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Reassessing sustainability

dal 28-04-2011 al 30-09-2011
, April 28, 2011

Sociologica is pleased to invite submissions on the theme “Reassessing sustainability” for an issue to be published in 2012.

The notion of sustainability emerged and spread in the 1980s and early 1990s. Reacting to the pessimism of the ‘limits to growth’ discourse of the 1970s, it conveyed the idea of a possible synergy between growth and environmental protection. In sociology the concept and related reformist policy orientation was mainly associated with the ecological modernization framework.

The rationale of sustainability was grounded on technoscientific innovation, market competition, empowerment and responsibilization of civil society and individual citizens, and a sober regulatory role of the state. The notion was surrounded by controversy or ambiguity from the outset, especially as regards the capacity of technoscience advancement to replace the vanishing stock of natural resources. Yet it seemed a storyline capable of gathering people from advanced and developing countries around a shared view of a future world society. Sustainability, in other words, seemed to work as a focal point, or a boundary object, around which concerted efforts at different policy scales could be conceived and implemented. Significant achievements seemed at arms length in many areas of industrial, economic and social policy, from increased process and product eco-efficiency to the effective recycling and disposal of waste; from the reorganization of urban life in areas as housing and transport to a growing involvement of citizens and end users in relevant decision-making.

In short, the notion of sustainability has represented for decades a point of reference for scientific work, policy-making, social movements action and public mobilization in general. Today, however, this notion looks faded and under attack. The idea has now lost much of its inspirational character. Technoscientific efforts and policy projects aimed at eco-efficiency are implemented in a variety of fields and at different scales, with varying degrees of success. However the feeling of a fundamental impasse is conveyed by the failure of the post-Rio summits, from Johannesburg to Copenhagen. Climate change has become a catchword, yet a small but vocal minority questions scientific evidences of fast-degrading environmental conditions. The commitment to reducing energy consumption has been challenged by a renewed rush to oil and gas extraction and a revamping of nuclear power as a ‘clean’ technology. At the same time technological efforts are frustrated by the actualization of worst-case scenarios, as the earthquake in Japan testifies in the most dramatic way. The very notion of sustainability is denounced as intrinsically contradictory or misleading, especially by the ‘downshifting’ movement, for which any attempt at correcting the distortions of capitalist market economy by its very means is bound to fail.

In short, sustainability in its ideational articulations and concrete translations is in serious need of a reassessment. Were sustainability and ecological modernization flawed or misleading endeavours since the beginning? How can they be reformulated in the light of the profound social changes of the last decades? How can the positive and negative indicators of eco-efficiency at different scales be assessed? What kind of contribution can sociology give to a debate that, at scientific level and in the broader public sphere, has been dominated by economic models and parlances?

We invite papers aimed at exploring the discourse and practice of sustainability, in its evolution and present declensions, from both theoretical and empirical perspectives.

Authors should refer to the editorial guidelines of the journal at http://www.sociologica.mulino.it/journal/callforpapers

and should note that all submissions will be subject to the journal’s usual peer review process.

Following the format of the section “Essays” of the journal, which is particularly devoted to the promotion of lively debates, the selected papers will be commented by invited scholars. The authors of the papers will be asked to reply.

 The deadline for submission of full papers is 30th September 2011. The papers should be sent via email to info.sociologica@mulino.it, as a Word attachment with "Reassessing sustainability <author’s name>" as the subject header.

For more details about submissions to the Journal: http://www.sociologica.mulino.it/journal/callforpapers