Thursday 31 March 2016

PhD diary #6: 31/03/2016

Six months through. Depending on how you look at it, that's 1/8 of the time until the thesis has to be submitted, 1/6 of the time until my funding runs out, 1/5 of the time until I plan to submit, and 1/4 of the time until I plan to have a first draft written. "Plan," then, being the operative word. (Saying it out loud makes it more real.)

In the past month, I've mostly been thinking about the sixth and final chapter – that is, where I need to end up, both narratively and in terms of work schedule. The rise of Earth system science, complexity and resilience over the past fifty years or so and the modes of geopolitics and geogovernance that have co-developed over this period. Right now, I feel that I am in the middle of two grand narratives, both of which I find be increasingly incomplete and unsatisfactory.

First, the coming to fruition of something like reflexive modernity or the risk society. This grand narrative has been strongly challenged from an historical point of view, as I've discussed recently. Second, the narrative produced by (mostly) Foucauldian critiques of resilience and complexity ontology. To put it rather simplistically: this ontology, we are led to believe, bears some essential relation (and therefore complicity) with neoliberalism (because networks).

Where both these narratives fall down is in their historical simplicity. However, there is a point that derives from both, albeit not quite in the same spirit that I am taking it, which I think is valuable. There has been a presumption for some time that overcoming the "bifurcation of nature" is the foremost conceptual challenge of the present. I accept that to a large degree. However, this is only one challenge among others.

Critics of the first narrative point out that various sorts of "environmental reflexivity" have existed in the past and have been suppressed. Promoters of the second narrative point out that non-dualistic ontological presumptions (or at least those that style themselves as such) are evident throughout all sorts of deeply questionable contemporary geogovernmental practices. These promoters, in turn, tend to ignore the monistic ontologies that have been powerful and prominent in the past.

And so, there is clearly an important dialogue to be had here. One that is interested in the relevant novelty of the present but is not obsessed by it. One that is interested in the relevant conceptual questions but can see beyond them. It is a difficult net of nettles to grasp but I think that I am on the right track, so far.