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The position of place in governing global problems: a mechanistic account of place-as-context, and analysis of transitions towards spatially explicit approaches to climate science and policy

MacGillivray, Brian Hector 2015. The position of place in governing global problems: a mechanistic account of place-as-context, and analysis of transitions towards spatially explicit approaches to climate science and policy. Environmental Science and Policy 53 (A) , pp. 8-17. 10.1016/j.envsci.2015.05.015

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Abstract

Place is a central concept within the sustainability sciences, yet it remains somewhat undertheorised, and its relationship to generalisation and scale is unclear. Here, we develop a mechanistic account of place as the fundamental context in which social and environmental mechanisms operate. It is premised on the view that the social and environmental sciences are typically concerned with causal processes and their interaction with context, rather than with a search for laws. We deploy our mechanistic account to critique the neglect of place that characterised the early stages of climate governance, ranging from the highly idealised general circulation and integrated assessment models used to analyze climate change, to the global institutions and technologies designed to manage it. We implicate this neglect of place in the limited progress in tackling climate change in both public and policy spheres, before tracing out recent shifts towards more spatially explicit approaches to climate change science and policy-making. These shifts reflect a move towards an ontology which acknowledges that even where causal drivers are in a sense global in nature (e.g. atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases), their impacts are often mediated through variables that are spatially clustered at multiple scales, moderated by contextual features of the local environment, and interact with the presence of other (localised) stressors in synergistic rather than additive ways. We conclude that a relentless focus on place, heterogeneity, and context can maximise (rather than limit) the policy relevance of climate change science and help to ensure the development of policy interventions that are robust and effective.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Sustainable Places Research Institute (PLACES)
Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 1462-9011
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 July 2016
Date of Acceptance: 15 May 2015
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 23:43
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/73342

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