Title: “Climate Change and the Politicization of Science”
Speaker: Mark Brown, Dept. of Government, California State University, Sacramento
Commentator: Barbara Buckinx, Associate Research Scholar in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Mark B. Brown is professor in the Department of Government at California State University, Sacramento. He studied at UC Santa Cruz and the University of Göttingen, and received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Rutgers University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Science and Technology Studies, Bielefeld University. He is the author of Science in Democracy: Expertise, Institutions, and Representation (MIT Press, 2009), and various publications on the politics of expertise, political representation, bioethics, climate change, and related topics. He teaches courses on modern and contemporary political theory, democratic theory, and the politics of science, technology, and the environment.
Many commentators today lament the politicization of science, while others insist that science is essentially political. Proponents of these competing views often find themselves talking past each other, because they hold different assumptions about what it means to politicize science in the first place. Bringing together work in political theory and science and technology studies (STS), this presentation examines different ways of thinking about the politics of science with regard to their implications for climate change. On the one hand, STS scholars have long shown how the boundary between science and politics becomes a matter of locally contingent negotiations. Many even suggest that analysts should study the empirical emergence of “politics” without any prior notion of what politics is or where to find it. On the other hand, many commentators implicitly or explicitly adopt the notion that everything is political in one sense or another. These approaches are two sides of the same coin, insofar as they both conceive politics in spatial terms. They focus on where politics is rather than what specific activities it might involve. In contrast to these approaches, I argue that distinguishing among different conceptions of politics can facilitate the empirical study of how science becomes politicized and depoliticized in particular contexts. It also makes it easier to understand the politics of hybrid issues like climate change. Rather than arguing over whether climate science has been or should be politicized, we can examine the implications of different ways of making climate science into a site of politics.