Engineering and sustainability: control and care in unfoldings of modernity

Stirling, Andy (2020) Engineering and sustainability: control and care in unfoldings of modernity. In: Michelfelder, Diane P and Doorn, Neelke (eds.) The Routledge handbook of the philosophy of engineering. Routledge, London. ISBN 9781138244955

[img] PDF - Other
Restricted to SRO admin only

Download (343kB)


This chapter explores some underlying issues bearing on relationships between engineering and Sustainability. It aims to help point towards ways in which engineering practice might avoid some of the dangers associated with pressures and rhetorics of justification and legitimation, such as to become more robustly aligned with authentic values and interests of Sustainability. The key to this is to recognise some deep resonances around the central preoccupations of much instrumental-style engineering with attempted performances of control. For it is similar imaginations of control that characterise the presently globalising ‘infraculture’ of Modernity itself. And it is to the associated problems of failed efforts at control, that the Sustainability movement is a reaction. In order practically to resist the associated fixations, fallacies and fantasies of control both in engineering and Modernity more widely, it is suggested that a starting point lies in enacting a distinction between control and care. A number of examples are explored—for instance, around current responses to ‘climate change’ and visions of ‘the Anthropocene’—where controlling imaginations are aggravating progressive values and where more caring practices would be more supportive of Sustainability. At the end, the chapter critiques visions of transitions to Sustainability as relatively technical expert-led challenges of controlling progress in particular notionally singular, depoliticised directions. It is argued instead that a more caring approach might recognise the inherently diverse, political nature of Sustainability. Here, engineering is more about collective action than instrumental policy intervention—as just one among many ways to care for more plural, open-ended transformations.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Andrew Stirling
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2019 11:00
Last Modified: 25 Jan 2021 10:51

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update