Disrupting technologies
: can the planetary technosphere be steered politically toward a post-capitalist metabolism?

  • Tomislav Medak

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The dominant approach in (trans/sub)national governance of ecological crises, most
    notably climate change, is ecological modernisation. As a framing of collective
    action, ecological modernisation assumes that the structure of economic growth can
    be made sustainable by deploying market instruments to drive the sociotechnical
    transition away from the present fossil-fueled technological base. However, scientists
    are warning that such a market-driven technology-frst approach, ensconced in
    the UNFCCC since at least the Kyoto Protocol, might not be comprehensive and
    rapid enough to prevent global warming beyond 2°C above the pre-industrial levels
    and thus a signifcant breakdown of ecosystems, rendering vulnerable indigenous,
    low-income, and working-class communities across the world.
    This thesis analyses how organisations that are operating in the “middle ground,”
    between the policymaking arena and their social constituencies, are seeking to
    disrupt the hegemony of technology-frst policies, while at the same time proposing
    alternative pathways to transition away from the extractivist and capitalist social
    metabolism to a plurality of environmentally livable and socially just futures for all.
    Taking an iterative theory-building approach, the thesis frst conceptualises the
    strategic agency of these social actors: against the historical trajectory of industrialcapitalist social metabolism; within the power-diferentiated social structures of the
    capitalist state; and through the framing and distributive struggles sited between
    the climate action arena and the social feld. By drawing on a set of complementary
    theories — ecological Marxism, environmental humanities, science and technology studies, the critical theory of technology, strategic-relational approach, and
    institutional logics theory — it proposes two analytical frameworks to indicate
    strategic openings for “middle-ground” organisations to impact sociotechnical and
    sociometabolic transitions.
    In a second step, the thesis provides two case studies contrasting two organisations and two environmentalisms: a degrowth-oriented Institute for Political Ecology,
    hailing from the periphery of European capitalism; and a green new deal-oriented
    industrial trade union Unite the Union, hailing from one of the centres of European
    capitalism. Drawing on interviews, analysis of documents, and joint research with
    the two organisations, it argues that they engage the governance terrain as epistemic
    actors and work with diferent social constituencies to instil distributive justice into climate action. These actors are disrupting the dominant market-driven technologyfrst approach and are thereby re-politicising and re-democratising the environmental
    governance. In a fnal step, the thesis analyses and speculates on the prospects of
    their counter-proposals in the present political and environmental conjuncture.

    Date of Award2022
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorGary Hall (Supervisor) & Janneke Adema (Supervisor)

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