Since at least the middle of the twentieth century, the extent of the global ecological crisis, latterly labelled as ecocide, has become starkly clear, but political, cultural and ethical responses have been minimal. What responses there have been remain ineffectively stuck within the reductive logics of modern approaches to knowledge production and application. This chapter seeks to set out why pragmatist, non-representational and anti-representational approaches offer some hope for creative and effective responses, not only to the ecological crisis but also to the wider crisis of modern knowledge. I argue that these alternative forms of knowledge-practice are ecological in their embracing of process and interconnectivity, and that they offer forms of locally articulated, creative, radical incrementalism within the mesh-works of collective life. The chapter highlights the strength of pragmatic ways of thinking that unify thinking and doing, and the importance of making creative interventions in and beyond the academy.
This chapter concludes the edited collection published as The power of pragmatism. It takes us back to the ‘quest for certainty’ in knowledge production with which we opened the volume. The chapter makes the case for adopting a pragmatic orientation to embrace uncertainty as both unavoidable and potentially productive. Recognising the seductive temptations of certainty that appear to provide order, progress, authority and respect, the chapter advocates the a priori acceptance of contingency as an antidote to dogmatism. This requires a sceptical orientation towards all statements of truth and a very different approach to knowledge production. The contributors to this volume advance and illustrate the power of pragmatism as a mode of knowledge production in the social sciences.
This chapter reflects upon the lessons learned through an experiment in pragmatic social research conducted in east London in the UK in 2015. The project drew upon the pragmatism of the Chicago School of Sociologists and the work of Ernest Burgess, Robert Park and G.H. Mead as well as the earlier work of William James and John Dewey. The E14 expedition tried to test whether, and if so, how, university researchers could work with a range of citizens to address public problems in a genuinely open way, listening to the full range of opinion and ideas. The project exposed the extent to which academic social scientists are often deaf to political opinions that are believed to be misguided, confused and/or incorrect. It also exposed the role played by the social infrastructure of pre-existing relationships, trust, shared interests and identity in underpinning and enabling effective collective action. The chapter advocates paying greater academic and political attention to the things that make public action and problem-solving possible, including being open to different ideas and beliefs, and nurturing the social relationships that enable democratic behaviour and practice.
This chapter explores Richard Rorty’s pragmatist model of ‘conversational philosophy’. By experimenting with new descriptions and novel vocabularies, he aimed to break through old impasses where the conversation has lagged or stalled or been abandoned. For Rorty, experiments in ‘re-description’ potentially reignite the conversation, allowing us to undertake acts that we have never undertaken before. In this view, the point of philosophy is not to mirror the world but to enlarge our cultural repertoire, allowing us to realise new achievements. The chapter applies this approach to the work of the maverick American human geographer, William Bunge (1928¬–2013). Bunge understood maps to be geography’s language, and he believed that by changing the vocabulary of cartography he could break through the crust of previously held conventions, creating something new, potentially changing society and social relations for the better. The chapter looks at three different phases of Bunge’s experiments in cartographic re-description: his early work within spatial science on formal map transformations; his later work in black inner-city Detroit; and his last substantive work on the Nuclear war atlasto warn against atomic Armageddon.
While scientists protest publicly against right-wing populists bending truths, humanists and social scientists are remarkably quiet. This is not surprising since constructivist relativism and poststructuralist ideas about the politics of knowledge have been widely adopted. This chapter explores the ideological conundrum facing social scientists and argues that pragmatism can provide resources for finding a way forward. By formulating specific criteria by means of which theories and truths can be compared and evaluated, pragmatist epistemology positions the academic as a social advisor or mediator. Moreover, on the basis of pragmatic democratic theory, it can be argued that politics is not only agonistic but needs a conciliatory moment to function sustainably. In this spirit, academic criticism should be understood not only as opposition but also as mediation. Rather than just opposing dominant thinking, the academic can engage in a cooperative vein, contributing to the decisions that are taken by mediating between different positions and points of view.
This postscript locates the essays collected in The power of pragmatism within the context of ongoing debates about what is distinctive about pragmatism as a living and contested philosophical tradition. It is argued that what is most distinctive about pragmatism is best revealed by attending to some family resemblances with other pragmatically oriented strands of social thought. The case for further developing a small-p pragmatist ethos in social inquiry is made in relation to core commitments: a focus on knowledge as emergent in relation to shared problems, and therefore a thoroughly social phenomenon, one in which issues of giving and receiving reasons is central to determining ‘what is good in the way of belief’. It is suggested that the future development of this ethos requires further attention to the agonistic dimensions of practically oriented styles of reasoning.
This chapter focuses on the more sinister side of the outsourced state under PFI that was clearly present in the Grenfell disaster – the ‘accountability vacuum’. It draws on interviews with public and private sector professionals, residents involved in PFI schemes and whistle-blowers to illuminate specific examples of this deficit. It begins by focusing on the lack of public or regulatory scrutiny of PFI contracts that rely on self-certified performance reporting, akin to paying a fox to guard the henhouse. The chapter goes on to explain how poorly written contracts that set largely meaningless ‘key performance indicators’ (KPIs) result in minimal financial penalties despite demonstrable failings. It shows how local authorities prioritise the protection of long-term partnerships with private companies over genuine resident involvement and empowerment, and how resident disempowerment is compounded by the absence of both genuinely independent and powerful regulatory bodies, as well as legal routes that residents could use to get redress. It provides a number of examples of how those who did speak out were routinely ignored and sometimes actively silenced.
This chapter is the conclusion of the book. It sets out a vision of the immediate and gradual reforms needed to end the era of unsafe regeneration and housing provision in the outsourced state. It begins by setting out the scale of the housing safety and insecurity crisis that confronts us. It then details three policy lessons raised by Grenfell and the author’s own research on outsourced regeneration under PFI (but still being ignored by government). To ensure that all homes are secure and safe to live in and that residents’ voices are democratically enshrined in housing governance, it will be necessary: to restore accountability and power to residents; to re-regulate construction and housing provision in the interests of safety; and to end the privatisation disaster through a programme of gradual reforms that will gradually phase out PFI and outsourcing, push back the financialisation of housing and land, and restore a reinvented public housing model based on the Bevanite principle of treating housing as ‘a social service’ that is democratically accountable to its residents, and not a commodity.
This chapter turns to the bottom line of outsourced regeneration and self-regulation – the colossal financial riches made. The chapter follows the money from government to the immediate companies and then through to their ultimate owners, often offshored in tax havens. A first section recaps on the variety of unnecessary costs imposed on the public sector through PFI procurement that would simply not arise if the schemes were financed and procured directly through the public sector. A second section focuses on the complex yet lucrative financial deals done to raise the upfront investment that provide private banks, financial market traders and PFI investors with enormous, risk-free profits. The chapter then turns to the generous profit margins commanded by the construction and maintenance firms in these PFI schemes from the lack of genuine competition in the procurement process. It goes on to detail how corporate consultants and the ‘big four’ accountancy firms also financially benefit from advising on and auditing these schemes in ways that create real conflicts of interest. A final section follows these different profitable financial flows through the MFN regeneration scheme.
This chapter introduces the context, main arguments and chapter structure of the book. It begins by recounting the main events of the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017 and the ensuing political fallout, explaining that the disaster had been foretold in previous deadly fires and warnings about the impact of the deregulation of building and fire safety. It goes on to argue that this refusal to listen made Grenfell an act of what Friedrich Engels called ‘social murder’ at the hands of unregulated private greed. The chapter proceeds to outline the book’s overall argument that Grenfell has exposed a deeper neoliberal fault-line in the governance of housing safety from decades of privatisation, outsourcing and deregulation. It also sets out the three main case studies of regeneration under PFI underpinning the book’s argument, and gives a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book. The chapter ends by detailing the empirical evidence and research process underpinning the book.