Graf, R.Behavioral control beyond market and morality – The environmental debate in the Federal Republic of Germany and the USA in the last third of the 20th century

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Rüdiger Graf

Release date:
July 2018

Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 66, Issue 3, pages 435–462

For several years both national governments as well as international organisations are increasingly discussing political management tools which rely on findings of the behavioural sciences. Unlike rules, economic incentives and awareness-raising measures, so-called nudges especially promise gentle, effective and cost-efficient management by exploiting the systematic distortion of human decision-making behaviour. While the current nudging euphoria can mostly be traced back to the rise of behavioural economics since the 1980s, the current article argues that simultaneously discussions of ecological regulation exhibited a similar development. During the 1980s, disappointment that greater environmental awareness did not result in more adequate behaviour towards the environment and the recognition of the limits of economic management instruments led to the rise of “environmental conduct” as an independent category which social and behavioural scientists sought to describe and influence. This simultaneous change of the discourse in both the field of political regulation as well as theoretical reflection is traced back to four factors: the academic success story of the behavioural sciences, the disenchantment with idealised presumptions of rationality and the project of science-driven policy, the change of planning culture as well as the processes of deregulation and marketisation.

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