DQ should come from the following two text only
Manfredo, M. J., Bruskotter, J. T., Teel, T. L., Fulton, D., Schwartz, S. H., Arlinghaus, R., . . . Sullivan, L. (2017). Why social values cannot be changed for the sake of conservation. Conservation Biology, 31(4), 772-780. doi:10.1111/cobi.12855 (link to full text: https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/cobi.12855)
Schwalbe, M. (2020). Making a Difference: Using Sociology to Create a Better World. Oxford University Press.
People who are unfamiliar with academic life often think there is something inherently radical about doing science or scholarship. Yes, individual scientists and scholars (who are often professors) might embrace radical perspectives, political or intellectual. But the work itself—the way it’s actually done—is based on belief in the value of conserving. So, strange as it might seem, even the most politically or intellectually radical scientists and scholars are conservatives of a kind.
One of the tips I offered about researching (see chapter 3) was to start with what’s already known. I said that this is what scientists and scholars routinely do. Before launching a study, they review the literature to find out what others have found previously. They might be skeptical about the methods, findings, or interpretations of their colleagues. They might think that previous work is flawed in some way. But the previous work isn’t ignored; it’s built on. That’s a form of conserving.
The kind of conserving I’m referring to—building on the past—is often obscured by emphasizing the new. After all, that’s what science and scholarship are supposed to produce: new findings, new concepts, new theories. The new is what matters, and so it gets the spotlight. But of course the new is findable only because knowledge of what’s been done before has been conserved. The tricky part is figuring out what should be conserved and what should be discarded or revised. When we figure this out, it’s fair to say that we’ve made progress.
We face a similar problem in everyday life. We encounter new facts and ideas, and then we must decide how to revise our current knowledge. Usually, we don’t want to hold on to what’s old if it’s clear—perhaps by performing some sort of experiment—that new ideas do a better job of explaining what we observe, or if new facts are more accurate and precise. At the same time, we don’t want to throw out what’s old just because what’s new seems hip or chic. So, like scientists and scholars, we have to figure out what’s worth conserving and what’s not.
The problem of deciding what to conserve goes beyond science, scholarship, and common sense; it’s not just a matter of knowledge but also of practices—the ways of doing things together to which we have become accustomed—and of material conditions: nature and the built environment. As we age, we are often asked to give up old, familiar practices in favor of new ones. Nature and the built environment are also constantly threatened or altered. In these matters, too, we must decide what to try conserving and what to let go.
It might seem odd, in a book about making change, to dwell on conserving, since conserving seems like resisting change. But making the world a better place doesn’t mean seeking change for change’s sake. It means trying to create a world in which there is more opportunity and less discrimination, more peace and less violence, more equality and less poverty, more democracy and less domination, more joy and less suffering. If this is what we mean by a better world, then we need to evaluate the likely consequences of proposed changes because some might make things worse. So it seems wise to look at the current situation to see what is working well and merits conserving.
Perhaps an example will help. Imagine that a computer company proposed to give electronic tablets to all students in a school district. Company representatives say, In today’s world, it’s never too soon to help children become sophisticated users of digital technology. By mastering this technology, children will become more independent learners and will be more competitive on the job market later in life. Digital platforms also allow teachers to use the newest methods to motivate students and help them learn at their own pace. Perhaps this sounds plausible, even exciting, to many teachers and administrators. After all, isn’t the latest technology the best? Doesn’t it always produce better results? Well, then, it should of course be used in schools.
But note what is missing from the pitch for new technology: proof that it yields better results, consideration of its possible harmful effects on teachers and students, consideration of environmental costs, consideration of benefits offered by old technology (e.g., books), and skepticism about the ulterior motives of the company. Without taking these matters into account, it would be impossible to make a wise choice about whether to adopt the new technology. In a rush to embrace the new, we might end up abandoning good things that still work well.
The problem we always face is how to choose the best of the old and the best of the new. Sociology doesn’t offer any formulas for doing this. Still, when we decide what to conserve and what to let go of, we can do it in a more sociologically mindful way, taking into account a wider range of potential consequences. This can improve our chances of conserving what is of value while also embracing change that is likely to make the world a better place. As I will suggest later, it can also improve the conversations we have about social change.
A Sociologically Mindful Approach to Conserving
I’m going to propose ways to think about the problem of what to conserve. Thinking along these lines doesn’t lead to any particular conclusions. The point is to encourage a more thoughtful approach to conserving and, by implication, to change. Having a common set of considerations—things we all might want to take into account—can also foster more constructive dialogue about what to conserve and why. Here, then, are some suggestions about what to consider when faced with the problem of deciding what to conserve and what to try to change.
Consider who benefits and who pays.
In the technology example (electronic tablets in schools) I used earlier, a promoter of the new technology might claim that its benefits outweigh its costs. But it’s important to consider who pays the costs and who gets the benefits. It might be that, by some overall calculation, benefits outweigh costs; but if all the benefits go to one party and all the costs are borne by another, then the new technology is likely to create or amplify inequality. Perhaps existing technologies or practices produce an equal sharing of costs and benefits. If so, this might be a reason for conserving those technologies and practices, or for trying to more fairly distribute the costs and benefits of what’s offered as new.
Consider external or hidden costs.
This means looking for non-obvious costs. New computer technologies, for example, often impose environmental costs on places far from where the technologies are used. The environment elsewhere might be damaged by mining for metals, pollution from new factories, increased energy extraction, and disposal of old devices. Because these costs are usually unseen by consumers, it can take some researching to become aware of them. Taking these external or hidden costs into account, we might look for ways to conserve existing technologies or practices that impose fewer costs. At the very least, we will be skeptical about claims that a new technology or practice will yield only benefits and no costs.
Consider possible unintended consequences.
The unintended consequences of change are hard to predict, but we can try to imagine, based on experience and research, what they might be. Electronic tablets, for example, might indeed make it easier for students to look up information, but they might also increase distraction in the classroom; discourage students from learning by making it seem that everything can be looked up online; disrupt nurturing relationships between teachers and students; and shift control of instruction from teachers to companies that care only about profits. If new technologies and practices seem likely to create these problems, then perhaps it would be better to stick with the old technologies and practices that don’t.
Consider more than efficiency.
Getting equally good or better results while expending less time, energy, effort, and money is generally desirable. But efficiency is not the only thing that makes society good and life worth living. We also value beauty, trust, solidarity, hope, compassion, neighborliness, and love—things that are hard to measure in terms of inputs and outputs. So we might ask, when considering new technologies and practices, how these other desirable features of human social life will be affected. If these less-tangible human goods are likely to be threatened by changes touted as “more efficient,” we might reasonably resist those changes, or look for ways to ensure that we don’t sacrifice many goods for a gain in only one.
Consider what is necessary to conserve and what is optional.
We can live without rotary telephones, typewriters, and film cameras. We can live without playing football, eating hamburgers, and going to the movies. Even though many people enjoy these technologies and practices, none of them is essential to our survival. On the other hand, we can’t live without breathable air and drinkable water. We can’t live without fertile soil in which to grow crops. Many people would argue that we can’t survive without the less-tangible goods mentioned in the previous paragraph. So when thinking about what to conserve, we should consider what is essential to our collective survival and what is not. If we don’t conserve the former, all our considering will come to a foreshortened end.
Consider repair and restoration.
Advertising encourages us to discard the old and replace it with the new, instead of thinking about how the old might be worth saving through repair or restoration. This throwaway attitude can affect our thinking not only about consumer goods but also about social arrangements. The result is a tendency to think about conserving in either/or terms—either we keep current arrangements as they are, or we replace them with something entirely new. Such thinking can lead people to take hardline positions, insisting on either no change or a complete overhaul. Neither position is realistic. What we might do instead is to consider how what now exists can be repaired or restored, if analysis reveals a need for fixing or improvement. Again, the goal is to hold on to what works and make it work better rather than try to reinvent the world from scratch.
Consider the lessons of the past.
The knowledge we have conserved about the past can be used to guide our thinking about the future. What has happened in the past, we might ask, when societies failed to conserve democratic practices? What has happened when they failed to conserve civilian control of the military? What has happened when they failed to conserve the laws that protect citizens from government surveillance? What has happened when they failed to conserve the food or energy sources on which their material life depended? People will draw different lessons from the past, and apply those lessons differently to the present, but this is not a reason to ignore the past. Anything that might help us see what’s at stake when we must decide what to conserve and what to change is worth a try.
The preceding considerations can be applied not only to changes in technology but also to changes in laws, policies, regulations, institutional practices, and cultural practices. When trying to assess the advisability of such changes, we can ask the same questions: Who will benefit and who will pay? What are the external or hidden costs? What are the possible unintended consequences? What is at stake besides efficiency? What is essential to conserve and what isn’t? Is repair or restoration an option? And what can the past tell us about our current situation? Asking these questions and weighing the answers doesn’t always prevent mistakes. All it ensures is more mindful participation in making history.
These same questions can be turned around and directed not only at proposed changes but also at the status quo. We can look at current laws, policies, and practices and ask, Who benefits? Who pays? What are the costs? and so on. Just as we can use these questions to think about what ought to be conserved, we can use them to think about what ought to be changed. If a few simple questions can do so much to help us rationally consider and discuss change, why is it still so hard to do this? Why does it cause so much conflict? The answer has to do with the struggle to conserve advantages in an unequal society.
Talking About What to Conserve
In highly unequal societies—those in which some people have far more wealth, status, and power than others—conversations about what to conserve are often fraught with fear and suspicion. People who currently enjoy advantages may fear, consciously or unconsciously, that change will deprive them of their advantages. People who seek change in pursuit of equality may suspect that every argument for conserving something masks a desire to retain power and privilege. These conditions make open and honest conversation difficult.
One partial solution to this problem is to organize conversations in ways that encourage analysis rather than argument. The considerations I put forth in the previous section can be used in this way. Each consideration can be the basis for a conversation about what to conserve and what to try to change. It is hard to hide ulterior motives and a desire to protect privilege if everyone agrees to use a set of analytic questions to better understand a situation. Too often, conversations about conserving and change go awry because the effort to develop understanding is bypassed as people rush to debate what’s right or wrong to do.
Drawing on a set of ideas about what to discuss can put a conversation on track. But how we participate is equally important. Focusing on analytic questions makes it harder to mask the defense of power and privilege, harder to avoid facing problems that need to be solved—harder but not impossible. Much depends on whether we participate in good faith, with a genuine desire to reach mutual understanding, or as debaters desiring to win. The latter approach tends to submerge conflict, not resolve it. Here is what we can do to overcome this problem.
Reflect on our investments in the status quo.
This means looking honestly at ourselves and asking why we want to conserve some law, policy, or practice. What’s at stake for us? Perhaps what we’re trying to conserve is not something that serves the common good, but something that serves mainly to make us feel virtuous, comfortable, or superior to others. If we aren’t honest with ourselves about this, we might try hard to defend arrangements that we know, deep down, are causing others to suffer. And it’s exactly this kind of unexamined defensiveness that can make conversation hard. If we reflect on our investments in the status quo, we can do a better job of balancing our interests in conserving against those of others who seek change. We can also put our conversational energy into seeking understanding and a way forward rather than into making self-serving arguments.
Listen and empathize.
In conversations about what to conserve and what to change, listening (see chapter 2) and empathizing (see chapter 6) are essential. This is because people come to these conversations with strong feelings about what’s right and wrong and about what should and shouldn’t be changed. The stronger the feelings, the more likely it is that a conversation will fail if people don’t listen and empathize. Doing these things doesn’t mean giving up one’s own feelings or beliefs, nor does it guarantee agreement. What listening and empathizing do is improve the chances of reaching mutual understanding, of seeing what’s at stake for everyone, and of devising creative solutions to the problem of what to conserve and what to change.
Keep looking for common ground.
People who embrace different political identities often really want the same things: safer, more neighborly communities; better educational and job opportunities for themselves and their children; more democratic and responsive government; affordable healthcare; a more equal distribution of wealth and power in society; and more mutual respect and fairness in everyday life. Ideally, conversations about change will reveal these common interests and shared values. But this is more likely to happen if there is intentional effort to find common ground, and so it’s what we should keep looking for, even amidst seemingly intractable differences. Finding this common ground can in turn create an opening to discuss what to do next—how to conserve what is good and how to make the good better.
Everyone interested in creating a better world wants to conserve some things and change others. Which means that we all face our own version of the problem of how to decide what to conserve and what to try to change. But of course we are not in this alone. As members of groups and communities, we must also negotiate competing, sometimes strongly conflicting, interests in conserving and changing different parts of the social world. The suggestions I’ve offered can perhaps help us do this with less strife. By taking a more mindful approach to conserving, we increase the chances of having the kind of conversations that make peaceful change possible.
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