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Catastrophe in Permanence: Benjamin's Natural History of Environmental Crisis

Description: Walter Benjamin warned in 1940 of a certain inconspicuous threat to political thinking, not least of all to materialism, that takes progress as an historical norm. Implicit in this conception is what he describes as an empty continuum of time along which the prevailing tradition chronicles its own mythic development and drains everyday life of genuine historical experience. The myth of progressive history advances insidiously today in consumeristic and technocratic attempts at reconciling cultural imagery with organic nature. In this dissertation, I pursue the contradictions of such images as they crystallize around the natural history of twenty-first century commodity society, where promises of ecological remediation, sustainable urban development, and climate change mitigation have yet to introduce a true crisis of historical experience to the ongoing environmental crisis of capitalism. A more radical way of seeing the cultural representation of nature would, I argue, penetrate its mythic determination by market forces and bear witness to the natural-historical ruins and traces that constitute, in Benjamin's terms, a single "catastrophe" where others perceive historical continuity. I argue that Benjamin's critique of progress is instructive to interpreting those utopian dreams, ablaze in consumer life and technological fantasy, that recent decades of growing environmental concern have channeled into the recovery of an experience of the natural world. His dialectics of nature and alienated history confront the wish-image of organic abundance with the transience of its appropriated expression in the commodity-form. Drawing together this confrontation with a varied literature on collective memory, nature, and the city, I suggest that our poverty of experience is more than simply a technical, economic, or even ecological problem, but rather follows from the commodification of history itself. The goal of this work is to reflect upon the potentiality of communal politics that subsist not in rushing headlong into a progressive ...
Date: May 2017
Creator: Bower, Matthew S

Environmental Ethics from the Periphery: José Lutzenberger and the Philosophical Analysis of an Unecological Economics

Description: This dissertation provides a philosophical analysis about the influence colonialism had over capitalism's current configuration and how their intricate interplay impacts both the social and the ecological spheres, in both central and peripheral countries. Such analysis draws from the work of José Lutzenberger, a Brazilian environmentalist. The current capitalist economic system tends to disregard the environment, since it would be greatly affected by negative externalities. A negative externality is an economic activity that imposes a negative effect on an unrelated third party. Many negative externalities are related to the environmental consequences of production and consumption. In addition, this dissertation explores the fact that an ecological crisis is also a social crisis. A genealogical and existential thread going from Brazil's early days as one of Portugal's colonies to the present is drawn, showing how colonialism helped to create the foundations and the conditions for the current exploitative capitalist system, in Brazil and elsewhere. To change this situation, the environment should not be entrusted to private interests but to an institution responsible for the good of society as a whole. Genuinely green economies are more prone to appear on the periphery, but only if global economic justice is achieved first.
Date: August 2016
Creator: Valenti Possamai, Fabio

Expertise Revisited: Reflecting on the Intersection of Science and Democracy in the Case of Fracking

Description: This dissertation aims to explain the conditions under which expertise can undermine democratic decision making. I argue that the root of the conflict between expertise and democracy lies in what I call insufficiently “representative” expertise – that is forms of scientific research that are not relevant to the policy questions at hand and that fail to make visible their hidden values dimensions. I claim that the scholarly literature on the problem of expertise fails to recognize and address the issue correctly, because it does not open the black box of scientific methodologies. I maintain that only by making sense of the methodological choices of experts in the context of policy making can we determine the relevance of research and reveal the hidden socio-political values and consequences. Using the case of natural gas fracking, I demonstrate how expert contributions – even though epistemically sound – can muddle democratic policy processes. I present four case studies from controversies about fracking to show how to contextualize scientific methodologies in the pertinent political process. I argue that the common problem across all case studies is the failure of expertise to sufficiently represent stakeholders’ problems and concerns. In this context, “representation” has three criteria: (1) the operational research questions on which the qualified experts work are relevant to stakeholders’ problems and concerns; (2) the non-epistemic values and consequences of epistemic choices of experts are compatible with social and political values and priorities; and (3) hidden values attached to facts are fully transparent and openly debated. In the conclusion, I propose a normative version of this representation theory that can be used to evaluate the appropriateness of expertise for democratic policy making. Instead of the value-free science ideal, I propose a new ideal to legitimately allow non-epistemic values in scientific reasoning without compromising the soundness of ...
Date: December 2015
Creator: Ahmadi, Mahdi

Nature's Patrons: Private Sector Engagement and Powerful Environmentalisms

Description: In this dissertation, I examine the role of private sector engagement in environmental governance. The relationship between mainstream environmentalism and the private sector has moved from one of general hostility to one of constructive engagement in recent times. As a result, the traditional distinctions between environmental non-governmental organizations and private corporations have become blurred, making way for public-private hybrids, facilitated by frameworks of philanthropy, sponsorship, and corporate social responsibility. Connected to these broader reconfigurations in environmental governance are simultaneous alterations in the normative framework of mainstream environmentalism. Ideologically, environmental policy and neoliberalism are now intertwined, entangling assumptions about nature and culture, and reflected in the popularization of environmental protection mechanisms that are deeply embedded in the values of the market economy. Analyzing particular examples of such engagements, and informed by Gramscian theory, I analyze the connections between rising corporate presence in mainstream environmentalism and broader normative and practical change, focusing, in particular, on the frameworks of ecomodernism and the Green Economy. I argue that contemporary private sector engagement in environmentalism leads to the support, production and construction of powerful environmentalisms: environmental ideologies and practices that gain power from, not in spite of, prevailing dominant interests. As such, these powerful environmentalisms tend to produce and reproduce elite processes of capitalist production and prioritize instrumental norms of human-nature relations, while marginalizing others. I conclude by outlining suggestions in support of a democratic environmental politics that represents and recognizes a more diverse array of actors, human-nature relationships, and frameworks of environmental care.
Date: May 2018
Creator: Ward, Nora Catherine

Oil in Ghana: a curse or not? Examining environmental justice and the social process in policymaking

Description: There is great expectation that oil development in Ghana will catapult the nation towards prosperity and lead to drastic improvement in the wellbeing of Ghanaians. However, there is also concern that Ghana could fail to achieve these due to the resource curse notwithstanding the fact that scholars of the curse have yet to agree on the inevitability of the curse. Resource curse scholars adduce different reasons for its occurrence or absence. One thing common among the scholars, however, is that none discusses environmental justice in the context of the curse. In this dissertation, I examine Ghana's attempts at avoiding the resource curse through policymaking and implementation using the Guidelines on Environmental Assessment and Management of Ghana's offshore oil sector as a case study. I argue that a strong environmental justice frame is required to avert the curse in Ghana. Specifically, I assess the policy process in Ghana's oil sector, the institutional framework for managing the sector, and analyze the perception of environmental justice for policymaking. The outcome of these assessments show that although the policy process requires broadening for full and effective participation, Ghana has checks and balances policies to avert the resource curse and to deliver environmental justice in the oil sector. In addition, Ghana has an institutional framework that requires strengthening, in various way, in order for it to complement the checks and balances policies
Date: May 2018
Creator: Akon Yamga, Gordon

On City Identity and Its Moral Dimensions

Description: The majority of people on Earth now live in cities, and estimates hold that 60 percent of the world’s cities have yet to be built. Now is the time for philosophers to develop a philosophy of the city to address the forthcoming issues that urbanization will bring. In this dissertation, I respond to this need for a philosophy of the city by developing a theory of city identity, developing some of the theory’s normative implications, illustrating the theory with a case study, and outlining the nature and future of philosophy of the city more generally. Indeed, this dissertation is only a part of my larger project of founding and institutionalizing this new field of both academic and socially-engaged philosophical activity. Throughout the history of the discipline, other areas such a personal identity have received numerous considerations, along with the concept of identity as an abstraction. For example, there is a bounty of research addressing problems pertaining to how objects and people retain an identity over time and claims about identity in general. While one could argue that cities are not any different than any other object, such an account fails to consider that a city’s dynamic nature makes it dissimilar to other things. To illustrate this point, I develop a position called dynamic composition as identity theory that provides a framework for understanding the identity of a city, exhibiting that views within analytic metaphysics are too narrow to apply to all cases. After establishing a concept of city identity, I use an applied mereology to develop a model of city identity that shows how the parts of a city fit together to form a complete city. This model introduces the normative dimension of my project by providing a way to identify how incongruence between a city’s parts can cause problems ...
Date: December 2015
Creator: Epting, Shane Ray

Practicing Relevance: The Origins, Practices, and Future of Applied Philosophy

Description: This dissertation takes up the question of the social function of philosophy. Popular accounts of the nature and value of philosophy reinforce long-standing perceptions that philosophy is useless or irrelevant to pressing societal problems. Yet, the increasingly neoliberal political-economic environment of higher education places a premium on mechanisms that link public funding for research to demonstrations of return on investment in the form of benefitting broader society. This institutional situation presents a philosophical problem warranting professional attention. This project offers a diagnosis of the problem and develops a way forward from it. Drawing from Foucauldian archaeological methods, my analysis focuses on the interplay of institutional structures and intellectual practices. Since the early 20th century, departments of philosophy on college and university campuses have been the center of gravity for professional philosophy in the US. Establishing this institutional ‘home' for philosophers drove the adoption of disciplinary practices, norms, and standards for inquiry. But the metaphilosophical assumptions underpinning disciplinarity have become problematic, I argue: they are poor guides for navigating the situation of higher education in the 21st century. Several movements within the profession of philosophy during the 1960s and 70s sought to reverse philosophers' general retreat from public affairs. Applied philosophy, environmental philosophy, and bioethics each offer a case study in attempts to address the problem of societal relevance. However, surveys of the journal literature in each field uncovered few reflections on whether or not individual projects, or the field as a whole, had any impact on the societal problems to which those philosophers turned their attention. This suggests a need for further thinking about implementation – how to institutionalize alternative practices of philosophy that do demonstrate societal relevance. By way of conclusion, I offer some of the necessary groundwork toward a philosophy of implementation, in the form of discussing significant ...
Date: May 2017
Creator: Barr, Kelli Ray

A Restorative Environmental Justice for the Prison Industrial Complex: a Transformative Feminist Theory of Justice

Description: This dissertation provides a feminist restorative model of environmental justice that addresses the injustices found within UNICOR’s e-waste recycling operations. A feminist restorative environmental justice challenges the presupposition that grassroots efforts, law and policy, medical and scientific research, and theoretical pursuits (alone or in conjunction) are sufficient to address the emotional and relational harm of environmental injustices. To eliminate environmental harms, this model uses collaborative dialogue for interested parties to prevent environmental harm. To encourage participation, a feminist restorative model accepts many forms of knowledge and truth as ‘legitimate’ and offers an opportunity for women to share how their personal experiences of love, violence, and caring differ from men and other women and connect to larger social practices. This method of environmental justice offers opportunities for repair, reparation and reintegration that can transform perspectives on criminality, dangerous practices and structures in the PIC, and all persons who share in a restorative encounter.
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Date: May 2015
Creator: Conrad, Sarah M.

Strange Matter, Strange Objects: An Ontological Reorientation of the Philosophical Concept of Wonder

Description: Wonder has had a rich and diverse history in the western philosophical tradition. Both Plato and Aristotle claim that philosophy begins in wonder, while Descartes marks it as the first of the passions and Heidegger uses it as a signpost for a new trajectory of philosophy away from idealism and nihilism. Despite such a rich history, wonder is almost always thought to be exhausted by the acquisition of knowledge. That is, wonder is thought of almost exclusively in epistemological terms and is discarded as soon as knowledge has been achieved. In this dissertation, I argue for an ontological reorientation of wonder that values wonder beyond its epistemic uses. To do this, I read the phenomenological and ontological work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty through recent developments in object-oriented ontology and new materialism. Much of Merleau-Ponty's work is directed toward dissolving the distinction between subject and object. His insights regarding the mutual constitution of the world lead to the possibility of an operative wonder that occurs between subject and object. Both object-oriented ontology and new materialism radicalize these insights by articulating them in terms of a vibrant or quasi-agential material world. Objects and assemblages of objects are capable of performing the becoming of the world that includes human activity, but is not reduced to it. As such, the world is capable of both self-organization and practice. Ultimately I use the philosophy-physics of Karen Barad to argue that operative wonder acts like a kind of superposition of relations between objects, and thereby accounts for a concept of wonder that is both ontologically significant and acutely generative.
Date: May 2016
Creator: Onishi, Brian Hisao

Urban Sustainability and the Extinction of Experience: Acknowledging Drivers of Biocultural Loss for Socio-ecological Well-being

Description: In this dissertation I address urban sustainability with a focus on loss of cultural heritage and ecological knowledge by expanding the concept “extinction of experience” (EoE). Conceptualized by conservationist Robert Michael Pyle, EoE is the loss of nature experiences leading to apathy towards biodiversity and degradation of the common habitat. I expand upon Pyle’s formulation of the concept by considering the EoE cycle as an indirect driver that amplifies biodiversity losses. Additionally, I introduce the analysis of interrelated losses of biological and cultural diversity in relation to EoE. With a biocultural approach I discuss that EoE is tied to the infrastructural inertia within the global urban economy. I propose that addressing the EoE cycle is critical in that as a complex and multi-faceted process, it cements threats to biological and cultural diversity as permanent fixtures within society by obscuring their significance in light of economic development. This cycle remains a hidden problematic in that it perpetuates the environmental crisis while making such losses invisible within day-to-day lifestyle habits, constructing an emerging urban culture within the global economy that is ignorant of ecological processes and sustainability requirements. I frame the implications of EoE with an analysis of the newly proposed revisions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals voted on in September 2015 to prioritize local ecological knowledge and biocultural heritage.
Date: December 2015
Creator: Poole, Alexandria K.