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! 😉 ).
The Immanence ‘Top 10’
1. William E. Connolly, Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed (University of Minnesota Press, 2002) — This was the book that most coherently and provocatively connected together the entire set of interests I had been grappling with at the time — consciousness, neuroscience, affect/emotion, religious experience, the potentials of film and media, and, centrally, the possibilities for political and cultural change in our time. Connolly’s work in political theory has continually pushed far beyond the bounds of that field. While his Pluralism and the forthcoming A World of Becoming may signify a certain fruition of his thinking, his articulation of the thickly entwined interconnections between biology and culture in Neuropolitics, under the rubric of “immanent naturalism,” provocatively set out a range of avenues of exploration, which this blog has been active in pursuing and documenting.
2. Arturo Escobar, Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes (Duke University Press, 2008) — A tremendous synthesis that places social movements — actual people doing things together to change their worlds — at the center of thinking for how the ecological-cultural dynamic is changing in our time. Other books of environmental anthropology (by Anna Tsing, Paige West, and others) and of political ecology (by Paul Robbins, Biersack and Greenberg, and others) could be on this list, but Escobar engages conversations across these fields and others in the most provocative and satisfying ways.
3. Graham Harman, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (re.press, 2009) — While Harman’s Tool-Being and Guerrilla Metaphysics may be his more lasting philosophical contributions, this book, which first brought anthropologist of science Bruno Latour firmly into the ambit of philosophy, introduced me — and judging by internet activity, many others — to the growing movement of post-Continental-philosophical “speculative realism.” As a movement that tries to theorize the make-up of the world in ways that completely avoid traditional dualisms (culture/nature, society/ecology, etc.), it’s a breath of fresh philosophical air, and one that has influenced the development of this blog much more than I could have known when I started it.
4. Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Duke University Press, 2007) — This is, to my mind, the most advanced and provocative theoretical foray to emerge from feminist studies of technoscience. Barad develops an “agential realism,” a relational, enactive, performative materialist “ethico-onto-epistemology” that is, in my view, one of the leading candidates for a full-fledged post-constructivist philosophy that would integrate the sciences and humanities together again. (How she manages to do this without a single reference to Whitehead confounds me just a little, and makes me look forward to work that would follow up on that connection.)
5. Joachim Radkau, Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment (Cambridge University Press, 2008; orig. German text 2002) — Environmental history’s blockbusters seemed to come in a single volley in the 1980s and 1990s (I’m thinking of books by such eminences as Alfred Crosby, Donald Worster, William Cronon, Carolyn Merchant, and Richard White). This last decade, while more productive overall, has not featured as monolithically outstanding books as Nature’s Metropolis or White’s compact but brilliant case study The Organic Machine. Of the big-picture books I have seen, Radkau’s Nature and Power, while it breaks no theoretical ground, provides the most lucid and carefully reasoned (at times painstakingly so) summation of all we have learned, and have not quite learned yet, from the study of humans interacting with their environments.
6. Evan Thompson, Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2007) — The state-of-the-art statement in “enactive cognitivism,” Thompson continues the legacy of cognitive biologist Francesco Varela in bringing together neuroscience and the biology of cognition with Husserlian (and Merleau-Pontian) phenomenology and Buddhist introspective methods in a way that transcends its sources and opens up many new avenues for exploration.
7. Manuel Delanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (Continuum, 2002) — I can’t not list a Deleuzian book here, given the centrality of Deleuzian thought in my own work and in the broader reconceptualization of society and nature that this blog follows. While this isn’t my favorite of Delanda’s — that’s 1997’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History — this one is probably the most provocative and successful attempt to bring Deleuze’s monism into congruence with science, and specifically with the sciences of complex systems. (Runners-up in the post-Deleuzian category would be those listed below by Shaviro, Massumi, Grosz, and Protevi.)
8. David Skrbina, Panpsychism in the West (MIT Press, 2005) — Skrbina has singlehandedly revitalized the very notion of “panpsychism” — that things in general can be thought of as “mental” in nature. This is the book that establishes the long historical provenance of that notion; his 2008 anthology Mind that Abides: Panpsychism in the New Millennium, featuring work by a wide range of philosophers, provides the logical follow-up. At a time of “ontological turns” and “new materialisms” grappling with the mind-matter divide, panpsychism promises to be an important hook for generative thinking across disciplinary boundaries.
9. Stefan Helmreich, Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (University of California Press, 2009) — Of books that do social science in ways that acknowledge the complexities indicated by practically every title on this list, Helmreich’s is one of the most engaging and exciting volumes in recent years. Infectious in its examination of science and of the oceans, it follows in the applied-theoretical science-studies tradition of Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour, while persuasively arguing that the twenty-first century will be one not of iconic organisms (such as whales and dolphins, in the oceanic context) but of networked, distributed webs (in this case, those of microbial life, with its many entanglements in human, scientific-technological, and biopolitical “forms of life”).
10. (tie) Michael M. J. Fischer, Anthropological Futures (Duke University Press, 2009) — Much more than the title suggests, this is both an insightful summation of decades of thinking about culture, science/technology, and the place of both in the larger world, and a programmatic statement laying out the issues and conundrums that will frame further research for years to come.
(tie) Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect (Cornell University Press, 2004) — The whole field of “critical affect studies” has mushroomed over the past decade. This posthumous publication (Brennan died in 2002) establishes the author’s importance in its development. It is the final work of a series that situates her at the critical intersection of feminism and relational ethics, psychoanalysis, and a broadly-grasping social theory that works toward identifying the root causes of the environmental and economic crises of our time.
Other significant titles (listed alphabetically by author’s surname):
Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke University Press, 2010).
Boetzkes, Amanda, The Ethics of Earth Art (University of Minnesota Press, 2010).
Braun, Bruce, The Intemperate Rainforest: Nature, Culture, and Power on Canada’s West Coast (University of Minnesota Press, 2002).
Bringhurst, Robert, The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind, and Ecology (Counterpoint, 2006).
Buchanan, Brett, Onto-Ethologies: The Animal Environments of Uexkull, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze (SUNY Press, 2008).
Calarco, Matthew, Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida (Columbia University Press, 2008).
Castree, Noel, Nature (Routledge, 2005).
Christian, David, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (University of California Press, 2004).
Code, Lorraine, Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location (Oxford University Press, 2006).
Cubitt, Sean, EcoMedia (Rodopi, 2005).
Elliott, Nils L., Mediating Nature (Routledge, 2006).
Fisher, Andy, Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life (SUNY 2002).
Gandy, Matthew, Concrete and Clay: Reworking Nature in New York City (MIT Press, 2003).
Gibson-Graham, J. K. A Postcapitalist Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 2006).
Grosz, Elizabeth, The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution, and the Untimely (Duke University Press, 2004).
Haraway, Donna, When Species Meet (University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Harvard/Belknap Press, 2009).
Harman, Graham, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Open Court, 2002).
Harman, Graham, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (Open Court, 2005).
Harvey, Graham, Animism (Columbia University Press, 2006).
Heise, Ursula K., Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (Oxford University Press, 2008).
Hinchliffe, Steve, Geographies of Nature: Societies, Environments, Ecologies (Sage, 2007).
Hornborg, Alf, The Power of the Machine: Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment (AltaMira Press, 2001).
Ingold, Tim, The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling, and Skill (Routledge, 2000).
Johnston, Adrian, Zizek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity (Northwestern University Press, 2008).
Kauffman, Stuart, Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion (Basic Books, 2005).
Latour, Bruno, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2004)
Latour, Bruno, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Law, John, After Method: Mess in Social Science Research (Routledge, 2004).
Massey, Doreen, For Space (Sage, 2005).
Massumi, Brian, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Duke University Press, 2002).
McDonough, William and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (North Point Press, 2002).
McNeill, J. R. and W. H. McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History (W. W. Norton, 2003).
Meillassoux, Quentin, After Finitude (Continuum, 2008).
Morton, Timothy, Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Harvard University Press, 2007).
Negarestani, Reza, Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (re.press, 2008).
Protevi, John, Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic (University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
Rose, Nicholas, The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century (Princeton University Press, 2007).
Scott, James C., The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 2009).
Shaviro, Steven, Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics (MIT Press, 2009).
Shukin, Nicole, Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times (University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
Solnit, Rebecca, As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art (University of Georgia Press, 2003).
Solnit, Rebecca, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics (University of California Press, 2008).
Stengers, Isabelle, The Invention of Modern Science (University of Minnesota Press, 2000).
Taylor, Bron R., Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future (University of California Press, 2010).
Taylor, Peter J., Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Thrift, Nigel, Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect (Routledge, 2007).
West, Paige, Conservation is Our Government Now: The Politics of Ecology in Papua New Guinea (Duke University Press, 2006).
Wheeler, Wendy, The Whole Creature: Complexity, Biosemiotics, and the Evolution of Culture (Laurence & Wishart, 2006).
Wolfe, Cary, What is Posthumanism? (University of Minnesota Press, 2010).
Whatmore, Sarah, Hybrid Geographies: Natures, Cultures, Spaces (Sage, 2002).
Best publisher in ecocultural theory:
Duke University Press
University of Minnesota Press
(The list above indicates why.)
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Thoughts? Comments? Seconds for any of these nominations?
Let me know.