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Reconstructing Nature: Alienation, Emancipation, and the Division of Labour

By Peter Dickens | Go to book overview

6

CIVIL SOCIETY

The recovery of wholeness?

Many of what we call ‘environmental problems’ can be ascribed to the labour process, to the technical division of labour, to the multiple ways in which knowledge is constructed and used and to the ways in which modern societies manipulate nature to produce commodities. All this is not to say that the labour process, including such processes within the home and outside the formal economy, offers a total understanding of modern societies’ relations with nature. But it is a good starting point, and it is a sphere of social life which has gone almost entirely missing in contemporary environmental analysis. However, people’s alienated relations to nature, to one another and to the products of their work cannot be wholly appreciated through a narrow concentration on the labour process. It is certainly with this process that many social and environmental problems start. But to develop the argument we need to take it a stage further, examining not just the division of labour in general but its spatial and temporal forms.

This chapter is primarily concerned with civil society, defined here as social life outside the place of employment and not immediately involved with the state. It links this concern with the spatial division of labour. It first tries to clarify what civil society actually is, with reference to recent debates on the subject. It argues that the concept cannot be allowed to include and conflate the sphere of industrial production on the one hand and that of the purchase and consumption of commodities on the other. This is because, as should be clear by now, the set of relationships with nature which are contained within the sphere of production are especially important in terms of explaining people’s alienation from nature and their consequent lack of concern with the non-human world. Also important, however, are the relations formed within consumption, or the purchasing of commodities. This is all the more reason to break ranks with most analyses of civil society and to consider production separately from consumption.

The chapter goes on to link civil society to the ways in which the technical and social divisions of labour are now spatially manifesting themselves. Bringing together changes in the spatial division of labour with forms of civil society means that we can further develop our understanding of alienation and

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