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Murray Bookchin, Social Ecology and American Environmentalism
Damian White, Associate Professor of Sociology, The Rhode Island School of Design
Dept of Environmental Studies and Forestry, Yale University; April 14th, 2011
Kroon Hall, 195 Prospect St. New Haven CT 7 pm.
Murray Bookchin first wrote a critique of the use of chemicals in agriculture in 1952. Six months before Rachel Carson’s wrote Silent Spring in 1962, he published Our Synthetic Environment, a comprehensive book length account of post war environmental and urban “crises”. By the mid-1960s, Bookchin had not only suggested that climate change might well be emerging as one of the defining political issues of the age but he begun to systematically rework critical theory along ‘ecological lines’. Despite these notably accomplishments and Bookchin’s commitment to developing an ‘authentic American radicalism’, Bookchin’s social ecology does not seem to have found a place in the ‘respectable pantheon’ of American environmentalism. If one turns to recent anthologies of critical American environmental thinkers (See McKibben and Gore, 2008), his contribution is ignored. More generally, since his death in 2006, scholarly interest in his work has subsided.
In this paper, I explore the contours of this controversial thinker. I suggest that whilst his attempt to develop a ‘social ecology’ is marked by numerous limitations and problems, there are also a range of critical areas where his work has made a valuable contribution to American Environmental thought. Specifically, I argue that Bookchin critique of neo-Malthusian thought and attempt to fashion a social ecology attentive to multiple forms of social domination anticipates much of the agenda of contemporary political ecology. I suggest his calls for an ecological politics premised on a ‘liberatory technology’ and a politics of pleasure has much to recommend itself. I suggest his attention to the ecological promise of the city was farsighted. Finally, I suggest that his attempt to develop an ecological politics still committed to humanism and some mode of utopian thought has continued relevance.
Damian F. White is Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of History, Philosophy and Social Science at The Rhode Island School of Design. He has most recently instigated, organized and co-curated the exhibition ‘Green RISD 2010: Nature, Culture, Innovation’ at the Rhode Island School of Design. Books published include: Bookchin: A Critical Appraisal (authored, Pluto, 2008); Technonatures: technologies, natures, spaces and places in the 21st century (co-edited, Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2010); Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility: The Colin Ward Read (co-edited AK Press, 2011). Books in progress include The Environment, Nature and Social Theory (co-authored, Palgrave/Macmillian, under contract) and Designing the Future – A History and Sociology (author – proposal under review with Berg).
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