This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.
One of the things I was most struck by in the recent public discussions surrounding the NY Times piece, Lakoff’s response in AlterNet (and subsequently Bob Brulle’s response on the environmental communication network listserv) is the construction of a “debate” and a clash of differences. Call me a pollyanna, but I feel quite weary of such discussions being framed as debates, or even more adversarily as “Lakoff vs. Brulle or Cognitive Science vs. Discourse Analysis”. My sense is that, frankly, we need them all. We don’t have time or resources for factions and splitting at this critical time; rather we must devote our energies to bridge building and seeing how our respective approaches may complement one another. It’s when we assert one approach is perspective is the one, that we start to run into serious problems.
I won’t deny that I have some real issues with certain approaches to environmental psychology and communications theories. It’s evident that there are some profound epistemic differences underpinning our chosen approaches or disciplines. For example a cognitive approach is based on a model that may seem at great odds – perhaps even irreducable – with, say, a psychoanalytic approach. And you can argue these approaches have different views of what counts as valid and real. This may true, however perhaps it’s a better use of energy to consider what cognitive behavioural or scientific work can address – illuminate, if you will – more appropriately, than say, a psychoanalytic or discourse analysis approach can. Or what a social movements perspective brings to the psychological ones. How engaging with poetics and imagination are part of a puzzle that also includes hard sciences, social theory and activism.
It takes a lot to rise to this type of ‘bridge building’ and I for one can find it very difficult. But I do believe that our environmental issues – a euphemism for the real travesties and horrific situations taking place – require us to make this effort. We need them all: cognitive scientists, discourse analysts, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, communications scholars, ecologists, political sciences, and on and on. We need all of our resources to help us understand how to stem and mitigate environmental destruction and degradation. That is what brings us all together, isn’t it?