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Session Overview
RN12_07b_H: New Trends in Environmental Sociology II
Thursday, 31/Aug/2017:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Session Chair: Peter Oosterveer, Wageningen University
Location: HA.2.8
HAROKOPIO University 70 El. Venizelou Street 17671 Athens, Greece Building: A, Level: 2.

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Governance of the senses: Tackling the perception of sustainable transitions

Nona Schulte-Römer

Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Germany

This paper focuses on the governance of our sensory perception in the context of environmental changes and sustainable transition. The qualitative empirical focus is on energy, water and lighting infrastructures. Although they shape the look and feel of our built and ‘natural’ environment, these infrastructures are often ‘invisible’ and taken for granted.

Yet, when things change, as in cases of sustainable transitions, ‘invisible infrastructures’ become visible and often controversial. In these moments, so the thesis, individual and collective sensory perceptions of environmental changes play an important role. Residents complain about the disfigurement of landscapes, about smells, noise and light pollution. Innovators react by framing local complaints as ‘NIMBYism’ and take countermeasures to resolve or forestall controversies and resistance to their projects.

The analysis and validation of such countermeasure is a central topic in social scientific research on sustainable transition projects. Financial compensation schemes, participation formats and legislation are well-established research topics. In contrast, perception-related measures are only mentioned but not systematically explored. This research makes a start by analysing comparatively and in different fields of socio-technical transitions how innovators tackle perception-related issues with technical, political, regulative and constructional measures. Examples include the definition of minimum distances, the building of walls and sensor-based evidence production. The aim of this explorative research is to categorise and conceptualise this ‘sensory governance’, i.e. the governance of our senses in socio-technical contexts. Theoretically, it draws on pragmatic sociological perspectives and studies on science, technology and innovation (STS).

The effect of temperature shocks on health at birth: evidence from Hungary

Gabor Hajdu1,2, Tamás Hajdu3

1Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences; 2MTA-ELTE Peripato Comparative Social Dynamics Research Group, Hungary; 3Research Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

In this research we analyze the effect of extreme temperature during the pregnancy on the outcomes of live births in Hungary. Birth registry data of 2 million newborns between 1990 and 2009 are matched with daily temperature data. Matching is based on the place of residence of the mother at the time of the delivery. Birth registry data that covers the entire population come from the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, whereas city-level weather data come from the Hungarian Meteorological Service. We calculate indicators of temperature shocks (e.g. the number of extremely hot days) for each trimesters of the pregnancy. Our dependent variables are indicators of health at birth (e.g. birth weight, pre-term birth, congenital disorder). Although variation in weather over time supposed to be exogenous, we are able to control for important socio-demographic factors that might influence newborns’ health, and even for unobserved time-invariant mother characteristics by performing mother-fixed effects estimates. In this way our study identifies causal effects.

Our main research question is whether temperature shocks (defined as occurrence of extremely hot/cold days) in utero influence health at birth. The second research question is the following: in which trimester is this relationship the strongest? Finally, we try to answer the question: how do the estimated effects differ between high- and low-status families?

In one hand, this study adds to the large and growing literature studying the effects of fetal conditions on short- and long-term outcomes (e.g. health at birth, education, labor market success, etc.). On the other hand, our research is also related to the literature analyzing the impacts of global climate change.

Catastrophism as a breach in the sense of social reality: a biographical approach of conversions to “collapsology”

Cyprien Tasset

EHESS, France

Catastrophist perspectives are gaining momentum among discourses over environmental issues (Urry, 2011: 36 sq). On the margins of central public debate, more and more discourses are held, that promise the worse for humanity in the next decades, for reasons deriving from the environmental crisis. Some researchers have studied the role of catastrophism in individual environmental conversions, or in the Transition Towns movement (Semal, 2012). We would like to focus on the catastrophist experience itself. How do social actors turn into self-labeled catastrophists ? To whom does it happen ? Furthermore, what kind of collective action is possible on the basis of catastrophism?

A few years ago, a small association was founded, dedicated to the promotion of responsible and clear-sighted analyses of the incoming collapse that, according to its founders, would soon result from pollution and depletion. Its founders were neither trained scientists nor integrated in ecologist activism. They were self-taught “collapsologists”, coming from rather variegated parts of the middle classes. The association holds meetings, animates a Facebook page and a website. We interviewed several of its members, so as to contextualize their conversion to a catastrophist perspective in their biographical trajectory.

Coming to this object from the sociology of the critique (Boltanski, 2011), we will focus our analysis on the central episode of the interviews: the narratives of the unsettling moments when the interviewees switch to a catastrophist vision of the world, and when their sense of social realty staggers. Finally, we will discuss the paradoxes of catastrophism as a critical scheme.

Towards hydrogen society: pathways to sustainability transition in Japan

Ritsuko Ozaki1, Midori Aoyagi2, Fred Steward1

1Policy Studies Institute, University of Westminster, United Kingdom; 2National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan

Hydrogen energy has been identified by the Japanese government as a way to address energy security and energy efficiency, to reduce CO2 emissions, and to promote industry development. Their Hydrogen Strategic Roadmap presents three phases of development plans towards the realisation of ‘hydrogen society’. From our interviews with key stakeholders in the government and industry, and the documents we collected, we see two parallel strategic pathways. One is a vision based on centralisation with an emphasis of the development of hydrogen transport and domestic energy systems that use fossil fuels to produce hydrogen energy for the next twenty years, while keeping the future CO2-free hydrogen generation in the scope. The other pathway is an outlook for decentralised, local systems, taking more holistic approaches to the realisation of hydrogen society with solar- and wind-powered hydrogen production and locally integrated supply chains. Furthermore, these strategies include varied applications of hydrogen energy to end use consumption. The difference between the two strategies is the scale of end use application they envisage. Both strategies focus on fuel cell vehicles, such as passenger cars, buses and industrial forklifts, and the domestic hot water and power cogeneration system called ‘Ene-Farm’. The latter strategy, however, includes a larger scale of mass hydrogen energy application, with the contribution to the overall carbon emissions in mind. In light of this mixed picture, we explore how to keep a balance between the two pathways and how to manage a successful transition to sustainability.

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