Dominant Social Paradigm and Its Impacts on Environmental Policies in the United States

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Dominant Social Paradigm and its Impacts on Environmental Policies in the United States

Venkata R Prasad Goparaju

Date: 15 October 2008
Every country has societal values and principles that are derived from and are the basic for the evolution of respective civilizations. These principles may vary in response to changing conditions and perceptions as is evident, say for instance, from the works of Smith (2003). Such values and traditions were collectively termed as ‘Dominant Social Paradigm’ by Pirages and Ehrlich in 1974 (as cited in Kilbourne, Beckmann, & Thelen, 2002). The concept was initially proposed by Kuhn in 1962 (as cited in Kilbourne et al., 2002 ). To evaluate the approach of the United States towards environmental issues, various aspects of the dominant social paradigm and their impacts should be observed.

It is necessary to observe four important concepts to identify the role of traditions and values on policies and attitudes. Kuhn’s Scientific Paradigm (1962): A scientific paradigm is a belief structure that dominates a particular scientific community (as cited in Shafer, 2006). Such paradigms influence the way community members analyze a subject matter and define various problems and research methods (as cited in Shafer, 2006). Gramsci’s Theory of Hegemony (1971): Governing elites adopt and popularize dominant worldviews in order to get public approval (as cited in Shafer, 2006). This concept may explain the trends in environmental concerns by governments of the western world, the US in particular. Pirages and Ehrlich’s Dominant Social Paradigm (1974): It consists of a set of values, namely individualism, materialism, limited government, economic growth and the importance of progress that has been an inherent feature of the western culture (Oskamp & Schultz, 2004, p. 451). According to Cotgrove (1982), the reason for opposition to the environmental movement in the US lies in differences between the values of environmentalists and of the wider society (as cited in Shafer, 2006). New Ecological/Environmental Paradigm (1978): It was proposed by Dunlap and van Liere in clear contrast to the dominant social paradigm that unlimited growth is feasible with new scientific and technological developments (Shafer, 2006). The NEP concept states that unlimited growth in a finite ecological system is not possible; and people should live in harmony with the ecosystem to avoid a future ecological catastrophe (as cited in Shafer, 2006). Dunlap and Liere referred this concept to the change in public attitude and the beginning of the environmental movement in 1960s in the United States (Oskamp & Schultz, 2004). Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP)

As Milbrath (1984) puts it, every organized society has a DSP, consisting of values, beliefs and habits that form the lenses through which people interpret their world (as cited in Shafer, 2006). The DSP of the United States is inclusive of personal freedom, individual rights, achievement, success, material comfort, progress, free enterprise and the ‘right to hold and use one’s private property’ (Shafer, 2006; Smith, 2003).

Smith (2003) states that this DSP was predominant even before the origin of problems with resource management. However, it has been observed over the years that these freedoms and values raise conflicts when environmental quality is the matter of concern (Shafer, 2006). With the growing technology and desire for more comfort, the exploitation of nature and the production of goods have increased leading to a position where difference of opinions can be observed in prioritizing between environment and growth (Smith, 2003). Nevertheless, incidents such as the 1969’s tragedy at the Santa Barbara oil-drilling area have caused a section of the public to react and fight for environmental cause (Smith, 2003).

The attribution of social paradigms to the environmental accountability can be reviewed in the...
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