Toward a vocabulary for speaking of the engagement of things into discourse

  • Healy S
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Abstract

Latour argues that complex environmental problems are sustained and proliferate because the intermeshing of humans and non-humans they embody is systematically obscured, a systematics reproduced by defining discourse narrowly in terms of symbol and meaning. This article argues that discourse is more constructively viewed as a practice constitutive of dynamic 'relational complexes' involving people, things and their many properties, competences and accomplishments. A relational epistemology clarifies how the practices constituting these 'complexes' generate, reproduce and convey knowledge, in contradistinction to the more conventional focus upon the representational statements they produce, while a Foucaultian analysis illuminates how these 'complexes' exhibit power. Overall this perspective suggests that the problems identified by Latour may be addressed via informed, dynamic engagement in contexts manifesting a nexus between knowledge, actions and politics in ways responsive to their interdependencies. Such engagement is illustrated using a public participation project with which the author was involved while the relevance of these ideas for environmental institutions and policy contexts more broadly are examined via recent developments at the International Panel on Climate Change. © 2005 Taylor & Francis.

Author-supplied keywords

  • 'Relational complex'
  • Discourse
  • Power/knowledge
  • Public participation
  • Socio-materiality

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Authors

  • Stephen Healy

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