The Politics of Nature
A Double Lecture by John Protevi and Kate Soper
In the context of the ASCA Workshop Brains, Maps, and Rythms, John Protevi and Kate Soper present their views on the politics of nature.
Abstract John Protevi: Geo-Hydro-Solar-Bio-Techno-Politics
Earth, wind, water and sun are not just "the elements" of mythology, but are also dimensions of multiplicities which, when they "crystallize" in social and somatic "bodies politic," are interlocked with weapons, tactics, and social, political, and physiological processes. That is to say, I look to the way social and somatic bodies politic emerge from geological, biological, and technological processes above, below, and alongside subjects. Using the example of the 5th century BCE Athenian empire / Delian League, I look above the subject to the geopolitics of food circuits (i.e., transport of bio-available solar energy), below the subject to solidarity provoked by neuro-corporeal resonance or "entrainment," and alongside the subject to bio-technical assemblages such as the phalanx and the trireme.
John Protevi is Phyllis M Taylor Professor of French Studies and Professor of Philosophy at Louisiana State University. He specializes in Deleuze and science, with a particular interest in geophilosophy and affective neuroscience. He has published widely on the intersections of dynamical systems theory; the cognitive, life, and earth sciences; and contemporary French philosophy. He was the Scots Philosophical Association Fellow for 2012, and received the 2013 LSU Distinguished Faculty Award in the humanities and social sciences. His most recent book is titled Life, War, Earth: Deleuze and the Sciences (2013); previous books include Political Affect (2009), Deleuze and Geophilosophy (2004) and Political Physics (2001). He is also founding editor of the book series New Directions: Cognitive Science and Continental Philosophy.
Abstract Kate Soper: Ecopolitics and Agency: in defence of human "exceptionalism"
My talk will open with some reflections on the pervasive acceptance (‘naturalisation’) of capitalism as the inevitable system of wealth production, and consider the implications for analysing the power/knowledge relationship (noting in particular here the tensions between Marxist and Foucaultian accounts). It will move from there to closer scrutiny of the opposition between realist and constructivist approaches to the ‘politics of nature’, drawing on my argument in What is Nature ? to present a position that is influenced by, but also critical, of both. This position, by reason of its views on the unique qualities and environmental positioning of human beings, and its resistance to collapsing differences between humans and other animals, is committed to a human ‘exceptionalism’ at odds with arguments found in both neuroscience and recent posthumanist theory. These differences will be addressed in the latter part of the paper with a view to exposing the implicit continuing commitment to human ‘exceptionalism’ (and by extension to human intentionality and conscious agency) to be found in the more interesting parts of the argument of those who present themselves as having gone beyond that framework.
Ending on a more overtly political note, the paper will draw out the connections between this humanist critique and my ‘alternative hedonist’ call for the adoption of a post-growth, post-consumerist ‘politics of prosperity’. Capitalism, consumerism, the shopping mall culture: all this can be viewed in the broadest sense as generated in response to an appetitive dynamic which makes us quite distinct from other creatures. Yet not only is constant expansion of desire and consumption reliant on social exploitation, it is also clearly ecologically unsustainable, and becoming much more widely acknowledged as such. This indicates a need to re-think the nature and conditions of human flourishing in such a way as to shift the dynamic of human pleasures and modes of self-fulfilment away from its current model of satisfaction and allow gratification through less polluting and resource intensive modes of consumption.
Kate Soper is Professor Emeritus at the London Metropolitan University, having previously taught at the University of Sussex. Her work ranges widely throughout philosophy and cultural politics. In books that include Troubled Pleasures: Writings on Politics, Gender and Hedonism (1990), What is Nature? Culture, Politics and the Non-Human (1995) and To Relish the Sublime? Culture and Self-Realisation in Postmodern Times (with Martin Ryle, 2002), in addition to a wealth of chapters and journal articles, Soper has brought a nuanced critical realist and humanist perspective to bear on diverse debates in ecology, feminism, socialism and consumption. There is a strong public dimension to Soper’s activity. In columns and radio she has urged for the importance of education as an arena within which alternative models of prosperity to that promoted by growth capitalism might be fostered and explored. Indeed, much of her recent work has advanced a plea for an ‘alternative hedonism’: a more socially and ecologically tenable vision of the good life.
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