The Accidental Postmodernists: A New Era of Skepticism in Environmental Policy

65 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2014

See all articles by Shi-Ling Hsu

Shi-Ling Hsu

Florida State University - College of Law

Date Written: February 18, 2014


Environmental law and policy conflicts seem to have entered a new phase. The emergence of complex problems such as climate change and of complex technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and genetic modification have created new political and legal schisms that no longer break down predictably along "pro-environment" versus "pro-business" lines. Rather, a new era of skepticism seems to be taking hold in which antagonists spar over the epistemic legitimacy of certain claims made in support of a policy position. Environmental law and policy conflicts thus divide antagonists into two camps: self-styled positivists – scientists (physical, chemical, biological, and social) and environmental postmodernists, who seek to undermine the legitimacy of the positivists.

Environmental postmodernists urge us to take a skeptical look at the claims of self-styled positivists, because they suspect their epistemic claims are part of an attempt to gerrymander environmental law. Some environmental postmodernists challenge the use of cost-benefit analysis, and others are climate skeptics, who contest the prevailing concern over global climate change. These new schisms produce strange bedfellows, but environmental postmodernists share a common objective of creating doubt and skepticism.

I argue that environmental postmodernism can make a contribution: it can highlight dangerous policy situations in which a concentration of esoteric information can generate a power imbalance, and it can highlight the usefulness of transparency measures aimed only making information more publicly accessible and otherwise broadening process inputs. If this is the upshot of environmental postmodernism, it will have articulated a policy means of power diffusion, and therefore gone beyond the failures of Twentieth-century, post-structuralist postmodernism.

Keywords: postmodernism, environmental law

Suggested Citation

Hsu, Shi-Ling, The Accidental Postmodernists: A New Era of Skepticism in Environmental Policy (February 18, 2014). FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 671, Available at SSRN: or

Shi-Ling Hsu (Contact Author)

Florida State University - College of Law ( email )

425 W. Jefferson Street
Tallahassee, FL 32306
United States


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