“Cultural studies” refers to the study of cultural objects, meanings, and processes, and their production and use in contemporary society. It is an interdisciplinary field with a twin commitment to intellectual rigor and social relevance. While the “rigor” piece sometimes means “objectivity,” often it involves a questioning of the assumption that objectivity and subjectivity can be easily distinguished and kept separate; studying culture, in other words, is hardly possible without some level of engagement in culture, which raises ethical issues for those doing the studying. The “relevance” piece means an applicability to real-world situations – an applicability that often means critique but that also intends to promise action towards change for the better (which generally means toward the more democratic and socially just).
So what about green cultural studies? Even though not all “natural” environments are green (in arid countries their predominant color is arguably brown; in marine environments, blue; in arctic environments, white), “green” has generally come to signify a commitment to environmental/ecological politics. Its application to the study of culture is intended in this vein. “Green cultural studies” describes the study of cultural objects, meanings, and actions with an eye and ear for their implications for environmental politics, that is, for understanding and improving the relations between people and the places, landscapes, and multi-species ecological relations they find themselves enmeshed within.
The green political spectrum is a big tent. It includes biocentric or ecocentric deep ecologists, ecofeminists, social ecologists and bioregionalists, eco-socialists and eco-anarchists, environmental justice activists, anthropocentric pragmatists, and liberal and even conservative environmentalists (including those who favor market over state mechanisms, or who favor conservation of “traditional” cultural values and institutions alongside the conservation of ecological relations). Green politics overlaps with and engages in dialogue with numerous other political perspectives; likewise, green cultural studies has developed close, though frequently contested and contentious, links with feminism(s), socialism(s), postcolonialism(s), poststructuralism(s), critical race theory, queer and sexuality studies, and other perspectives within cultural theory and politics.
The emerging field of green cultural studies has poked its head in many places, including at conferences (such as Cultures and Environments, Nature Matters, the biennial ASLE conferences, and the Environment and Culture Caucus of the American Studies Association) and in journals of environmental studies (such as Ethics Place and Environment, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Organization and Environment, The Trumpeter, Cultural Geographies, and Capitalism Nature Socialism) and of cultural studies (such as Cultural Studies, New Formations, and Topia). As a relatively new and poorly defined field, green cultural studies also overlaps significantly with ecocriticism and environmental communication.
Some representative texts in the field include:
Laurence Coupe’s The Green Studies Reader
William Cronon’s Uncommon Ground
Andrew Ross’s Strange Weather
Jhan Hochman’s Green Cultural Studies
Sean Cubitt’s Ecomedia
Tom Jagtenburg and David McKie’s Eco-Impacts and the Greening of Postmodernity
Julia Corbett’s Communicating Nature
Robert Cox’s Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere.