Saturday, December 18, 2010

Humanities and the sciences

The following post by Darian Meacham about the humanities and the sciences on the Open Democracy blog, while not directly related to the marine environment, is critically important - and great reading! Funding cuts to universities aside (we've heard a lot about that of late) the broader question of linking the natural and social sciences, or broader still, natural and social systems, is fundamental to thinking and feeling our way towards sustainable societies.

The two go hand in hand, science often provides the technical know how for adaptation, invention and knowledge, while the role of creativity, the arts, humanities and society can provide the foundation for driving driving innovation (and inspiration!). When thinking about marine issues, the resolution of many problems, including local conflicts, climate change, MPAs, or renewable energy, will require a mix of technical/scientific and human/social approaches. Take for example renewable energy - the industry is leaping ahead in innovative and technical terms, market forces are reducing costs, and we are seeing infrastructure appearing on land and water (the scientific side). On the other had, public acceptance of renewables is still an open issue, the responses of communities to development sometimes breeds conflict and uncertainty, and the politics behind marine planning is embryonic (the social dimension).

This social side of the equation has recently become the subject of a revival .The idea of phronesis is an interesting drive in the social sciences, and concerns deliberation, context, values and decision making. Hand in hand with natural science, the following questions and actions can be pursued in a particular context :
  • Where are we going?
  • Who gains and who loses, by which mechanisms of power?
  • Is this development desirable?
  • What should we do about it?
'White-anting' the social sciences and humanities (in the UK) in favour of the natural sciences will not bring us any closer to sustainable seas, coasts , and communities. Natural science is obviously critical in understanding natural systems and providing the technical innovation for sustainability. The social sciences, the other side of the coin and an equal partner, bring the people with us.

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