Understanding ethics in sustainability transitions : towards social learning for sustainable food systems

Robertson, Christian Anton (2014-04)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis explores the importance of an appropriate understanding of ethics in sustainability transitions. Through a conceptual analysis, it finds that the dominant understanding of modernist ethics is unsuitable to the contexts of contingency in sustainability transitions, and that the participatory understanding of ethics as a complex system presents a far more adequate approach to the ethical complexity of socioecological systems. In particular, the strategy of 'practising provisionality' is suggested, which understands the process of ethical decision-making as a process of social learning. This argument is further supported by a critical reflection on the food system context. The present dangers and future uncertainties of sustainability transitions are issues of incredible complexity. Socioecological interactions can have unpredictable impacts on our ability to the needs of both current and future generations, like realising a sustainable food system. Moreover, there are difficult decisions that we also to make in such dilemmas, like the extent of natural resource exploitation, where normativity plays a large role. This means that these complex issues are also ethical issues. The importance of understanding ethics in sustainability transitions is, therefore, of great importance, since we will want to believe we are making the 'right' choices in these changing contexts. However, the understanding of ethics that dominates traditional scientific thinking and academic inquiries represents a paradigm of thought that is insensitive to complexity of socioecological systems, and is therefore, inadequate in addressing the ethical complexity of sustainability transitions. In the context of food systems, this is demonstrated in the linear emphasis on food production that dominates the ethics of realising sustainable food systems. This thesis argues that a more appropriate way of thinking about ethics in times of contingent contexts and socioecological change would have to account for complexity. In an acknowledgement of the complexity of ethics, it is argued that every decision has elements of moral consideration, and that there is also no way to know objectively whether the respective decision was morally 'right' or 'wrong'. Such an understanding of complex ethics would, therefore, emphasise the importance of recursively reasoning through every ethical decision to address any reductionisms of complexity; adopting an attitude of modesty and openness towards dialogue, and adopting a student mentality of social learning that would improve upon one's complex ethical reasoning. Subsequently, the paradigmatic shift of a complex approach to ethics is more adequate in understanding ethics in sustainability transitions.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie tesis ondersoek die belangrikheid van 'n toepaslike begrip van etiek in volhoubaarheidsoorgange. Die bevinding van hierdie konseptuele analise is dat die oorheersende begrip van modernistiese etiek ongeskik is in die volhoubaarheidsoorgang konteks van gebeurlikheid en dat die deelnemende begrip van etiek as 'n komplekse sisteem 'n baie meer toepaslike benadering is tot die etiese kompleksiteit van sosioekologiese sisteme. Die strategie van 'praktiese voorlopigheid' word in die besonder voorgestel. Dit sien die proses van etiese besluitneming as 'n proses van sosiale leerwyse. Die argument word verder ondersteun deur die kritiese refleksie op die voedselsisteem konteks. Die huidige gevare en toekomstige onsekerheid van volhoubaarheidsoorgange is geweldige ingewikkelde strydvrae. Sosioekologiese interaksies kan onvoorsiene impakte hê op ons vermoeëns om die behoeftes van beide huidige en toekomstige generasies aan te spreek, soos om volhoubare voedselsisteme te laat realiseer. Verder is daar moelike besluite wat geneem moet word tydens sulke dilemmas, soos die mate waartoe ons natuurlike bronne geeksploiteer word, waar normativiteit 'n groot rol speel. Dit beteken dat hierdie komplekse strydvrae ook etiese strydvrae is. Die belangrikheid van die begrip van etiek in volhoubare oorgange is derhalwe van groot belang, aangesien ons wil glo ons neem die regte besluite in hierdie veranderende kontekste. Die begrip van etiek wat die traditionele wetenskaplike denkwyse en akademiese navrae domineer, kom egter voor as 'n paradigmiese denkwyse wat onsensitief is ten opsigte van die kompleksitiet van die sosioekologiese sisteme, en dus tekortskiet in die hantering van die etiese kompleksitiet van volhoubare oorgange. In die voedselsisteem konteks word dit gedemonstreer in die liniêre klem wat op voedselproduksie geplaas word, wat die etiek van die realisasie van voedselsisteme domineer. Hierdie tesis redeneer dat 'n meer paslike denkwyse omtrent etiek in tye van gebeurlike kontekste en sosioekologiese veranderinge sal moet rekenskap gee van kompleksitieit. In die erkenning van die kompleksiteit van etiek, word dit geredeneer dat elke besluit 'n element van morele oorweging het, en dat daar ook geen manier is om objektief te weet of die respektiewe besluit moreel 'korrek' of verkeerd' is nie. So 'n begrip van komplekse etiek sal, dus die belangrikheid van konstante redenering in elke etiese besluitneming beklemtoon, om enige reduksionisme van kompleksiteit aan te spreek. Dit geskied deurmiddel van 'n houding van beskeidenheid en oopheid tot dialoog, en die aanneming van 'n studente mentaliteit van sosiale leerwyse wat 'n komplekse etiese redenering kan verbeter. Gevolglik, is die paradigmatiese verskuiwing van 'n komplekse benadering tot etiek meer paslik in die begrip van etiek in volhoubaarheidsoorgange.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/86426
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