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  • Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global
  • Colin Milburn (bio)
Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global. By Ursula K. Heise. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 260 pp. Paper $24.95.

Here's an experiment you can try at home. Load up Google Earth on your computer, and use the search function to locate the place where you live. As you zoom into the satellite image, you will soon see an overhead view of your particular living space. If you happen to live in one of those urban areas where the Google Earth camera vans have visited, you may even be able to zoom down to ground level and look at your own home from the outside. Currently, [End Page 551] it is not possible to see yourself looking at yourself in real time; the Google Earth technology relies on fixed images that were all taken at some point in the past. But it is a fun game to figure out exactly when Google Earth captured your home. Now that you've located the place where you live (spatially and temporally), zoom out as far as you can go. Eventually, you'll see the whole earth. Next, pick any point on the globe randomly, and zoom in as far as the technology will allow: perhaps you will end up looking into someone else's window in another county, perhaps you will peer into the abysses of some foreign ocean, or perhaps you will survey a vast desert. Repeat this action again and again. This simple exercise illustrates the extent to which even one of the most intimate sites of locality—the domicile, the dwelling—is today imbricated in technological networks of global connectivity.

If this exercise produces a sense of place as dislocatable and intrinsically linkable to other places, then it participates in the project of deterritorialization that Ursula K. Heise describes as the first step towards an environmentally oriented cosmopolitanism, or "eco-cosmopolitanism." In her important new book, Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global, Heise shows that deterritorialization—by which she means the detachment of cultural routines, identities, and epistemologies from their ties to place and their reconfiguration at other scales—enables better understanding of how social and ecological systems function within larger global networks. Heise argues that deterritorialization—instantiated in technologies such as Google Earth but also in the field of risk theory and the narrative techniques of certain works of literature—facilitates attentiveness to worldwide phenomena as foundational to personal experience rather than the other way around. It involves ways of seeing and ways of being that understand the local less as the guarantor of authenticity and ethical relations and more as one particular effect of systems of interconnection that shape the worldness of the world at every scale. Cognitive and affective attachments to place instead become reoriented toward a new sense of planet. Without in anyway losing sight of the differences and diverse ways of life associated with particular localities, Heise compellingly shows that eco-cosmopolitanism speaks to cultural and ecological differences precisely by understanding their connectedness, as well as their potential to evolve.

The book is divided into two main parts: the first focuses on ways the planet has been imagined since the 1960s in environmentalist, technological, literary, and ecocritical discourses; the second focuses on the field of risk theory and its literary analogues, showing how modes of environmental risk assessment and perception dislocate the local and produce the global as the common and immediate space of lived experience. [End Page 552]

Part 1 launches off with a thorough and trenchant critique of the concepts of locality and place as they have appeared in a great deal of North American environmentalist writing. Heise shows that untenable narrative templates in the form of the pastoral and the utopia have informed many accounts of local ecologies and local action, often in ways that actually end up hindering effective change through failure to address larger systemic contexts. Moreover, Heise claims that the image of the planet in some environmentalist writing has itself simply been a magnification of...


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pp. 551-555
Launched on MUSE
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