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Sociology Departmental Seminar with: Larry Reynolds and Bronislaw Szerszynski

Date: 29 November 2011 Time: 16:15-18:00

Venue: Bowland Nth SR 10

Can the Environmental Crisis Save Capitalism?

Larry Reynolds and Bronislaw Szerszynski (Cesagen/CSEC/Sociology,Lancaster)

Can the environmental crisis save capitalism?

In this paper we outline what we call the 'eco-Schumpeterian' imaginary: a framing of the present moment which seems to promise a synergistic resolution of the environmental and economic crises, thus allowing a new round of capital accumulation and growth. This economic imaginary, with its origins in the last deep capitalist crisis that occurred around the 1973 oil shock, appears in different variants, operates at different scales, and deploys a range of discursive tropes, such as 'natural capitalism', the 'green new deal', and, crucially, 'eco-innovation'. As the OECD recently put it, technological innovation can "decouple growth from natural capital depletion", and "is therefore the key in enabling green and growth to go hand in hand" (OECD 2011). Some versions of this imaginary talk of a 'Sixth Wave' or 'Green Wave' of eco-efficient techno-economic relations - thus drawing on Joseph Schumpeter's development of Kondratieff's notion of 'long waves' of economic development - or of a technological revolution which would usher in a new 'postindustrial', 'postpetroleum' or 'biotech age'.

However, we suggest that, when surveying economic history since the 1970s, the eco-Schumpetarian project looks less impressive. The period of growth from the 1990s until the 2008 crisis was still rooted in the old, second industrial revolution techno-economic assemblage primarily based around oil. Despite the 1970s dreams of a high-tech revolution towards 'tomorrow's world', where an information society would replace smokestack industries, the period is more marked by a respatialisation of Fordism on a global scale, enabled by mundane and familiar technologies, and by rising levels of national and private debt. We argue that, despite the mantra of innovation, we are in something of a 'technological plateau', and suggest that the current environmental and economic crises are both linked to the failure after 1973 to find a new suite of green technologies to replace those of the mid-twentieth-century 'fourth wave'. This paper examines a range of contradictions, limits and resistances that might be responsible for this failure - some located in contingent and historical factors, and some inherent in the capitalist mode of production itself.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Larry Reynolds, Bronislaw Szerszynski, John Urry (Sociology)

Organising departments and research centres: Centre for the Study of Environmental Change, History, Politics, Philosophy and Religion PPR, Sociology

Keywords: Capitalism, Environment, Environmental discourse, Environmental thought, Political ideologies, Politics


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