The conceptual shifts in environmental social sciences after the 1960s onwards
Department of Biological and Environmental Science University of Helsinki Finland,
In this presentation I will try to determine the roots and consequences of ecological paradigm shifts in social science from the 1960s onwards. From that time on, several scholars began to call for paradigm shifts or at least a "naturalistic turn" in their social science theories, from economics to political science to sociology and social policy. The obvious starting- point of the discussion was that human societies are "ecological" to the core, and a social theory which does not take this into account is more or less out of date. The concept of the paradigm, of course, originates from Thomas Kuhn, the American philosopher of science. He used it to a hegemonic framework or model of thought dominating in a particular discipline. In his major book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962/1996), Kuhn argued that science does not progress via linear accumulation of new knowledge, but undergoes periodic revolutions, "paradigm shifts", in which the nature of scientific inquiry is abruptly transformed from "normal science" to a "revolutionary science". Does the Kuhnian structure of scientific revolutions also apply to the social sciences? Most mainstream social scientists probably deny that they share a common paradigm or framework. On the other hand, there have been common paradigms in the history of social science, which even the conflicting groups have recognized as their theoretical bases. Thus, we cannot exclude the possibility of common paradigms even in the social sciences. Paradoxically, mainstream social science has often ignored these challenges, one reason being that the diversity within social science is huge and environmental social science is only one among many approaches. Besides, environmental social science itself is divided into several subfields, which do not necessary and normally communicate with each other. However, the importance of these new concepts is growing all the time.