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Environmental humanities and political ecology

Reading Group - A.A. 2016-2016 - I-II Semester



Title: Environmental humanities and political ecology

Conveners: Donatien Costa, Laura Volpi

Committed Students: Emiliano Tolusso, Emanuele Fabiano, Giorgio Masellis (maybe Luca Bianchi and Giacomo Mercuriali)

Abstract: Today, environmental studies in social sciences are flourishing and all disciplines are involved: anthropology of nature, environmental geography, philosophy of the environment, environmental history gives an example of this field in extension. In this reading group we will read some of the most representative texts of these environmental humanities. Our reading of these text will be based on four lines:

Environmental studies and “ecocriticism”: we are convinced that most of the part of these studies has a critic ambition and that every environmental thought must be critic. Nevertheless, is there a specificity of the environmental critic or does it proceed from theoretical instrument inherited from the critical tradition ? A priori, it's seems that concepts like injustice, alienation, misregnition, domination, exploitation, reification on which the critical tradition is based are useless to think about the ecological crisis because they seem to not include the exteriority of the social, that is nature. But is it really necessary to break up with this tradition of thought and, in fact, do the environmental studies really reject it? 

In order to figure it out, we will also ask which object is aimed at by the environmental criticism: The Anthropocentrism, that is, a kind of relationship between humanity and nature in which human is the only bearer of an intrinsic value and other non-human beings have just an instrumental value ? The modernity that is supposed to have transformed nature into a machine and divided nature and society ? Or is the industrial capitalism (that overwhelm the nineteen century's societies and their environment) the real object of the critics? 

Finally, since social conflictuality is closely tied with the critic, we will have to seriously pay attention to the environmental conflictuality.

Ecology and politics: facing the ecological crisis, our societies need to be transformed and consequently we are also convinced that ecology must be considered “politic”. Nevertheless, the question is, by what kind of ecological policies this transformation must be accomplished. It could be argued that, since only scientists are able to understand the ecological changes suffered by the modernity, a real ecological policy should be directed by the experts. But in this way of thinking, there is no room for democracy and the discussion, since common people are excluded from the decision. On the other hand, given the emergency and the extent of the crisis that our modern societies are experiencing, it seems natural that a radical transformation of the society (and, why not, the revolutionary option) must be considered. 

An environmental philosophy: unlike it is sometimes argued, philosophy has always dealt with objects like ‘nature’, ‘environment’, ‘animals’ and non-human beings’. So, is it possible to sound out philosophy in order to find some concepts and problems that could help us to build an environmental philosophy? Or is it necessary to make a clean break with this former philosophy which we should consider as anthropocentric. 

Environmental philosophy and social sciences: we think that these three first ambitions will be reached only by paying serious attention to the social sciences. Indeed, nobody can denied that in these ultimate decades social sciences have made an important contributions in understanding the interface between nature and society. That's why an environmental philosophy can't be sustained without a serious reading of these works that are intrinsically tied to the empirical reality. In this sense, interdisciplinarity will be an important dimension of this reading group.


Bookchin, M., The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Cheshire Books, Palo Alto, 1982

Charbonnier, P., La fin d’un grand partage, Paris, CNRS Éditions, 2015

Dardot, P., Laval, C., Communs, Essai sur la révolution au XXIe siècle (avec Pierre Dardot), La Découverte, 2014

Descola, P., Par-delà nature et culture, Paris, Gallimard, « Bibliothèque des sciences humaines », 2005.

Foster, B., J., Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature, Monthly Review Press, New york

Fressoz, J-B., L’apocalypse joyeuse. Une histoire du risque technologique, Paris, Le Seuil, 2012.

Gorz, A., Ecologica, Galilée, 2008.

Jonas, H., The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of Ethics for the Technological Age, trans. Hans Jonas and David Herr, University of Chicago Press, 1984

Guattari, F., Les trois écologies, 1989, Galilée, Paris.

Hache, E., Écologie politique. Cosmos, communautés, milieux, textes réunis et présentés par E. Hache, Paris, éditions Amsterdam, traduits de l'anglais par C. Leroy, 2012.

Harvey, D., The New Imperialism. New York, Oxford UP, 2003.

Larrère, C., and Larrère, R., Penser et agir avec la nature. une enquête philosophique (Paris, La Découverte, 2015).

Latour, B., Politiques de la nature. Comment faire entrer les sciences en démocratie, Paris, La Découverte, « Armillaire », 1999

Martinez-Alier J., The environmentalism of the poor : a study of ecological conflicts and valuation, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2002.

Polanyi, K., The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2nd ed. Foreword by Joseph E. Stiglitz; introduction by Fred Block. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.

Surrallés, A., & Hierro, P., G., The Land Within. Indigenous Territory and the Perception of the Environment, Copenhague, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

Viveiros de Castro, E., Metaphysiques Cannibales, Ed Metaphysiques, Puf, 2009.

11 November 2016
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