Tag Archive: cultural studies


One of the impressive recent efforts to bring the physical sciences and the social sciences and humanities back onto “consilient” speaking terms (to use E. O. Wilson’s terminology, though his own efforts at this have been unimpressive) is Wendy Wheeler’s The Whole Creature: Complexity, Biosemiotics and the Evolution of Culture. Wheeler is a humanist, an English lit specialist whose work emerges out of the Raymond Williams tradition of British cultural studies, and her foray into biosemiotics and complexity science is highly original and ambitious. She’s an editor at British Left-political cultural studies journal New Formations , having produced special issues on complexity and ecocriticism in recent years. Complexity research has been making some waves in sociological and cultural theory circles for a while now (e.g., in Theory Culture & Society), but biosemiotics is more of a newcomer on these intellectual (humanistic/culturological) shores. The book is blurbed by leading biosemiotician Jesper Hoffmeyer, author of, among other things, Signs of Meaning in the Universe (Indiana U. Press, 1996).

While I’ve only read parts of the book (and a few outtakes in other venues) and am not qualified to comment on its use of complexity theory or biosemiotics, it’s heartening to see Donald Favareau’s very favorable extended review, “Understanding Natural Constructivism” in Semiotica, which has been a leading venue for biosemiotic research and theory for several years. I strongly recommend it both as a summary of Wheeler’s book and as an introduction to biosemiotics.

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Green cultural studies

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

and

Robert Cox’s Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere.