TITLE - THE MEANINGS OF “NATURE”
It is now said that we are living in the Anthropocene -the Age of Humans, when the very idea of “nature” is no longer tenable. There is obviously room for debating this assumption. Having assumed that nature is no more and that we better move on, the most fundamental question (why) remains curiously unexplored. It is precisely in that uncharted space where this collection of essays belongs. Some of the issues worth exploring are: aren’t we giving too much credit to humans and their capacity to “humanize” the natural environment? In more-than-human research, animals and plants are also credited with a cultural-ish impact on their surroundings. Is this nature; if not, what is it? If we are ready to dispose of the culture vs. nature duality, we should also be ready to admit that anthropogenic activities -a corn field, an urban grid, a can of Coke by the roadside- are as cultural as they are natural. There are arguably two ways of looking at nature. One is Nature with a capital N: nature, the concept, the metaphor, the quasi-religious experience. Is this experience lost in time? Can we revive our sense of awe and wonder before the “natural” environment? What’s the role of the artist-cum-philosopher in all of this? Charles Baudelaire famously celebrated the sheer ugliness of the modern city: the shady characters, the rotten backstreets. Ugliness has left the city. It is now found in the once-formidable industrial forest and in the giant plastic patch floating in the sea. Are we expected to play Baudelaire and sing the beauty of landfills? If not, what kind of eternal melancholia lies ahead of us? The second way of looking at nature is, say, empirical: listen, scientists keep telling us, have a look around, it’s all microplastics and chicken bones, there is no more nature, per se, left. But that is not entirely true. We are human after all. Perception counts. Drive one hour into your nearest forest. Step out of the car. Listen, look, smell. It’s the feeling of Nature - and the occasional plastic bag. Look it up on Google later, your almost perfectly awesome forest: the logging, the fires, the illegal housing projects, the acid rain, the invasive species ... the lot.
The approach is philosophical in the broadest sense of the expression. We are looking for new ideas - and old ideas revived - from the social sciences and humanities. In general, a contrarian approach to the existing paradigm will be appreciated. To kick off the debate, here’s a list of some possible references:
Cronon, W. (ed.) (1995). Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: WW Norton.
Kawa, N.C. (2016). Amazonia in the Anthropocene: People, Soils, Plants, Forests. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Morton, T. (2018). Being Ecological. London: Penguin.
Williams, R. (1983). Keywords: a Vocabulary of Culture and Society. London: Flamingo [see “Nature”].
Send your 300-word proposal and short biography in the body of the email by September 30 2019 to The Editors, firstname.lastname@example.org (For general inquiries, please refer to the same contact). Please do not send attachments, only inline proposals will be considered.