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Title: Between Progress and Decline in Green Engineering: The Two Poles of the Environmentalist Continuum

Author(s): Nicholas Sakellariou

Affiliation: Virginia Tech

Presented At: STiS 2008

Primary Topic Area: Sustainable Development


This paper examines the co-existence and interdependence of progress and decline within American green technoscience. I discuss how Enlightenment ideology has made its way into contemporary technoscientific discourse. I take the revisionist legacy of the sixties to have given rise to a notion of progress, to be formerly rehabilitated under the heading of “the best available technology” and recently under “sustainability.” At the centrepiece of my analysis lie the technocratic pretensions to build upon the chaotic characteristics of natural systems and to promote sustainability in a new “metadiscipline”, that positions itself as Green Engineering (GE).

Under the premise that since the Enlightenment, progress and decline have co-existed, in fact have co-produced one another, I argue their contemporary manifestations in GE. By framing the terms by which “the environment” is communicated through a discourse on sustainable development and sustainability, progress and decline reverberate the tension between the maintenance of economic growth and the preservation of nature. My talk traces the progressive and declinist visions that lie behind GE, by examining their characteristics as they appear in Environmental Science and Technology between 2003 and 2007.

Overall, my presentation is meant to intrigue conversation over the degree upon which contemporaneous debate over “sustainability” suggest a drawback to a technocratic notion of progress. I see the progressive-declinist co-production within the writings of GE practitioners as an attempt to bridge the perceived contradiction between the current version of industrial ideology, and the alternative notion of progress as consisting primarily of social and ethical dimensions.

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