Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Muse's 2nd Law

Muse is a popular rock band from the UK. They're putting out a new concept album called "The Second Law", referring to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or Entropy. As a sociologist, it's interesting to me how an idea as abstract and scientific as the Second Law of Thermodynamics can make it's way into popular culture; and how it becomes politicized. Muse is an awesome band; I've enjoyed their previous releases and I'm going to buy this one when it comes out in September. This video is "The 2nd Law: Unsustainable".

Sunday, August 12, 2012

John Bellamy Foster on Weber and the Environment

Thirteen years ago John Bellamy Foster published "Marx’s Theory of Metabolic Rift: Classical Foundations for Environmental Sociology" (American Journal of Sociology 105 (2): 366–401), a work that mined Marx's work for long forgotten themes, drew attention to and explicated the concept of metabolic rift, and fundamentally reoriented Marxist thought about the natural world.

In the current issue of the American Journal of Sociology, Foster and co-author Hannah Holleman have produced an article about Weber, "Weber and the Environment: Classical Foundations for a Postexemptionalist Sociology" (AJS Volume 117 Number 6, May 2012: 1625–1673) which, I expect, will have a similar impact for future Weberian analyses of the environment. 

The article itself is long, detailed and examines Weber's approach in relation to a diverse variety of themes, including:
  • Weber’s interpretive/causal sociology and the environment
  • Weber's historical sociology and the environment in terms of two eras
  1. The traditional-organic era in human history: the environment and nonindustrial society (including discussions of hydraulic bureaucracy and of deforestation and the shift from the epoch of wood to the age of iron) 
  2. The rational-inorganic era in human history: the age of coal, iron, and industrial capitalism (including a discussion of the concept of "raubbau" (land-robbing agriculture) and its connection to the heedless consumption of natural resources)
  • The sociology of energy
  • The disenchantment of the world and its relation to human conquest of nature
  • And, finally, Weber and the classical foundations for postexemptionalist sociology in relation to the following questions: 
  1. How do we account for the fact that leading environmental sociologists have characterized Weber’s environmental contributions as “relatively invisible”?
  2. And what do Weber’s insights into the environment and society teach us with regard to the needed transformation of environmental sociology and sociology as a whole—in our postexemptionalist age, symbolized by global warming, when we realize all too fully the dangers of the human degradation of the environment?
Here is the abstract:
In the last two decades classical sociology, notably Marx, has been mined for environmental insights in the attempt to surmount the “human exemptionalism” of post–Second World War sociology. Weber, however, has remained an enigma in this respect. This article addresses Weber’s approach to the environment, including its significance for his interpretive-causal framework and his understanding of capitalism. For Weber, sociological meanings were often anchored in biophysical realities, including climate change, resource consumption, and energy scarcity, while environmental influences were refracted in complex ways within cultural reproduction. His work thus constitutes a crucial key to constructing a meaningful postexemptionalist sociology.
All in all, a provocative read well worth the effort.