weather, Climate, and Society, 7, 179–91, Van Kerkhoff and Berry (2016) ‘Serving the public good: Empirical links between governance and research investment in the context of global environmental change’, Ecological Economics, 125, 101–07, Wyborn (2015) ‘Co-productive governance: A relational framework for adaptive governance’, Global Environmental Change, 30, 56–67.

  2. 2.

    Ethnic identity groups who are not Hindu and thus not subject to Hindu caste system or other social strictures.

  3. 3.

    For details regarding the three allocation techniques see Weiler et al. 2014.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the many collaborators in Kenya, India and Portugal whose support and engagement made the initial studies possible. Thanks also to Peter Tamás, and three anonymous reviewers for insightful comments that have substantially improved the paper, though the co-authors take full credit for any faults or shortcomings.

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Correspondence to Todd A. Crane.

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Crane, T.A., Pronk, M., Lakerveld, R. et al. Research Design and the Politics of Abstraction: Unpacking the Environmentality of Scientific Practice in Socioecological Assessments. Hum Ecol 44, 665–675 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-016-9865-2

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Keywords

  • Vulnerability
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Ecosystem services
  • Assessment
  • Environmentality
  • Science studies
  • Research methods
  • Socio-ecological systems