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In search of the ecologically responsible society : sustainability as ecopraxis


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Davidson, Julie Lynette 1999 , 'In search of the ecologically responsible society : sustainability as ecopraxis', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The suite of problems peculiar to the late twentieth century and collectively
referred to as the 'ecological crisis' is similar in character to the problems of general
social collapse which confronted the thinkers of the early modern period. At issue is
the inadequacy of established myths, values, knowledges and institutions in the face
of novel societal and, in the case of the late twentieth century, novel ecological
disturbances. Given the problems of technological optimism and widespread
disappointment at the limited fulfillment of Enlightenment ideals, the thesis
speculates about alternative paths for modernity and suggests that a modest
scepticism relative to humanity's rational capacities is now a more fitting ethical,
cognitive and practical stance.
The inadequacy of the defining myths, norms and institutions of modern life,
in the face of novel ecological and social crises, can be traced to a particular
conjunction of historical circumstance that demanded stability and certainty, qualities
which are now supplanted by the need for flexibility and adaptability in institutional
arrangements and in their supporting values and knowledges. The deficiencies of
modern institutions may be explained in part by their failure to promote
responsibility as a core behavioural norm. The rejuvenation of civil society and its
public spheres has been proposed as the site for potential radical social
transformation, which, it is argued, is implicit in the activity of new social
movements and in green movements in particular, since they are in a unique position
to integrate a radical critique of modernity with a radicalized ecological
The sustainability discourse raises fundamental questions about how humans
should dwell on the planet, and consequently sustainable development is examined as
an attempt to respond to this quintessential dilemma of human existence in the
context of generational inequity and global ecological decline. As a keystone of
liberal capitalism, private property rights are found to have failed as an instrument of
autonomy and of environmental protection and arguments are advanced for a
different ethical basis for property ownership, one grounded in responsibility and
more fitted to contemporary social and ecological realities.
Ecological theorists have proved to be strong on prescriptions for end-states,
but rather weak on how to get there, on praxis. At various times in western history
the praxis paradigm has been useful in providing indications for proceeding in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties. Given the enormity of the problems
presently confronting humankind and the apparent inability to respond to multiple
danger signals, it seems appropriate to draw on the paradigm once again in order to
frame a radical ecopraxis, a praxis of ecological restructuring which constitutes a
programme for ecosocial transformation, radical in its objectives but modest in its
In the disillusioned light of earlier utopian ideals, the question of whether
sustainability as a project of ecopraxis can facilitate the necessary ecological
restructuring, while avoiding the pitfalls of revolutionary change, is a relevant
consideration. The further question of whether sustainability can rejuvenate the
political economy of liberal democracy, in the face of severe legitimacy problems, is
similarly germane.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Davidson, Julie Lynette
Keywords: Modernism, Political ecology, Conservation of natural resources, Environmentalism, Social ecology
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1999 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1999. Includes bibliographical references

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