Personal transitions and future blogging

I’m going through a period of change at the moment and the focus of this blog is likely to change as a consequence. I’ve begun to contemplate post-PhD life, other things I might write, but, overall, pragmatic issues like future employment are at the front of my mind (my current role at Swinburne University ends on December 31).

One key choice is whether to go more in practical, activist-y and/or scholarly direction(s) – more practical work options include going back to consultancy work (e.g. advising on or leading prospective exercises), or applied social research (as I once did in the advertising industry and other contexts); a scholarly direction would entail seeking to establish a research career in a field such as environmental sociology, transition studies, or perhaps even philosophy of science (in my MA degree I majored in the history and philosophy of science [HPS]) though the latter is highly unlikely.

As the range of possibilities mentioned in the previous paragraph indicate I’m unsure about my future career path. For the first time since high school I’ve got little idea what’s next.

But, going forward, one thing I will do is focus the blog on some core themes, such as:

  • How sustainability research and action could or should be reframed, such as to better enable action, and the implications for the roles of actors (e.g. consultants);
  • The roles of ‘temporal work’ in modern environmentalism and enabling innovation (see earlier post, post, post), e.g. as part of actor efforts to increase their agency;
  • The evolving roles of science in contemporary society-environment relations; and
  • Key trends and issues in the use of prospective knowledge practices (e.g. simulation models, scenario exercises, etc) related to the above themes

My own prospective changes come at a time of broader reflection on the journey I’ve been on over the past 10-15 years. This journey has taken me to what I hope is a less reactionary and less dogmatic place, more concerned about the forces pushing people towards extreme views (e.g. of both over-‘alarmist’ and ‘denialist’ forms), and much more aware of the inherently contentious nature of most sustainability issues and both the roles and limits of science. These views are somewhat different from the person who wrote an opinion piece published in The Age newspaper (in 2007) on the idea of a global sustainability emergency, though I still am deeply concerned about issues like climate change, related key changes (e.g. energy transitions) and related conflicts (e.g. about low carbon transitions).

During this period society-environment relations have become even more contentious and politicised, despite scientific advances and the vast array of campaigns by NGOs and others, in ways that hamper rational debate, science, and efforts to advance social action. Actors on all sides of these issues have contributed to this (e.g. see this piece on Roger Pielke Jr’s experiences in climate change research). This seems to be a problem that few want to talk about. My blog will in future try to dive more into related science and society issues that aren’t widely discussed.

In contrast what we need – as argued by Allenby and Sarewitz in their provocative book The Techno-Human Condition – is greater “philosophic flexibility” and to “nourish productive conflict”, as opposed to what tends to count as ‘debate’ these days (e.g. highly partisan shouting matches). Allenby and Sarewitz also argue, with respect to contemporary wicked problems, that “pluralism is smarter than expertise” and often the best we can do is “muddle forward (intelligently)”. Change of this kind is typically not a ‘straight line’ from the present to the future.

It may be that in today’s highly politicised and intensely partisan environment this approach is impossible, and instead we’ll continue to muddle forward (or sideways) in clumsy ways that are likely to create new problems whilst doing a poor job of tackling existing problems.

But I continue to believe we should try, and that we need to better understand why muddling forward intelligently (to use Allenby and Sarewitz’s term) is so difficult and why, for many issues, we instead see clumsy approaches and related unproductive conflicts. What my contribution will be to this, well, who knows. It’s something I’ll reflect more on over the xmas/New Year period.

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