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Critical reflections for environmental decision making : Habermas, participation and rationality

Bhattachary, Darren Paul; (2000) Critical reflections for environmental decision making : Habermas, participation and rationality. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis aims to explore insights from Habermasian critical theory for environmental decision-making processes. Though traditionally such decision-making has relied upon scientific criteria, it is now widely recognised that the justification and legitimisation of environmental management requires the representation of public values. The thesis argues that market based approaches which claim to capture the full range of public values for the environment can be unsatisfactory, particularly in terms of utility maximisation as a sufficient model of rational action. In this respect, the model of communicative action developed by the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas is considered to provide a more adequate understanding of rationality. Despite the epistemological challenges of 'speaking for nature' within such a theoretical framework, it is argued that communicative action offers a promising means for engaging wider publics in environmental decision-making. The thesis centres around two main premises. The first of these is that it is important to gain an epistemological understanding of the concept of nature within the historical complexity of the Enlightenment. The thesis aims to mediate a view of the natural world that is neither romantic nor positivist, but rather based in the validity claims and understandings of ordinary people. In this way, an ecological rationality may derive through the development of the communicative dimensions of social life. Second it is argued that through examining the sociological problems of how to conceive rationality, action and society, communicative action provides a programme through which participatory processes may be both developed and assessed. The thesis examines the merits and shortcomings of a various applied Habermasian approaches to participatory processes for decision-making within the environmental and planning literature. Finally, an empirical examination of two case studies will demonstrate the insights to be gained from critical theory. A tension is highlighted between institutional concerns for substantive outcomes and consensus, against more procedural benefits of engaging in the methods themselves. In conclusion it is argued that while such methods represent an advance upon solely economic means of valuing nature, evaluation is needed to assess how legitimate these forms are in practice. Critical theory, it is contended, provides such a perspective.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Critical reflections for environmental decision making : Habermas, participation and rationality
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Philosophy, religion and theology; Habermas, Jurgen
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10110172
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