The Roots of Technological OptimismA Foucauldian Critique of the Economics of Climate Change

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Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date25 Mar 2013
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This thesis is a critique of the technological optimism of climate change economics, the basis for climate change policies world-wide. It utilises a Foucauldian genealogy – a form of critique that deploys history strategically – to show how the “truth” of the present was produced under very particular circumstances, circumstances not at all in conformity with the notion of progressive, scientific discovery. Using this methodology, I am able to chart the process by which economists became experts on technological change. I show how, in Adam Smith, technological change first became predictable, and locate the cause in Smith’s pantheistic theology. The subject Smith creates, homo oeconomicus, is rendered entirely knowable, as is her ingenuity. She acts in ways uniformly predictable and positive, as long as she is left free from government interference. This motors the vision of harmonious progress that thereafter becomes the rationality of the discipline, what I call negative progress. Moreover, it is this subject, translated into two growth theories, that lies at the heart of climate change economics. The major conclusions and contributions of the thesis are, firstly, that an underlying metaphysics is in fact what allows economists to speak “truth” about the future of technological change; and secondly, that the optimism of the resulting projections is made possible only as a result of the divine essence at the heart of economic man