Tag Archive: social nature


What books, published over the last ten years, have contributed most cogently and profoundly to our thinking about the relationship between culture and nature, ecology and society? (That’s to name just two of the dualisms this blog regularly throws into question.) Who have been the most important ecocultural theorists so far this century? And which are the most important publishers in this area?

Below is a highly subjective “top 10″ (sort of) of the books that have most influenced my own thinking on these issues. It aims for a certain representativeness, a balance between the rigorously theoretical and the  theorized-applied, the established names and the new, and between the many fields and styles of thinking I’m aiming to encompass on such a list.

This is followed by a longer list of some 50 additional nominees. These include books that almost made the top ten and others that I haven’t read yet, but that have gotten enough mention in one or another of the fields and subfields I try to monitor to warrant their inclusion. Those fields include philosophy, social/cultural theory, geography, science and technology studies, environmental history, environmental anthropology and sociology, cognitive science, and emerging or interdisciplinary fields like ecocriticism, environmental communication, political ecology, biosemiotics/ecosemiotics, critical animal studies, affect studies, religion and ecology, and ecopsychology.

All are monographs (or close to it) first published in the English language between 2000 and 2010. In including titles published this year, I’m keeping in mind that a book can be influential even before it comes out, since the author is likely to be preparing the way for it — in articles and public presentations — for some time in advance.

I’m interested in hearing your suggestions for other books not on this list, as well as comments and votes “yay” and “nay” on any of the following. If there are enough “seconds” on any of these 60 or so nominations, or on any others anyone would like to add to the list, I’ll run a Survey Monkey style vote (and share it on relevant listservs) to see which book wins.

Finally, with such a long list, I’m bound to offend everyone who’s been left off. My apologies in advance. Remind me of your book (or, better still, send me a copy! ;-) ).

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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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