The green paradigm

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Within the Western cosmology there are two distinct interpretations of how humans should relate to their environment, and for the purpose of this dissertation these interpretations have been characterized as cultural paradigms. The paradigms are not concrete entities, they are merely useful abstractions for grouping together mutually supporting assumptions. It is held that the socially dominant interpretation centres on an assumption that people are distinct from nature, while the alternative suggests they are a part of Nature. It is held that the expression of the axioms and assumptions which are collected within what is here called the Dominant Western Environmental Paradigm leads inevitably to a situation of stress and conflict between humans and their environment. The existence of significant anthropogenic ecological stress in the planetary system is taken as given. It is argued that this stress is a symptom of an inappropriately conceptualized relationship between humans and nature. It is further held that the interface between human and nature is a traditional area of geographical concern, and that geography as a discipline should be taking active steps to research the problems and propose solutions. Reasons for the failure of geography as a discipline to address the issue adequately are explored. It is argued that the process of working through the assumptions of the Dominant Western Environmental Paradigm leads to a situation where science, including geography, is subordinated socially to the dictates of economic rationality, and is thus unable to mount a significant challenge to the social and economic structures which are at the root of the ecological stress. It is concluded that only by the conscious process of stepping outside the dominant cultural paradigm will geographers be able to examine the full scope of the problems, and that by framing the disciplinary paradigm of geography so as to be in sympathy with the assumptions of the Green cultural paradigm geographers will discover new and appropriate tools of analysis as well as potential solutions to the ecological stress problem. A number of these are presented and explored. A failure to step outside the ruling framework will, however, constrain analysis. It is argued that no paradigm shift has occurred, on a disciplinary (geographical) or a cultural scale, but that alternative frameworks are sufficiently coherent to support the possibility of such a revolution.

Bibliography: leaves 283-296.