Chapter 6 Environmental Transformations and the Values of Modernity

Chapter in Brief
Annotated Resources

Chapter in Brief

In this commentary chapter, Arun Agrawal analyzes the case studies to identify the values of modernity at play in them. He examines how different values influence and are reflected in social-environmental processes. He focuses upon three values of modernity that shape approaches to the environment in all the case studies: the pursuit of progress based in reason and scientific knowledge, tempered by a belief in equality. He concludes that all of the cases evolve under the rubric of progress, and that in most of the countries of focus, there was little questioning of modern forms of development in the early stages of development. Agrawal also observes that the studies document how people who debate the desirability of development and environmental conservation help classify the environment as a distinct policy domain that needs to be studied and understood in its own right rather than only as part of other social processes. Finally, Agrawal notes that in each case, it was typically an environmental crisis that prompted social movements founded on cherished, modern democratic values. Often, however, the impulse toward democratic processes and outcomes can be challenged by competing values of modernity that quash movement toward equality of opportunity and outcome.

Annotated Resources

Arjun Appadurai. Modernity at Large. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
This collection of noted anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s essays is engagingly written, and has been extremely influential among those interested in the cultural aspects of globalization and related processes.

Dipesh Chakrabarty. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.
Provincializing Europe aims to identify how history may be shaped by different temporalities—those in which the movement of capital and dynamics of capitalism provide the framing devices and those where capital is not the determining force.

Donald Moore, “A River Runs Through It: Environmental History and the Politics of Community in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 24, 2 (1998): 377-403.
This article examines how community-related environmental conservation is underpinned by a community of often fractured groups and collectives. An extremely close and insightful ethnographic paper.

James C. Scott. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.
Scott defines high modernist ideologies as the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws, and shows how such ideologies have been the occasions of large-scale disasters when coupled with authoritarian state power.

Peter J. Taylor, and Frederick H. Buttel, “How Do We Know We Have Global Environmental Problems? Science and the Globalization of Environmental Discourse,” Geoforum 23, no. 3 (1992).
In this paper Taylor and Buttel provided one of the first arguments about the role of science in the invention of environmental problems, and in the ability of human beings to become aware of such problems.