9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN12 Environment and Society

2009-09-05 09:00:00 2009-09-05 10:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 09:00 - 10:30 Environment Decision-Making and Risk Building I, Auditório J.J. Laginha

Governing Ignorance: Decision Making in the Restoration of Industrially Contaminated Landscapes

Dealing with uncertainties has become a normalcy in modern societies. This appears to be especially true for environmental issues where growing knowledge on environmental processes opens up ever new knowledge about what is non known. Decision making based on well grounded scientific knowledge in reality can hardly be achieved. Rather, the question rises on how actors deal with the unknown in decision making. Taking a governance perspective, we will show how ignorance can be taken into account for decision-making. Using the example of the restoration and remediation of industrially contaminated sites appears to be especially fruitful since although remediation projects are based on high-tech investigations and modern science to gain detailed knowledge on contaminations, involved actors usually have to deal with unforeseen findings. Due to the long history of many contaminated sites caused by industrial or military activities, knowledge on the location of former dumps has often been lost and natural degradation processes transformed new substances out of a mixture of the early contaminants. From the 1980s onwards, many actors claimed involved in cleaning up and remediation processes learned that the acknowledgement of the unknown in decision making can be a most successful strategy. In this presentation we will illustrate some of these strategies, structures, and governance processes that allow decision makers to successfully move on in face of ignorance. As we will contend, knowingly handling ignorance is not careless acting, but needs to be based on a very well thought through and planned organization of environmental research, implementation as well as specific structures of governance and interaction.