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modern democracies

Each also carries its own mechanisms of legitimation, including discourses of valid seeing and practices of consensus building. The first is the view from nowhere. This is the gaze of science as traditionally imagined: impartial, objective, seeing or making sense of facts as if from a neutral viewpoint that renders what is seen devoid of distortion and human bias. The second is the view from everywhere. This is the typical gaze of expert advisory bodies in modern democracies, claiming to represent all relevant aspects of the problem put before them, and capable of aggregating them into a credible, reliable whole. The third, and least conventionally scientific, is the view from somewhere. This is the subjective gaze of the eyewitness, and even more the experienced knower, who has not only seen but possibly endured in person the consequences of the facts attested to. Here, legitimacy derives from discourses of authenticity and, often, suffering. What counts as good data within each regime of seeing, counting, and accounting for depends on prior normative choices about such matters as what is worth recording, who is best positioned to collect and report data, and what forms of analysis and representation are taken to be compelling.

Building on this base, I trace three ways in which the “global environment” emerged as an actionable object for law and policy in the last quarter of the 20th century, along with new modes of counting and accountability. Climate change provides a paradigmatic case, as a global environmental phenomenon constituted through data, and through the proliferation of data institutions and instruments that have underwritten this issue of common human concern. Using contrasting examples from the United States, India, and Europe, I explore what is at stake when different modes of “seeing” phenomena such as climate change come into contact and, occasionally, conflict. Whose seeing counts, under which rules of the game, and what gets relegated to the margins of invisibility and inaction?