Ian Hughes, Edmond Byrne, Gerard Mullally, Colin Sage
Reflexive Sustainability: Metaphor as Transdisciplinary Method in the Anthropocene
Notwithstanding the call for discipline specific metaphors for sustainable transformations this paper considers the contribution of the social sciences to transdisciplinary perspectives on transitions to sustainability (Byrne et al. 2017). The archetypal dichotomy between realist (natural) and constructivist (cultural) approaches to sustainability dissolves under the conditions of the Anthropocene, when human beings become a geological force. Adapting and amending Will Steffen’s observation that in the Anthropocene humanity has become a force of nature in terms of its impact on the functioning of the Earth System, the observation that humanity might rather be understood as a geological power to capture the ability to make decisions and transform matter becomes apposite (Hamilton 2015). Yet at the contention that modernity ‘uprooted the social sciences from the earth’ floating in the water of the social, nurtured by only culture the social sciences become hydroponic disciplines (Hamilton 2015), negates and dismisses the possibility that cultural roots also run deep.
In a moment where Lyotard’s post-modern announcing of the death of grand narratives has been eclipsed by the grand challenges of the 21st Century (Byrne & Mullally 2016b; Byrne & Mullally 2016a), we need to be careful not to equate paradigm shift with complete rupture. Indeed, recourse to metaphor while innovative is not new. Viewed paradigmatically, classic and contemporary texts (Lakoff & Johnson 1980; Harre et al. 1999; Larson 2011), put metaphors centre stage in sustainability transformations – Morin’s (Morin 2005) recasting of prefixes (re-, inter-, trans-, meta-) as root metaphors draws our attention to the role of renewable socio-cultural (as opposed to natural) resources. The contribution to the collective volume is not so much disciplinary as it is conceptual and methodological interventions in ongoing debates.