Dayna Casey: Epistemic Anxiety: Disembodied Objectivity and the Oscillating Climate Sceptic


Advisor/tutor:  Rachel O'Reilly

December 2020


This thesis explores the role of modernist disembodied scientific objectivity and capitalist discourses of risk in the creation of the oscillating aesthetic subject of climate scepticism. It attempts to critically examine how scientific (un)certainty and objectivity is established or, most crucially, exploited. I do this in order to set out what is at stake for proposing feminist challenges to techno-scientific climate science and its representation that incorporate plural knowledges, wary of exacerbating climate change denialism. By exploiting uncertainty, climate science was framed as a left-wing conspiracy by protagonists from the fossil fuel industry, in order to maintain corporate power and continue neocolonial extraction. I argue that while trust in climate science is crucial for perpetuating consensus, the knowledge produced by it is structured by masculinist, universalising ideological power relations that rely on Newtonian, modernist logics. Consequently, by remaining within these logics, and responding with technocratic and financialised mitigation techniques to the climate crisis, it reinforces status quo social injustices. Simultaneously, it contributes to the neoliberal climate sceptic subjectivity, creating states of oscillation, paralysis and anxiety. I set up my argument by analysing the main communicator of fossil-induced global warming — the “hockey stick” graph — by means of historical epistemic virtues of objectivity and their ideological relations (Daston and Galison, Haraway), and the political infrastructures of doubt (Oreskes and Conway), before turning towards capitalist discourses of risk intertwined with affect theory (Berlant, Dibley and Neilson). 

In response to the discursive detachment of the climate sceptic’s neoliberal subjectivity, I propose to look to a form of objectivity that challenges these disembodied logics, to put forward an imaginary that is inseparable from fossil fuel-dominated neoliberal infrastructures and other (non)human entities. It suggests that a non-global conceptual shift is necessary for the climate sceptic, through a quantum post-human form of agency that functions plurally, at a local and situated scale, while simultaneously addressing the urgency of its intra-related social injustices. Fundamental here is an agential realist onto-epistemology based on quantum physics (Barad, Knox), that allows space for ecofeminist, anti-racial and post-colonial epistemological interventions to climate science knowledge production, and its communication (Israel and Sachs, Yusoff, Spivak, Haraway). 

This thesis spans across science history and philosophy, (eco)feminist epistemologies, affect theory, quantum philosophy and post-colonial theory.