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Against Ecological Sovereignty

Ethics, Biopolitics, and Saving the Natural World

Mick Smith

Publication Year: 2011

Against Ecological Sovereignty is a passionate defense of radical ecology that speaks directly to current debates concerning the nature, and dangers, of sovereign power. Engaging the work of Bataille, Arendt, Levinas, Nancy, and Agamben, among others, Mick Smith reconnects the political critique of sovereign power with ecological considerations, arguing that ethical and political responsibilities for the consequences of our actions do not end with those defined as human.

Against Ecological Sovereignty is the first book to turn Agamben’s analysis of sovereignty and biopolitics toward an investigation of ecological concerns. In doing so it exposes limits to that thought, maintaining that the increasingly widespread biopolitical management of human populations has an unrecognized ecological analogue—reducing nature to a “resource” for human projects. Smith contends that a radical ecological politics must resist both the depoliticizing exercise of sovereign power and the pervasive spread of biopolitics in order to reveal new possibilities for creating healthy human and nonhuman communities.

Presenting a stinging critique of human claims to sovereignty over the natural world, Smith proposes an alternative way to conceive of posthumanist ecological communities—one that recognizes the utter singularity of the beings in them.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: Posthumanities


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The world is a wonderful place despite the ecological damage we inflict on it. Our existence in the world is finite, but of all the experiences it offers, love is that which matters most. My father was, quite simply, the loveliest man I have ever known, and I miss him deeply ...

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Introduction: A Grain of Sand

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pp. xi-xx

Darwin’s remark refers, of course, to evolution, the understanding of which is certainly not without political connotations. But what radical ecology contests is human dominion over the natural world— that is to say, ecological sovereignty in all its many guises. ...

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1. Awakening

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pp. 1-26

Among the hundreds of images on the walls of the Lascaux cave, mostly of horses and aurochs, but also including stags, ibex, and bison, only one depicts a human figure. For Georges Bataille (2005), this figure, with its bird head and its animal associate, located in the deep shaft of the cave’s apse, its “Holiest of Holies”1 ...

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2. The Sovereignty of Good

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pp. 27-64

The motive for addressing Plato’s work is not simply because of his subsequent philosophical and ideological influence. Even Western philosophy is far from being, as Whitehead (1978, 39) famously suggested, just “a series of footnotes to Plato.” Still less is it to paint him as ultimately responsible for our current ecological crisis. ...

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3. Primitivism: Anarchy, Politics, and the State of Nature

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pp. 65-100

What political possibilities arise in articulating anarchic ethics with ecology? An obvious question seems to be whether some of these ethical and ecological possibilities have an affiliation with anarchy in a political sense. Might anarchists’ advocacy of an unfettered open texture of social relations extend to challenging the idea ...

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4. Suspended Animation: Radical Ecology, Sovereign Powers, and Saving the (Natural) World

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pp. 101-134

How, then, to “speak a word for nature,” as radical ecology tries to do, if this speaking is now reimagined as a critique of both the principle of sovereignty and the divisive operations of the anthropological machine? How might the ethical and political concerns of radical ecologists to “save the world” ...

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5. Risks, Responsibilities, and Side Effects: Arendt, Beck, and the Politics of Acting into Nature

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pp. 135-158

“And who are we?” Arendt’s question is addressed to all those capable of understanding it but resonates deeply with any politics that refuses to define a conclusive, once-and-for-all answer that would distinguish the properly human from the improperly inhuman. Who are we, for example, who express our concern to save the natural world? ...

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6. Articulating Ecological Ethics and Politics

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pp. 159-192

How might the relations between political action and ecological (ethical) responsibility begin to be envisaged in such a way that each informs the other and yet neither is made subject to the other? How do we dissolve the claims of sovereignty and yet retain a politics informed by the Good ...

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7. Against Ecological Sovereignty

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pp. 193-218

Several recent texts (most notably, Eckersley 2004) have argued that given the ecologically destructive effects of unfettered economic globalization, good, pragmatic arguments exist for environmentalists to advocate and support a form of green state sovereignty. ...

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Apologue: In Relation to the Lack of Environmental Policy

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pp. 219-224

The purpose of this book is to open possibilities for rethinking and constituting ecological ethics and politics— so should one need to apologize for a lack of specific environmental policies? Should the book declaim on the necessity of using low-energy light bulbs or of increasing the price of gasoline? ...


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pp. 225-246


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pp. 247-262


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pp. 263-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780816678549
E-ISBN-10: 0816678545
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816670291

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Posthumanities