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POLITICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL NAVIGATION: POLITICS OF NATURE

In America the Great Work of the First Peoples was to establish an intimate relationship with Earth powers through such ceremonies as the Great Thanksgiving of the Iroquois, and the vision quest of Plains Indians. In India the Great Work was to lead human thought into spiritual experiences of time and eternity and their mutual presence, with unique subtlety of expression. The Great Work of the classical Greek world with its understanding of the human mind and creation of the Western humanist tradition. The Great Work of Rome in gathering together the peoples of Western Europe and the Mediterranean worlds into an ordered relation with each other. The Great Work of Israel was in articulating a new experience of the divine in human affairs.

Thomas Berry, The Great Work (1)

INTRODUCTION

WESTERN GROUNDING TO NAVIGATION

Our "Western" integral journey, to date, was grounded in the American soul, and had emerged through a newly primal form of politics, combining an affinity with the primeval wilderness with a cosmic consciousness, ready now to assume a newly integral form of natural-political navigation. Interestingly enough we shall turn to France for such, and to the French anthropologist and sociologist of science Bruno Latour (2), best known for his work Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. While his focus, as a social researcher, on the actor network, gives him good "Western" credentials, it is his (3) more recent work on Politics and Nature which, as we shall see, assumes more transformative, political and institutional proportions.

Why and how should that be?

WHY POLITICAL ECOLOGY HAS LET GO OF NATURE

Unified Science versus Integral Sciences

From the outset, Latour (3) invites us to dissociate the sciences – in the plural and in small letters – from Science – in the singular and capitalized. He asks us then to acknowledge that the discourse on Science has no direct relation to the life of the sciences (in the same way that we have evolved diverse polities), and that the problem of knowledge is posed quite differently depending on whether one is brandishing Science or clinging to the twists and turns of the sciences, in plural, as they developed. What Latour has done for political ecology, as we shall see, is thereby resonant with our integral worlds.

Political ecology, for him as such, moves the dual arena of nature and politics into the single - albeit integral, as we shall see – arena of the collective. We are simply hen, for Latour, at the crossroads between two immense movements whose contrary influence has for some time made the interpretation of ecology difficult, that is the emergence of nature as a new concern in politics, and the disappearance of nature as a mode of political organization.

Having then distinguished the sciences from Science, and political ecology, as he sees it, from Naturpolitik, Latour goes on to consider a third displacement, as he terms it, so as to draw the maximum benefit from science studies and the ecology movement. He sets such against, for example, social Darwinism, which borrowed its metaphors from politics, projected them onto nature itself, and then re-imported them into politics in order to transform politics and economics into an exercise involving the proverbial "survival of the fittest".

What successor for the Bicameral Collective?

The combined findings of science studies, political ecology, social science and comparative anthropology now come together, for Latour, to raise one single question. What collective can we invoke, now that we no longer have two houses – natural and social – only one of which - the social – acknowledges its political character? Once freed of what has been a bicameral cold war, humans take on a very different aspect, and instead of existing by themselves, they are able to unroll the long chain of nonhumans, without which freedom would be out of the question. For Latour Science is dead; long live research and long live sciences. So where does he, and indeed do we, go from here?

 
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