The Environment in Anthropology: A Reader in Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Living

By Nora Haenn; Richard R. Wilk | Go to book overview

Chapter Twenty-Five
On Environmentality
Geo-Power and Eco-Knowledge in the Discourses of
Contemporary Environmentalism

Timothy W. Luke

This study examines how discourses of nature, ecology, or the environment, as disciplinary articulations of “eco-knowledge,” might be reinterpreted as efforts to generate systems of “geo-power” over, but also within and through, Nature for the governance of modern economies and societies. The thinking of Michel Foucault, particularly his notions of sexuality and bio-power as mediations for discursively formed discipline, provides a basis for this reinterpretation, because many of the terms associated with “the environment” are perplexing until one puts them under a genealogical lens. These dynamics have been at play for nearly a hundred and thirty years—or at least since self-consciously ecological discourses were formulated by George Marsh (1885) or Ernst Haeckel (1866) in the nineteenth century—but their operations are particularly apparent today.

While many examples of such tendencies might be mobilized here, this examination of geo-power systems as a mediation of environmentality will center upon only one—the work of the Worldwatch Institute. The continuous attempt to reinvent the forces of Nature in the economic exploitation of advanced technologies, linking structures in Nature to the rational management of its energies as geo-power, is an ongoing supplement to the disciplinary construction of various modes of bio-power in promoting the growth of human populations (Foucault, History of Sexuality I 140-41). Directed at generating geo-power from the more rational insertion of natural and artificial bodies into the machinery of production, discourses of environmentality can be seen fabricating disciplinary environments where power/knowledge operate as ensembles of geo-power and eco-knowledge.

In and of itself, Nature arguably is meaningless until humans assign meanings to it by interpreting some of its many signs as meaningful (Bramwell, Eckersley). The outcomes of this activity, however, are inescapably indeterminate. Because different human beings will observe its patterns, choosing to accentuate some while deciding at the same time to ignore others, Nature's meanings always will be multiple and unfixed. Only these interpretive acts can construct contestable textual fields, which

From Cultural Critique 31 (Fall 1995): 57–81. Reprinted by permission of the University of Minnesota Press.

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