Denaturalizing Ecological Politics

Denaturalizing Ecological Politics: Alienation from Nature from Rousseau to the Frankfurt School and Beyond

ANDREW BIRO
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 270
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442673830
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    Denaturalizing Ecological Politics
    Book Description:

    The possibility of bringing the insights of modern political theory to bear on the problems of human ecology has long been plagued by disagreements over the category of nature itself. But withDenaturalizing Ecological Politics, Andrew Biro has found a way of rescuing environmentalism from the ideological trap of naturalism.

    Biro develops an environmental political theory that takes seriously both the materiality of the ecological crises generated by industrial and post-industrial society and the anti-foundationalist critiques of 'nature' developed in postmodern social theory. He argues that the theoretical basis for ecological politics can be better advanced through the lens of alienation from nature, sidestepping some of the pitfalls of debates over conceptions of nature itself.

    Biro traces the development of the concept of alienation from nature through four modern political thinkers - Rousseau, Marx, Adorno, and Marcuse - each of whom are read as arguing that human beings are not biologically separate from the rest of nature, but are nevertheless historically differentiated from it through the self-conscious transformation of the natural environment. In so doing, Biro provides the starting point for a 'denaturalized' rethinking of ecological politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7383-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Nature or ‘Nature’? Ecological Politics and the Postmodern Condition
    (pp. 3-11)

    In an often cited phrase, Raymond Williams begins a definition of ‘nature’ by stating that it ‘is perhaps the most complex word in the English language’ (Williams 1976,184). And as a host of recent writers have made clear, it has become especially troublesome of late. On the one hand, recent social and political theory has worked very hard to insist that claims about ‘nature’ are necessarily mediated by culturally specific prejudices: that when we talk about ‘nature,’ we are really only talking about our particular society’s ideas about nature. In this sense, appeals to ‘nature’ can be seen as inherently...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Ecocentrism and the Defence of Nature
    (pp. 12-32)

    It should be noted at the outset that not all ‘environmentalist’ thought points to the need to thoroughly transform contemporary society. Indeed, given that support for ‘environmental’ issues is currently embraced by a large proportion of the population, at least some varieties of ‘environmentalism’ must sit quite comfortably with social conservatism. As Timothy Luke observed in the 1990s: ’Many major corporations now feel moved to proclaim how much “every day is Earth Day” in their shop, what a meaningful relationship they have with nature, or why their manufactures are produced with constant care for the planet’s biosphere’ (1997,116). On the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Postmodernism: The Critique of ‘Nature’
    (pp. 33-58)

    InPostmodernism and the Environmental Crisis- in fact, in the first sentence of the book’s opening chapter - Arran Gare observes: The Modern- Day Dictionary of Received Ideas says of “postmodernism”: “This word has no meaning. Use it as often as possible.” With a few notable exceptions, cultural theorists have been following this advice” (1995,4). This simulacric definition of the postmodern (the internal quotation is attributed not to any original text titledThe Modern-Day Dictionary of Received Ideas, but to a journal article, citing a newspaper review) provides a useful point of departure, and not only for the way...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Modernity and the Historicization of Alienation
    (pp. 59-82)

    The distinction between nature and convention is a theme that runs back to the beginnings of Western philosophy. The choice of Jean- Jacques Rousseau as the historical starting point for this particular analysis might therefore seem an arbitrary or even misguided one. One could certainly find thinkers predating Rousseau who at least on the surface address ecological issues more explicitly. But as the two previous chapters have sought to show, what seems to be required is a way of thinking about the human relationship with nature that does not force us into choosing nature at the expense of convention or...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Karl Marx: Objectification and Alienation under Capitalism
    (pp. 83-116)

    If Rousseau’s discussion in theSecond Discourseshowed the problems inherent in attempting to trace the origins of alienation, Marx is even more emphatic in his problematization of this type of historical narrative. In the ‘1844 Manuscripts,’¹ Marx points out the ideological function these narratives serve:

    We must avoid repeating the mistake of the political economist, who bases his explanations on some imaginary primordial condition. Such a primordial condition explains nothing. It simply pushes the question into the grey and nebulous distance. It assumes as facts and events what it is supposed to deduce, namely the necessary relationship between two...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Theodor W. Adorno: From Udeis to Utopia
    (pp. 117-159)

    As we have seen, Marx built his contribution to the concept of alienation on his noticing Hegel’s failure to distinguish between objectification and alienation. By the end of the last chapter, however, we had noted that such a distinction raises some problems of its own. In particular, it seems to presuppose a particularity about capitalist society and the way in which capitalist social relations are constructed and reinforced: it is not only that labour’s ‘abstract’ character under capitalism allows for ideological critique to point to the ways in which seemingly ‘natural’ relations are in fact socially constructed, but also that...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Herbert Marcuse: Basic and Surplus Alienation
    (pp. 160-196)

    The final theorist to be considered in depth here is Herbert Marcuse, who offers the possibility of a more ‘positive’ elaboration of the dialectic of enlightenment and the vicissitudes of conceptual thinking that were explored in the preceding chapter. More specifically, this chapter will take Marcuse’s seminal distinction between ‘basic’ and ‘surplus’ repression and show that the basic-surplus trope can be applied to a number of problematics beyond that of psychological repression. Treating the trope in such a modular fashion will allow us, finally, to develop and clarify a distinction between basic and surplus alienation from nature. This approach, whose...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Denaturalizing Ecological Politics
    (pp. 197-218)

    The previous four chapters have sought to open the terrain of alienation from nature, seeing this as a useful location from which to think about the problems of ecological politics in a postmodern (or postnatural) age. In an era in which a widely professed commitment to ‘sustainable development’ sits rather comfortably beside the voracious consumption of non-renewable resources and a related intensification of stark social inequalities, what seems to be needed is an ecological politics that is ‘denaturalized,’ or that does not rely on an abstract, reified, ‘antisocial’ conception of nature. Before any concluding reflections, however, and before a return...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 219-230)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-244)
  14. Index
    (pp. 245-250)