Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Ecosystems and Environmental Discourse :: Essays Papers

Ecosystems and Environmental Discourse What is an ecosystem? At first glance, this seems to be a straightforward question, one to be answered by environmental scientists. However, the concept of an ecosystem, or more specifically, the action that posits the existence of an ecosystem, raises a series of questions that challenge some basic assumptions about the environment. For instance, is an ecosystem a concrete object in the same way that a stone or a tree is? Or instead, is an ecosystem a set of interactions between such objects? While ecosystems do indeed exist, it is not without dramatic changes in our epistemology that we can speak of such objects without contradiction. Most importantly, we must acknowledge that the existence of ecosystems is contingent on human society. Environmental scientists certainly play an important role in describing ecosystems and in prescribing correct management of these systems, but we miss an important aspect of humanity’s role in the environment if we see ecosystems as discrete objects that exist independent of human society. Then what is an ecosystem? An ecosystem is a concept constructed by human society that aids us in perceiving an amazingly complex structure of interactions. This construction is rooted fundamentally in our language and the discourse that surrounds environmental issues. As such, the concept of discourse and the practice of discourse analysis are vital to understanding what an ecosystem might be. While there are advantages to seeing ecosystem as concrete objects, it is my intention in this section to describe an alternative view of ecosystems that is rooted in postpositivistic, postmodern analysis of reality. Hopefully, such analysis will also be useful in analyzing other concepts pertinent to environmental issues. To approach this alternative view, I will outline the concept of discourse as formulated by Michel Foucault, summarize the views and extension of post-Foucauldian discourse analytic theorists, and finally, apply these concepts to the question of ecosystems. Throughout, I will address the epistemological changes implicit in discourse analysis. A discourse is an institutionalized way of speaking that determines not only what we say and how we say it, but also what we do not say. Originating in the field of linguistics, the term discourse initially referred to whole units of speech (conversations) and the speech community in which these units were communicated. William Labov (1972) and other sociolinguists have used discourse analysis primarily as a descriptive tool, leaving epistemological and postmodern considerations aside.

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