Sunday, April 19, 2009

Social Construction of Nature

In Bird’s article, she focuses on where environmental problems come from, and how people can account for them in a way that will prevent their reoccurrence. She says that scientific knowledge isn’t really a representation of nature, but a socially constructed interpretation. We need historical accounts of society’s interactions with nature that have caused environmental problems to find behaviors and modes of thought that contribute to this.
Natural sciences assume that scientific knowledge represents nature as it exists outside of us. The most that scientists can claim to know is a relative truth about nature. Recent social constructivists question that and say that nature is inaccessible to representation since science is a social construct. Bird asks “what is knowledge if not the representation of something external to us?” The existence of environmental problems could challenge the assumption that what is known by science is nature. Neither humans nor nature as historically emerging processes can be comprehended except by the dynamic interaction between them. Marx asserted that the world could only be understood through one’s actions, not theoretically.

One way of explaining what science is about is that it’s an ongoing process of negotiating reality. Scientists’ negotiations of meaning, interpretation, or theory are what social constructivists point to. Science uses nature to negotiate reality, and the part of that reality represented depends on what the scientists believe they’re doing. This means that “science” is technically the same as every other kind of social productive activity, and historians should treat it as any other aspect of social production. The resolving and preventing of environmental problems should deal with how we negotiate and interact with nature. Human interactions with nature will always be changing, and to prevent environmental problems we need to develop social principles for appropriate interactions. We need to determine what ethics in science, social structures influencing it, and myths about scientific theories infused by nature will create the world we want.

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