Tag Archive: ontology


Reading about the growing “transition towns” movement back to back with a read-through of Design Philosophy Papers’ latest issue on Bataille and “Inefficient Sustainability” has gotten me thinking about some of the unspoken premises that make their way into environmentalists’ prognostications of the future.

The transition towns movement began in Totnes, England, home of the Schumacher Society, and was spurred into motion in part from permaculturist Rob Hopkins’ work on transitioning to a sustainable economy, but it has now spread to hundreds of towns, villages, cities, and regions in the UK, US, Ireland, Canada, and elsewhere. Drawing from permaculture founder David Holmgren’s modeling of energy transitions and associated crises, Eco-Mag’s Future Scenarios issue offers a particularly useful and concise synopsis of four possible futures, intended to be taken up in transition town salons and community forums and to help guide in the development of local transition plans and sustainability policies. The four scenarios are distinguished by differential rates of fossil-fuel energy decline (slow or fast) and of climate change symptoms (mild or severe) and by people’s responses to these changes. The general idea is that human use of oil and other fossil fuels is “peaking” and we need to transition toward more sustainable power sources, but that these aren’t readily available; they require more systematic social, political, technological, and economic changes than most are prepared to work toward; and any transition will be marked by the effects of climate changes already, to some extent, set in motion.

The four scenarios are “Brown Tech: Top Down Constriction”, where slow energy decline rates accompanied by severe climate change symptoms allow for aggressive “resource nationalism” and centralized government and corporate investment to prevail, but with wars and chaos looming in the background; “Green Tech: Distributed Powerdown,” where slow energy decline rates and mild climate change symptoms allow for greater diversity of responses at multiple scales, including strengthened “cultures of place”, distributed energy economies, and the like (this is perhaps a best-case scenario); “Earth Steward: Bottom Up Rebuild,” in which rapid energy declines but mild climate change symptoms bring about financial and economic shock, reduction of mobility, increases in crime, malnutrition, and disease, and a hollowing out of cities, but also the rise of a kind of quasi-feudal, neo-monastic ecodecentralism rising up in the ruins (akin to what Theodore Roszak described back in his 1970s Person/Planet); and “Lifeboats: Civilization Triage,” a kind of worst-case scenario where rapid energy decline accompanied by severe climate change leads to global breakdown, significant population decline, and the abandonment of cities, but with “oasis agriculture” and regional survivalism helped out by new opportunities — such as by the creation of “highly productive shallow waters and estuaries” in and around the “complex reef structures” made possible by urban architectures newly flooded in coastal lowlands around the world. (I love it.)

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The philosophical movement increasingly known as Speculative Realism is starting to get attention in these parts of town (the town being Academe, or at least its digital suburbs, and these parts being its ecocritical/biocultural/animaphilic ghettoes). News about the forthcoming re.press anthology, The Speculative Turn: Continental Realism and Materialism, has been circulating for a few days now. The publisher’s blurb announces that

“Continental philosophy has entered a new period of ferment. The long deconstructionist era was followed with a period dominated by Deleuze, which has in turn evolved into a new situation still difficult to define. However, one common thread running through the new brand of continental positions is a renewed attention to materialist and realist options in philosophy. [...] All of [the authors represented] elaborate a positive ontology [...]. [...] the new currents of continental philosophy depart from the text-centered hermeneutic models of the past and engage in daring speculations about the nature of reality itself.”

Scu at Critical Animal posted several beginners’ questions to the movement on Friday, and both Levi Bryant, a.k.a. Larval Subjects, and Graham Harman, a.k.a. Dr. Zamalek posted responses Saturday (Bryant’s providing the more detailed and, for Harman, “perfectly” agreeable replies). The speed of their responses shouldn’t surprise us; Scu aptly begins his post with the phrase “For an intellectual movement that has such a strong internet presence”… Indeed they do, as Paul Ennis at anotherheideggerblog points out, calling them “the first truly digital” philosophical movement, for the extent of online conversation and open access publication that goes on in the SR milieu.

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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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About this blog

An online space for environmental cultural theory, this weblog has two primary objectives:

(1) To communicate about issues at the intersection of ecological, political, and cultural thought and practice, especially at the interdisciplinary junctures forming in and around the fields of ecocriticism , green cultural studies, political ecology, environmental communication, ecophilosophy, and related areas (biosemiotics, geophilosophy, social nature, poststructuralist and liberation ecologies, zoontologies, urbanatures, animist liberation theologies — invent your own neologisms); and

(2) To contribute to the development of a non-dualist understanding of nature/culture, mind/body, spirit/matter, structure/agency, and worldly relations in general. Dualisms aren’t inherently bad, but these ones have become stultifying; they contribute to the log-jam in which environmental thinking has been caught for too long. To this end, the blog is interested in philosophies of process, ontologies of immanence and becoming, and epistemologies of participation, relation, and dialogue – that is, ways of understanding and acting that take ideas and practices, bodies and minds, subjects and objects, perceptions and representations, agency and structure, to be fundamentally inseparable, creative, and always in motion. The blog will be a place where non-dual mind (/body, subject/object) meets non-dual world (nature/culture), or where rigpa meets anima.

(For more on these topics, see the posts on immanence, immanent naturalism, rigpa and anima, geophilosophy, green cultural studies, between Continental and environmental philosophy, and the “P-R Theory 101″ links in the right-hand column.)

The blog aims to be a useful resource for scholars, graduate students, and the interested public. As the boundary between scholarship and the wider world of public thinking gets ever more more blurred thanks to digital technology, the distinction between lay and scholarly loses its cogency. The original idea was for the blog to serve as a forum for thinking in and around the Environmental Thought and Culture Graduate Concentration at the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont. The broadening described here is an outgrowth of that.

A blog, like an idea, is only successful to the extent that it germinates, grows, connects, and takes on a life of its own. This one began as one person’s (self-) prod to think out loud and to forge connections in thought, word, and image. To what extent it grows beyond that will become evident over time.

For a summary of the blog’s first year, see here; and of the second year, here.

This version updated (slightly) on December 9, 2010 (after the migration of the blog to WordPress).

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An excellent source of current philosophical thinking on issues related to this blog from an Asian perspective (primarily Buddhist and Daoist) is the International Journal for Field-Being, which is published by the International Institute for Field-Being. “Field-being” is one of the terms Asian thinkers (and translators) have used to encompass a kind of non-essentialist ontology of process, flow, and becoming. Among other thinkers broached in the journal, Western philosophers including Whitehead, Bergson, Heidegger, Derrida, and Dewey have figured prominently.