Meanings Of Resilience Essay

1258 words - 6 pages

1. Introduction
. . . we continue to believe in the sciences, but instead of taking in their objectivity, their
truth, their coldness, their extraterritoriality . . . we retain what has always been most inter-
esting about them: their daring, their experimentation, their uncertainty, their warmth, their
incongruous blend of hybrids, their crazy ability to reconstitute the social bond. We take
away from them only the mystery of their birth and the danger their clandestineness posed
to democracy. (Latour, 1993, p.142)
. . . for ‘post-normal’ problems there must be in place a process which goes beyond the
standard procedures (Ravetz and Funtowicz, 1998, p.48)
Prevalent interpretations of risk rest largely on two incongruent perspectives. Risk is
conceived as either an objective, numerical property of the external, material world
or as a qualitative, human or cultural construction. While, in practice, the tensions and
practical problems this creates are ameliorated by the creative deployment of technical
and contextual imperatives and uncertainties, fundamental concerns remain. The dif-
ferent Weltanschauungen underlying these foundational perspectives routinely continue
to undermine both the quest for operational harmony and that for a single integrative
theoretical perspective.1 Paradoxically, the evolution of these divergent perspectives has
paralleled the emergence of numerous issues whose makeup throws into question the
distinctions between nature and culture, fact and value, underlying the differences
between them. Matters of this kind, such as BSE and climate change, are marked by
complex interdependencies between nature and society, fact and value, that challenge
these distinctions and the analytical frameworks they support. While long central to the
western intellectual tradition, a body of recent work in philosophy and social theory has
found these distinctions wanting and started to elaborate alternatives.2 This paper applies
some of the insights to emerge from this work to risk.
A very pervasive, and particularly pertinent, aspect of these foundational perspec-
tives derives from Cartesian mind/body dualism, which establishes a strict ontological
distinction between an external material world and an internal human world. Today,
science is commonly understood to give objective access to the external world, and the
humanities and social sciences specific access to the world of the mind, culture and
society. Numerical, ‘objectivist’ approaches to risk privilege science, assigning risk to
the external world, while cultural, social or ‘subjectivist’ approaches emphasize the latter
understandings, seeing risk as more a human or cultural construction. However, there
is now a significant body of theory arguing that the mind/body dualism, and the many
related to it (nature/culture, fact/value, subject/object, content/context etc), do not
reflect things in themselves but rather the way we understand them.3 It is also further
argued that these...

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