Dancing with Climate, Science, and Government: Embracing an Ontology of Becoming for the Study of Historical Trajectories and Possibilities

Zeke Baker, Sonoma State University

What is the role of historical and environmental sociologies for understanding the contemporary social-ecological metabolism marked by global climate change? This paper begins with a simple proposal that these two veins of sociological thought are at their best when they provide explanations of present circumstances with reference not only to structures and patterns but also trajectories, that is, paths taken (against plausible alternatives) that may or may not continue into the future. Yet, the theoretical status of a social ‘trajectory’ that seriously involves climate change is ambiguous within the current framework of historical sociology. Most notably, historical sociology has yet to significantly incorporate the pathways by which ‘the environment’ figures in empirical models of social structure and transformation. Drawing from a long-term analysis of climate expertise in U.S. and comparative contexts, this paper tries to productively engage environmental and historical sociological thought, especially through a prism provided by the institution of science and its attendant technological artifacts. I argue that an ‘ontology of becoming’ (Pickering 2009) helps understand how climate, knowledge, and government have been historically co-produced. I draw upon this case to bridge environmental and historical social theory, highlighting some of the theoretical strengths and presumptuous limitations that presently mark intellectual discourse about social transformation amid environmental crisis.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 88. Environment, Society and Social Theory: Critical Conversations in Historical Sociology