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Environments, Technologies, Spaces, and Places in the Twenty-first Century

Edited by Damian F. White & Chris Wilbert
Subjects Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies
Series Environmental Humanities Hide Details
Paperback : 9781554581504, 282 pages, April 2010
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554588206, 282 pages, April 2010


Excerpt from the Introduction, Technonatures: Environments, Technologies Spaces, and Places in the Twenty-first Century edited Damian F. White and Chris Wilbert

The expansion of mankind, both in numbers and per capita exploitation of Earth's resources, has been astounding. To give a few examples: During the past three centuries human population increased tenfold to 6000 million, accompanied e. g. by a growth in cattle population to 1400 million (about one cow per average size family). Urbanisation has even increased tenfold in the past century. In a few generations mankind is exhausting the fossil fuels that were generated over several hundred million years. The release of SO2, globally about 160 Tg/year to the atmosphere by coal and oil burning, is at least two times larger than the sum of all natural emissions, occurring mainly as marine dimethyl-sulfide from the ocean . . . Considering these and many other major and still growing impacts of human activities on earth and atmosphere, and at all, including global, scales, it seems to us more than appropriate to emphasize the central role of mankind in geology and ecology by proposing to use the term “anthropocene” for the current geological epoch.

– Crutzen and Stoermer (2000)

Increasingly in future . . . the time will come, for example, when massive programmes will have to be set in train to regulate the relationship between oxygen, ozone, and carbon dioxide in the earths atmosphere. In this perspective, environmental ecology could equally be re-named “machinic ecology”, since both cosmic and human practice are nothing if not machinici—indeed they are machines of war, in so far as “Nature” has always been at war with life!

– Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (2000)

Political ecology, at least in its theories, has to let go of nature. Indeed, nature is the chief obstacle that has always hampered the development of public discourse.

– Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature (2004)

. . . far from being dead and buried, nature is currently being practiced anew . . . But that nature is not what we have imagined it to be, fixed in its identity and unrelated to society.

– Steve Hinchliffe, Geographies of Nature (2008)

The Environmental Debate in Changing Times?


The current state of “the environmental debate” is in considerable flux at the beginning of the twenty-first century. From European Union countries to Argentina, from India to Canada, or China, Egypt, and beyond, diverse societies find themselves gripped by controversies, dilemmas, and disputes emerging from the incorporation and resistance of human and non-human bodies, ecologies and landscapes into circuits of commodification, property regulation, innovation, patenting, and enclosure. Disputes surrounding nanotechnology, biotechnology, and global warming, and concerns over biodiversity, water resources, and food—to name just a few acute issues—lend credence to the perception that natures, societies, and technologies are being jointly made and remade at dizzying speeds (Braun and Castree 1998). According to many writers (Haraway 1991, 1998; Luke 1997, 1999; Guattari 2000; Braun and Castree 1998), a seemingly unbounded, technologically instilled, and ideologically renewed capitalism appears to be intensifying the creative destruction of diverse ecologies around the globe even as it lurches unsteadily from boom to bust. Yet the movements that have been at the centre of politicizing these processes of remaking—notably the diverse ecological and green social movements that exploded onto the political scene with so much force in the last quarter of the twentieth century—seem politically and intellectually disorientated by such developments. Indeed, if we follow the thoughts of Bruno Latour,”the politics of nature” is increasingly marked by a degree of stagnation (2004, 1).

Latour is of course a leading provocateur whose work is defined by a penchant for the dramatic (see Castree 2006). Yet, at a time when the “environmental question& edquo; is at least rhetorically moving toward centre stage in the political world, the claim that there has concurrently been a loss of confidence, coherence, and vigour among certain manifestations of environmentalism is an assertion that has been reiterated recently by a much broader array of academic and activist voices, from different parts of the globe.

Some have pointed to the nervous and unsteady responses in Europe to the controversies raised by Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001) and the subsequent Lomborg affair. 1 Others have suggested a certain plateauing of support can be detected in public opinion surveys for mainstream environmental organizations from the UK to Australia (MacNaghten 2003, 63; Davison in this volume). In the United States, it is Shellenberger and Nordhaus's internal critique of the mighty US environmental movement “The Death of Environmentalism” (2005) that has most crystallized concerns. While maintaining that mainstream environmental movements in the US have made important regulatory gains over the last three decades in the fight for basic environmental protection, Shellenberger and Nordhaus have suggested over more recent decades—and with particular reference to global warming—that little further progress has been made. The dominant US environmental groups, they contend, are failing to generate a credible vision of the future or the political alliances that could bring “progress” about. More recently, they have refined this critique (Nordhaus and Shellenberger 2007) to argue that the manner in which much conventional mainstream environmental critique has relied on a narrative which problematizes human agencies within the context of a static and a-historical image of “Nature” has lead to a “politics of limits” that itself has significantly constrained the imaginative capacities to rethink a productive, progressive politics of the environment.

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Technonatues: Environments, Technologies, Spaces, and Places in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Damian F. White and Chris Wilbert

Introduction: Inhabiting Technonatural Space/Times | Damian F. White and Chris Wilbert

Part One: Conceptualizing Technonatural Time/Spaces

Chapter One: Governing Global Environmental Flows: Ecological Modernization in Technonatural Time/Spaces | Peter Oosterveer

Chapter Two: Circulations and Metabolisms: (Hybrid) Natures and (Cyborgs) Cities | Erik Swyngedouw

Chapter Three: The Cellphone-in-the-Countryside: On Some of the Ironic Spatialities of Technonature | Mike Michael

Chapter Four: Living Cities: Towards a Politics of Conviviality | Steve Hinchcliffe and Sarah Whatmore

Part Two: Experiencing Technonatural Cultures

Chapter Five: Boundaries and Border Wars: DES, Technology, and Environmental Justice | Julie Sze

Chapter Six: Critical Mass: How Built Bodies Can Help Forge Environmental Futures | Fletcher Linder

Chapter Seven: Living Betwwen Nature and Technoogy: The Suburban Constitution of Environmentalism in Australia | Aidan Davison

Part Three: Technonatural Present-Futures

Chapter Eight: The Property Boundaries/Boundary Properties in Technonatural Studies: “Inventing the Future” | Timothy W. Luke

Chapter Nine: Fluid Architectures: Ecologies of Hybrid Urbanism | Simon Guy

Chapter Ten: A Post-industrial Green Economy: The New Productive Forces and the Crisis of the Academic Left | Brian Milani




Aidan Davison is a lecturer in human geography and environmental studies at the University of Tasmania. His interdisciplinary research interests arise at intersections of socio-cultural themes of nature, technology, and sustainability. The author of Technology and the Contested Meanings of Sustainability (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2001), he has published many articles and book chapters on topics such as public perceptions of biotechnology, Australian environmentalism, and education for sustainability.

Simon Guy is a professor of architecture at the University of Manchester. His research aims to critically understand the co-evolution of design and development strategies and socio-economic processes shaping cities. His publications include (with S. Moore) Sustainable Architectures: Cultures and Natures in Europe and North America (Oxford: Spon, 2005) and (with Elizabeth Shove) A Sociology of Energy, Buildings, and the Environment: Constructing Knowledge (London: Routledge, 2000).

Steve Hinchliffe is a reader in environmental geography and director of research for geography at the Open University. He works on the geographies of nature, non-humans, and environments. He is author and editor of numerous books and articles on issues ranging from risk and food to biosecurity, urban ecologies, and nature conservation. His research focuses on the “making of things in practices” and draws together insights from science and technology studies (STS) and geography. His publications include Geographies of Nature: Societies, Environments, Ecologies (London: Sage, 2007); and (with Kathryn Woodward) The Natural and the Social: Change, Risk and Uncertainty, second edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Fletcher Linder is an associate professor of anthropology at James Madison University. He has studied and published across a variety of topics, including sports and aesthetics, illness experience and care, interpersonal violence, and environmental politics. He has conducted ethnographic, epidemiological, urban-landscape, and community-based intervention research in such areas as the American South, California, Canada, and Australia. He is presently completing a monograph titled “Waiting for Arnold: Image, Body Discipline, and Late Capitalism. ”

Timothy W. Luke is University Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. He also is the Program Chair for Government and International Affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs, and founding Director of the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Social Theory (ASPECT) in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech. His publications include Capitalism, Democracy and Ecology: Departing from Marx (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1999); The Politics of Cyber Space (co-edited with Chris Toulouse— New York: Routledge, 1998); and Eco Critique: Contesting the Politics of Nature, Economy and Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997). The author of more than 150 journal articles and edited book chapters, he writes extensively on the politics of museums as well environmental politics, international affairs, and social theory.

Mike Michael is a professor of sociology of science and technology, and director of the Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process, in the sociology department, Goldsmiths, University of London. His research is concerned with a number of areas, notably the public understanding of science; the sociology of mundane technologies; the sociology of biomedical innovation; the sociology of everyday life; animals and society; and materiality and sociality. He is the author of Technoscience and Everyday Life: The Complex Simplicities of the Mundane (Bristol: Open University Press, 2006); Science, Social Theory, and Public Knowledge (with Alan Irwin—Bristol: Open University Press, 2003); Reconnecting Culture, Technology, and Nature: From Society to Heterogeneity (London: Routledge, 2002); and Constructing Identities: The Social, the Nonhuman, and Change (London: Sage, 1996).

Brian Milani is an associate of the Transformative Learning Centre and coordinator of the Business and Environment Program at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. He is author of Designing the Green Economy (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000) and a member of the Coalition for a Green Economy. His focus for more than two decades has been on creating grassroots ecological alternatives through community development, construction, education, and general trouble making. He was co-founder of Green City Construction and is the director of Toronto’s long-running course on green economic alternatives, “The Green Economy at the Labour Education Centre,” featuring Toronto’s cutting-edge eco-innovators. He has also been involved with green labour activities at the Labour Council of Toronto and Carpenters Local 27.

Peter Oosterveer is a senior lecturer in environmental policy in the Department of Social Sciences at Wageningen University. He has published extensively on globalization and the sustainability of food production and consumption; the labelling and certification of food; environmental policy and management in Africa; and social theory and “a sociology of flows. ”

Erik Swyngedouw is a professor of geography at the University of Manchester’s School of Environment and Development. From the late 1980s until 2006 he taught at Oxford University, latterly as Professor of Geography, and was a Fellow of St. Peter’s College. His research focuses on political-economic analysis of contemporary capitalism. He has produced several major works on economic globalization, regional development, finance, and urbanization. Recently his interests have turned to political-ecological themes and the transformation of nature, notably water issues, in Ecuador, Spain, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe. His publications include Globalizations (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004); Social Power and the Urbanization of Water— Flows of Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); and (with F. Moulaert and A. Rodriguez, eds. ), The Globalized City: Economic Restructuring and Social Polarization in European Cities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Julie Sze is associate professor of American studies at the University of California, Davis, as well as the founding director of the Environmental Justice project for UC Davis’s John Muir Institute for the Environment. Sze’s book, Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice, won the 2008 John Hope Franklin Publication Prize, awarded annually to the best published book in American studies. Sze’s research investigates environmental justice and environmental inequality; culture and environment; race, gender, and power; and community health and activism. She has published on a wide range of topics such as energy and air polution activism; toxicity; the cultural politics of the Hummer, and on environmental justice novels and cultural production.

Sarah Whatmore is a professor of geography and director of the International Graduate School at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment/ School of Geography. Her research focuses on relations between people and the material world, particularly the living world, and the spatial habits of thought that inform the ways in which these relations are imagined and practised in the conduct of science, governance, and everyday life. She has published widely on the theoretical and political implications of these questions in the fields of agriculture and food; land rights and land-use planning; and biodiversity and biotechnology. These themes are brought together in her most recent books: Hybrid Geographies: Natures Cultures Spaces (London: Sage, 2002); Using Social Theory: Thinking Through Research (co-edited with Michael Pryke and Gillian Rose— London: Sage, 2003); and Cultural Geography: Critical Concepts, 2 vols. (co-edited with Nigel Thrift— London: Routledge, 2004). She received the Cuthbert Peek award from the RGS/IBG in 2003 for “innovative contributions to the understanding of nature-society relations. ”

Damian F. White is an assistant professor of sociology in the Department of History, Philosophy, and Social Science at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Prior to coming to RISD, he was an assistant professor of sociology at James Madison University; a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Innovation Studies, University of East London, working on the European Union project “Optimising the Public Understanding of Science”; and a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has published articles on the historical relations between human societies and nature; ecotechnology and the “green industrial revolution”; the “production of nature” debate; anti-environmentalism; and the libertarian and anti-authoritarian traditions of the political left. He is the author of Murray Bookchin: A Critical Appraisal (London: Pluto Press, 2008) and, with Alan Rudy and Brian J. Gareau, the author of The Environment, Nature and Social Theory (London: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).

Chris Wilbert is a senior lecturer in tourism and geography in AIBS at Anglia Ruskin University, England. He has published articles on animal geographies, political ecology, climate change and leisure/tourism. He is co-editor (with Chris Philo) of Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations (London and New York: Routledge, 2000) and Killing Animals (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2006) with the Animal Studies Group. Recent articles have focused on the politics of avian flu in southeast Asia in Focas: Forum on Contemporary Art & Society 6 (Special Issue on Regional Animalities, 2007), and on crime scene tourism (with Rikke Hansen) in the book Strange Spaces: Explorations into Mediated Obscurity edited by André Jansson and Amanda Lagerkvist (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009).


Environmentalism and social sciences appear to be in a period of disorientation and perhaps transition. In this innovative collection, leading international thinkers explore the notion that one explanation for the current malaise of the “politics of ecology” is that we increasingly find ourselves negotiating “technonatural” space/times. International contributors map the political ecologies of our technonatural present and indicate possible paths for technonatural futures.

The term “technonatures” is in debt to a long line of environmental cultural theory from Raymond Williams onwards, problematizing the idea that a politics of the environment can be usefully grounded in terms of the rhetoric of defending the pure, the authentic, or an idealized past solely in terms of the ecological or the natural. In using the term “technonatures” as an organizing myth and metaphor for thinking about the politics of nature in contemporary times, this collection seeks to explore one increasingly pronounced dimension of the social natures discussion. Technonatures highlights a growing range of voices considering the claim that we are not only inhabiting diverse social natures but that within such natures our knowledge of our worlds is ever more technologically mediated, produced, enacted, and contested.


"Environmental sociologists and geographers will find this book entertaining and enlightening as well as sugggestive of new ways of looking at the environment. "

- A.A. Hickey, CHOICE, April 2010

"This anthology probes the changing relationships between society and the natural environment. It examines the popular sense that environmentalists have lost their way. How have they failed to appeal to broad publics? Why have public perceptions of environmental risk and climate change not been translated into political will? Technonatures shows the different ways that nature increasingly reflects human interventions—from medical innovations to agricultural and conservation practice to the continental scale of the impacts of human-introduced pests. This is a book that offers lucid insights and will appeal to a broad audience. "

- Rob Shields, Henry Marshall Tory Research Chair, Departments of Sociology andArt and Design, University of Alberta. He is the founding editorof Space and Culture.