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Nature, Climate Change and the Culture of the Social Sciences
Reiner Grundmann, Markus Rhomberg, Nico Stehr

Last modified: 2010-04-14


In this paper we examine the question of why social scientists have been fairly invisible in professional circles as well as in public and policy discussions about global warming.

Our argument focuses on two reasons: The first is sociology's legacy of social constructivism (which we would like to defend) and its skepticism of ecological determinism, including climate determinism. The second is the politicization of the climate change debate and a problematic reaction from sociological community.

(1) In the first instance, we refer to the notion of framing as one of the key sociological insights when dealing with policy-relevant information. Framing rejects the assumption that there is anything self-evident to be found 'out there'. The framing of climate change as a social and political issue is therefore likely to be among the prime concerns for sociologists researching this area.

(2) As anthropogenic climate change has evolved from a science-based issue to a top global policy issue, social scientists have developed a mixed but largely uneasy relationship with the topic. This is due to the politicization of the debate. Science studies scholars, for example, who were in principle well-placed to contribute to the debates, felt uneasy in a polarized debate where academic research might be seen as politically counterproductive.

We conclude with suggestions why and how social science discourse should overcome its reluctance to move into the center of scientific and policy debates about the ways in which societies have to live with climate risks.


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