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Communities of Environmental Risk: Simplicity out of Complexity

Green Politics
Political Participation
Political Theory
Social Movements
Benjamin Glasson
University of Melbourne
Benjamin Glasson
University of Melbourne

What is usually at stake in environmental-political conflicts is competing groups’ assessments of risk. These assessments are based on complex modelling, limited information and future projections, and are filtered through broader cultural and ideological frames. I argue that environmentalism, in spite of (or because of) this uncertainty and fragmentation, is a politics of simplicity, identity and community. The primary unit of analysis in environmental politics is the community of risk: a group bound through common identification with a threatened object (conceptual or real). Any given actor’s political engagement is linked to the depth of their affective investment in the object and the community, as the risk holds existential sway over both. This perspective and its political implications are developed through studies of climate change, genetically modified organisms and coal-seam gas. Conceptually, its model of communities of risk draws together components from Douglas and Wildavsky, Freud, Beck, and Laclau.
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