Aberystwyth Transitions Reading Group Blog


Everyday Environmentalism: Take 1

Thanks to all who participated today – we had a diverse group from Geography, Politics and English Literature all adding a lot to the discussions. I won’t attempt to synthesise the whole conversation, but will flag up some key debates and persisting tensions:

Despite the intention of the book to rethink the everyday and reposition this as a terrain for transformatory action, there was still some concern and debate about the meaning of ‘the everyday’ and whether there is a danger that this will lead us to focus on acts of green consumerism, recycling and so forth…

Clearly Loftus’ is encouraging us to think deeper and more profoundly about what is involved in the everyday. He pushes us to re-engage with our sensuous experience and bodily metabolisms, and how these are co-evolving with the world around us as a socio-ecological assemblage. We are part of a differentiate unity he suggests. And whilst we were largely very positive about the potential of getting away from a conception of ‘nature out there’ and separate from humans, some questions remained.

Perhaps most fundamentally, can we – as humans – ever envisage (let alone participate in) a politics that is not intrinsically human? We can attempt to look beyond the human, to empathise or maybe just sympathise with diverse actants. We can engage through the encounters and moments that Donna Haraway, Sarah Whatmore and Jane Bennett all draw attention to – but we are still cognisant as humans. Yet we are always already more than human, we just think in purified terms of ourselves as human. Difficult.

A second tension that we grappled with was whether we really felt that Marxist traditions could be combined with post-humanist and post-Latourian approaches. I recalled Noel Castree’s 2003 article in Antipode, on whether there was a false anti-thesis between Marxism and ANT, as a useful reference point in this debate. Many people, however, found that the weight of Marxist tradition prioritising the human, and the driving force of human labour specifically, were hard to break free from.

Ultimately, we see that Marxist insights do have something profound to say about the structure and experience of living in a capitalist world. We do want to hold on to that. Loftus opens that up, giving it new potential by pushing us to look beyond the accepted (and he argues erroneous) focus upon the human in Marx’s writing. Here he is supported by others such as Morgan Robertson and Joel Wainwright who have also sought to develop a much more socio-natural understanding of the metabolisms involved in capitalist re-production. But we will have to wait as the book unfolds to see whether we are fully convinced by this conception.

However, I did find it refreshing to have first and second nature revised, and to clear up confusions which still seem to persist around whether first nature is equated with a pristine pre-capitalist nature, or whether nature has always been intrinsically socialised (which I always understood as second nature – but then if first nature never existed why have it as a category?) So for me, the re-reading of Neil Smith emphasising the distinction between first nature, which relates to use value, and second nature encompasses both use and exchange value was illuminating.

Other questions we raised related to whether environmental politics could ever escape from romanticised notions of nature, be these of wilderness or indeed ‘back to the land’ and peasant movements. Here we were directed to Timothy Morton’s Ecology without Nature as further food for thought. I would be interested to consider whether such romanticised notions can ever be seen as progressive given the emotional pull they can have.

A final thing to throw in, which will be explored further in subsequent chapters, was the focus upon the potential of creative and artistic practice as a means to recover our sensuous experience and realisation of the often overlooked relations that constitute our worlds. This links nicely to the Hydro-Citizenship project that Kat is involved in in UWE and with colleagues here in Aber’. Many other art-science collaborations also came to mind demonstrating this as a key field of productive engagement which I hope we will talk more about!

Join us for more…

Next Reading Group: Chapters 3-4 November 26th 1pm Arts Centre


Everyday Environmentalism

I had a thought about reading Alex Loftus’ ‘Everyday Environmentalism’  this term… one/two chapters at a time (rather than attempting to discuss the whole book in one sitting!). They are nicely structured around different theoretical approaches and connect with his research on water politics in South Africa – but there are clear potential links to a range of projects we might want to consider.

I am a big fan as I find he presents theory in a digestable way – I also think the focus on ‘the everyday’ and a social justice centred approach to environmentalism is critical for contemporary issues making his writing relevant to a whole range of struggles.

Let me know if this takes your fancy