Historical Social Research

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Laura Centemeri: From Public Participation to Place-Based Resistance. Environmental Critique and Modes of Valuation in the Struggles against the Expansion of the Malpensa Airport. [Abstract]

Through an analysis of the 40-year history of conflicts triggered by the repeated attempts to expand the Malpensa airport in northern Italy, this paper seeks to show the heuristic strength of using the concept of modes of valuation of the environment to discuss the transformations of environmental critique over time in their relation to social change. I argue that, beyond empirical specifics, the trajectory witnessed in this case – from public participation to place-based resistance – reflects more generalized dynamics that can be found in many other conflicts over large infrastructural projects in contemporary Europe. The article is organized as follows: in the first section I briefly introduce the concept of modes of valuation of the environment, which is inspired by recent work in pragmatic sociology. In particular, I distinguish between universal, local, and emplaced modes of valuation. In the second and third sections I provide an analysis of the struggles against the Malpensa airport expansion from 1970 to 2014. Here, I distinguish three phases of mobilization, which I discuss in terms of the transformations that can be observed in the arguments that actors develop to fight or support the airport expansion. I argue that these transformations are articulated not only with changing action repertoires but also with evolving social and sociotechnical imaginaries that convey specific understandings of the environment as a matter of political concern. This analysis shows that, far from being simply a case of citizens’ resistance to change, the mobilization against the Malpensa airport has contributed to producing the cultural basis of an increased collective reflexivity about the many values that the environment takes on among community members in the airport region. In the final section I discuss some hypotheses concerning what modes of valuation of the environment reveal about the emergence of a new radicalism in environmental struggles.

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