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Whose side are you on? STS,
unpolitics and the global non-dialogue
over climate change
Alan Irwin
Social science and the end
of history (again)
’A vast amount of re-assessment is
needed before political leaders make
their way to the Danish capital in
December... The financial crisis and its
aftermath have given a jolt to established
ways of thinking that could and should
prove massively important. We’re at the
end of the end of history.’
Anthony Giddens, March 2009
Social science and climate change
• the economics of climate change (Stern)
• cosmopolitics: standing up for the global
• challenging globalisation
• bringing back the ’ensuring’ state (Giddens)
• environmental (in)justice
• environmental ethics and the public good
‘Technological breakthroughs are
required if fossil fuels are to
become history, yet how should
governments decide which ones to
back? How can they cope with the
fact that the most radical
technological innovations… are
often not foreseen by anybody?’
Giddens, 2009.
• In what ways can climate change be rendered
• What performances are required to evoke the
citizenships of climate change?
• How can climate change be constructed as a
knowable problem?
• How can climate change be acted upon in
material terms?
• What constructions of the economic can be
made solid?
• How can STS be provoked, challenged and
discomfited by the climate issue?
The un-politics of climate change
• Representing/conceptualising
• Creating the epistemological imaginary
• Constructing ethno-epistemic
assemblages and disassemblages
• Institutionalising the issues
• Making democracy material
• Consensusing the globe
Open letter to the G20 London Summit
2009 from the Copenhagen Climate
‘Over the next nine months, we are signing a
contract with future generations. Either decision
makers lay the foundation for sustainable,
economic recovery – or we will hand huge risks
to our children.’
‘The evidence is unequivocal: through human
induced global warming the global ecosystem is
already experiencing potentially irreversible
changes leading to health risks, extreme
weather, flooding and drought, and greater
‘Eating British beef is completely safe.
There is no evidence of any threat to
human health caused by this animal
health problem (BSE)… This is the view
of independent British and European
scientists and not just the meat industry..
This view has been endorsed by the
Department of Health.’ (The Times, May 18,
’We believe that this year we are at an historic
crossroads… Either we invest in new
infrastructure and technologies that will help our
economic strength and resilience, or we choose
the infrastructure and technologies of the past.’
’Our choices today will therefore lock us on to a
course that will be very hard to change. It needs
to be right from the outset.’
‘We… as global business leaders, scientists,
and policy-makers, share a common interest in
economic development and the future of our
‘Environment, stability, growth and jobs are not
separate agendas. They are deeply
interconnected. They need shared solutions.’
‘The climate problem has no boundaries: all
States contribute to the problem and all States
are affected by it… There is no more vital or
urgent task. Your meeting in London can be the
’Næsten halvdelen af danskerne tror
ikke, klimaforandringerne er
menneskeskabte…. men dem gider
eliten ikke at tale med.’
Information, 11-12 April 2009. p.1
‘Possibilities and responsibilities’
1. Bringing back the citizens and the
citizenships: linking climate change
and democratic engagement
2. Considering contexts, needs and
3. Dealing with uncertainty: opening up
the epistemological imaginary
4. Engaging with innovation: beyond the
technological lock-in and fix
5. Opening up the economic
‘Possibilities and responsibilities’
6. Cultures of co-construction and closure:
bringing institutional practice into the
7. Challenging consensusness
8. Beyond the ‘Giddens paradox’: climate
change, public welfare and quality of life
9. The unpolitics and non-dialogue of
climate change
10.Provoking STS…