Research

Published and Forthcoming Work

Amironesei, Razvan and Caleb Scoville (Equal Authorship). “Opposing California’s WaterFix: The Trump Administration and the Future of Environmental Advocacy.” Ethics, Policy, and Environment 21.1 (2018): 29-33. [read online]

Scoville, Caleb and Neil Fligstein. “The Promise of Field Theory for the Study of Political Institutions.” In The New Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Parties, Movements, Citizenship and Globalization edited by Thomas Janoski, Cedric DeLeon, Joy Misra, and Isaac Martin, Forthcoming 2018, Cambridge University Press.

Scoville, Caleb. “‘We Need Social Scientists!’ The Allure and Assumptions of Economistic Optimization in Applied Environmental Science.” Science as Culture 26.4 (2017): 468-480. [read online]

Scoville, Caleb. “George Orwell and Ecological Citizenship: Moral Agency and Modern Estrangement.” Citizenship Studies 20.6-7 (2016): 830-845. [read online]

Scoville, Caleb. “Reclaiming Water Politics: California’s Drought and the Eclipse of the Public.” Berkeley Journal of Sociology 59 (2015): 35-43. [read online] [republished by The Hampton Institute]

 

Works Under Review

“Hydraulic Society and ‘A Stupid Little Fish: Toward a Historical Ontology of the Nonhuman” (Manuscript Under Review)

  • Jane Goodall Award for Graduate Student Scholarship, Animals & Society Section, American Sociological Association
  • Herbert Blumer Prize for Best Paper Written by a Berkeley Sociology Student
  • Leo Lowenthal Prize, awarded to a UC Berkeley graduate student whose research is in the spirit of Professor Lowenthal’s work

This article develops a “historical ontology of the nonhuman,” whereby the objectification of nonhuman beings is both a consequence and contributor to social transformation. Changes in concrete human-nonhuman relations — and specifically, the way that the nonhuman environment is instrumentalized — facilitate the emergence of new objects of knowledge. These objects allow actors to make claims and form coalitions in efforts to transform the very human-nonhuman relations that produced them. An illustrative case study of the delta smelt, an endangered species of fish caught in the center of California’s “water wars,” shows how shifting ways of instrumentalizing the nonhuman environment produce new knowledge of nature that allows actors to make claims and form coalitions that would be otherwise inconceivable. Because its sole habitat is the hub of California’s hydraulic infrastructure, efforts to save the delta smelt from extinction have reduced flows to farms and cities, fomenting ongoing conflict between environmentalists and water users. This article demonstrates that the classification of the delta smelt as a species — a condition of possibility of the conflict surrounding its endangerment — arose directly from the reengineering of California’s hydrology for extractive ends. Ironically, in this case, the knowledge of nature that environmental advocates relied upon to make credible claims was a direct product of the human-nonhuman relations they sought to transform.

“Groundwater in California: From Juridical Object to Biosecurity Apparatus” with Razvan Amironesei (Revise and Resubmit at Theory, Culture and Society)

This article analyzes the emergence of a new political rationality of groundwater in contemporary California. It does so by contrasting a juridical model of groundwater governance exemplified in crucial 20th century decisions in California case law with a “biosecurity apparatus,” operative in the case of the Orange County Water District. Drawing on Foucault, this analysis articulates a “biopolitics of nature,” an approach which is distinct from environmental research in the critical theory and phenomenological traditions. The case is analyzed along the axes of collective subjectivity, temporality and space, opening to a novel way of conceptualizing the relation between power and nature.

 

Current Projects

“Facing Extinction in California’s Delta: Science, Law, and the Morality of Endangered Species Conservation” (Working Paper)

How do science and law interact in the context of human responses to accelerating nonhuman extinction? Focusing on the case of the delta smelt, one of the most controversial endangered species in the contemporary United States, this article presents law and science as distinct but entangled moral domains. Disambiguating between two components of social morality, (1) substantive values (the “why”), and (2) conceptual repertoires (the “what”), it reconciles competing claims about science and law’s essential opposition and mutual constitution. First, the case illustrates how law can place a wedge between the substantive values and conceptual repertoires of science. Since the delta smelt’s Endangered Species Act listing, law has pushed conservation scientists to focus disproportionately on the species, contrary to their overarching concern for ecosystem health. This substantive determination was not a simple subjugation of science to the will of law. Instead, coordination was facilitated by the delta smelt’s constitution as an “indicator species” for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem as a whole, which allowed the species to operate as a “strategic moral boundary object,” a substantive bridge between the moral domains of science and law. As the delta smelt has approached extinction in the wild, however, this status has broken down, as demonstrated in the contentious status of laboratory-raised fish, and in scientists’ deliberations and policy recommendations over the proper legal definition of extinction. The article concludes by suggesting that as the anthropocene condition deepens, moral conflicts over nature between science and law will likely become more pronounced.

“The Global Diffusion of Field Theory” with Neil Fligstein (Manuscript in Preparation)

“Sociology of or Beyond Good and Evil? Bourdieu and Foucault on Freedom” (Manuscript in Preparation)

“Ontology: Historical, Social, Moral, Political” with Razvan Amironesei (Manuscript in Preparation)

“Becoming a Natural Instrument: Metis, Mimesis and Polemos in Contemporary Technology” with Razvan Amironesei and Olivier Clain (Project Stage)

“Science, Reflexivity, and Autonomy” with Santiago Molina (Project Stage)

“Sovereign Credit Ratings and Moral Classifications” with Marion Fourcade (Project Stage)

EVENT: “The Hydraulic Society, Revisited,” April 21st 2017, UC Berkeley

Coordinated with Andrew Lakoff (University of Southern California)
Friday, April 21st 2017, University of California, Berkeley
What is California’s relationship with water today? In this one-day workshop we will forge a conversation about how social scientific and humanistic research can help us address this question. Thirty-five years ago, the environmental historian Donald Worster described California as “a modern hydraulic society – a social order founded on the intensive management of water.” The issues that motivated Worster’s political, economic, and ecological analysis remain relevant: the reliance of commercial agriculture and municipal growth on ongoing diversions, the relationship between economic interests and bureaucratic imperatives, the shared fate of humans and their natural environment, and the vulnerability of a civilization dependent on technologies for importing water. However, our relation to water has also evolved significantly in recent decades. One cannot understand water in California today without addressing topics such as: the entanglement of endangered species conservation and water policy, the proliferation of new groundwater management institutions and technologies, the institutionalization of adaptive management regimes, the specters of anthropogenic climate change and seismic vulnerability, and the increasing salience and visibility of environmental justice concerns. In this workshop, we will revisit the “hydraulic society thesis” in order to assess its promises and limitations in light of our own research on water in California. With Worster’s classic formulation as a shared point of departure, we will convene a diverse group of scholars in the social sciences and humanities to forge a new multi-faceted agenda for understanding California’s relationship with water.

Politics, Ethics, Ontology: An Inquiry into the Ontologies of Nature

Collaborative Research Group at the Institute of Arts and Humanities with Razvan Amironesei, Ike Sharpless, and Jacob Hellman