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

By Peter Dickens | Go to book overview

2

UNDERSTANDING ALIENATION

From the abstract to the concrete

What would a thorough understanding of society-nature relations look like? How can we understand contemporary alienation from nature? This chapter tries to answer these questions, concentrating particularly on the relations between abstract and concrete knowledge. These links, which are based on a reading of critical realism, are important if we are going to understand not only people’s alienated relations with nature but also the prospects for more emancipated forms of understanding. They are also important, this chapter will suggest, if we are to adequately understand the alienation of other species. In all, these links need to be made in order to understand the full scope of environmental politics. Realist epistemology, which focuses on the range of causal mechanisms and processes which generate concrete events, strongly suggests that such politics are by no means only about the environment. They are as much about social relations. And when we turn to the actual practice of green politics we find that this is indeed the case. It is as much about the social relations of class, gender and other sources of oppression, particularly the division of labour in modern society. I will shortly give two examples of this, one concerned with the relations between humans and animals, the other with the resistance of indigenous peoples to modernity. The division of labour, along with other processes such as the penetration of market relations, will again emerge from this as a common alienating process for both humans and other animals.


CRITICISING AND DEVELOPING EXISTING WORK

So far there is some superficial resemblance between the analysis outlined in the last chapter and that being currently offered by certain influential German sociologists. Luhmann (1989), in particular, has referred to problems of what he calls ‘ecological communication’. Basing his work on Parsons and systems theory he argues that contemporary society has become divided into relatively independent ‘autopoietic subsystems’. He suggests that modern societies are no longer controlled by centralised and hierarchical control-systems. This is good news insofar as the individual is released from suffocating top-down influences. This occurs, according to Luhmann, as society becomes constituted

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgements x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Society, Nature and the Balkanisation of Abstract Knowledge 18
  • 2 - Understanding Alienation 52
  • 3 - Realism, Constructionism and the Problem of ‘nature’ 71
  • 4 - Who Would Know? 85
  • 5 - Industrialising Nature’s Powers 102
  • 6 - Civil Society 131
  • 7 - Knowledge, State Authority and the Division of Labour 163
  • 8 - Green Utopias and the Division of Labour 181
  • Epilogue 203
  • Bibliography 206
  • Index 218
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