Human activities have led to transformations of earth systems of such a magnitude that the present era has been called the Anthropocene. Any understanding of environmental change, from the local to the planetary scales, must take into account the key attributes of unequal power relations and asymmetric knowledge creation through which human-environmental interactions are mediated. All human interactions with the environment are based upon a mental construction of that environment; regardless of whether a material reality is seen to exist beyond these mental constructs. The process through which our knowledge of the environment is constructed is clearly influenced by the unequal power relations within human societies. This is reflected, for instance, in the relative importance given to expert knowledge. Additionally, not just the form, but even the content of environmental knowledge, is often a contested and negotiated outcome, even when its legitimacy is derived from an appearance of an apolitical, objective ‘truth’. The recent furore over the hacked “Global warming emails”, highlights this process of negotiation, at the same time pointing to the unsettling effects that a discovery of the political nature of environmental knowledge can have.
The mental construction of the environment thus arrived at after being mediated by Power/Knowledge, in turn affects the material interactions with the environment. As an example, the pursuit of controlled, even flowing rivers as the ideal, led to the construction of 45,000 large dams over the last half-century. This discursive association of large dams with modernity, and of controlled rivers with civilization, has thus had a massive material impact on the planetary scale. However, this discourse of ‘modernization and development’, and ‘expert knowledge’ associated with large dams, has been challenged and contested vehemently. This raises a new understanding of politicized environmental knowledge, as well as gives rise to new and intriguing forms of resistance.
This session therefore, will explore how the three elements of power, knowledge and the environment interact with each other; and the implications these interactions have for the future of humanity. The complexity of these interactions calls for innovative research approaches that are both transdisciplinary and transcultural in nature.
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