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2.2 Changing Discourses: The Organization-Environment Interface

In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas Kuhn, an American physicist, historian, and philosopher of science, talked about paradigms and paradigm shifts. Kuhn defined a scientific paradigm as “universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners” (p. 10). A paradigm shapes what is observed, the questions asked in relationship to the subject, how these questions are structured, how answers are sought, how results are interpreted, and what solutions are preferred. Paradigm shifts can occur swiftly or incrementally. It is common to see a mix of old and new paradigms as old ideas are challenged.

In the USA, over time people challenged the prevailing view of the human– environment interface resulting in four antagonisms (Cox 2013). These antagonisms involved preservation or conservation (newer paradigm) vs. human exploitation of nature (older paradigm); human health (newer paradigm) vs. unregulated business and pollution of our air, water, and soil (older paradigm); environmental justice (newer paradigm) vs. nature as separate from where we live and work (older paradigm); and sustainability and climate justice (newer paradigm) vs. unsustainable social and economic systems (older paradigm).

The belief systems reflected within paradigms are built up, reinforced, and changed by the Discourses flowing in a given society. A Discourse is a system of statements made about aspects of our world which carry a set of assumptions, prejudices, and insights—all of which are historically based and limit the consideration of other alternatively valid statements (Ashcroft et al. 1998). Messages occurring at meta-levels (e.g., internationally, nationally, professionally) reflecting these Discourses influence how people communicate about sustainability within and between organizations (Olausson 2011). Talk and text appearing in corporate annual reports, public speeches, news articles, and advertisements can be analyzed to show the larger societal Discourses. In the next section, after discussing paradigms briefly, the discussion turns to some of the major Discourses taking place in industrialized societies about the organization–environment interface. Although the sustainability Discourse is a dominant and growing Discourse, sometimes Discourses clash. Criticisms of the sustainability Discourse are introduced.

 
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