Reply To: Mon 31 March: Science History, Ecology and the Idea of Nature

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History Mon 31 March: Science History, Ecology and the Idea of Nature Reply To: Mon 31 March: Science History, Ecology and the Idea of Nature

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Mirabel Joshi # Posted on April 1, 2014 at 19:33

Fellow students, please accept my apologies for making a late posting.

Reflections on the thoughts of Carolyn Merchant:

The history of ideas regarding how we understand nature and therefore also human identity is from my perspective where one has to begin to at all be able to make any sense of the field of environmental history. Why human-nature relations have looked the way they have through history and that we are in a situation today of a global environmental crisis is more or less incomprehensible if the separation between nature and culture is not explained. In this sense Carolyn Merchant has made a great and valuable contribution to the field of environmental history by making the connection between the exploitation of the earth and our view of nature. Also using a ecofeminist perspective has been groundbreaking.

The division between an organic and mechanic worldview I however perceive as an oversimplification that is not helpful as this type of generalisation is useless in an academic argument. Merchant does give countless examples of thinkers that can be divided in to these two categories and point out their particular differences however my question is if the categories of organic and mechanic should be perceived as different traditions of thought or different ideas of practise. Is it the thought that has given rise to the practise or the other way around. Sometimes when studying text from the field the history of ideas I have been under the impression that the perspective of the scholar is that it is the particular tradition of thought that is the reason for a particular practise. But can this really be the case? This is the impression I at times get when reading and listening to Merchant, that thought precedes action. Maybe this is not what Merchant intends in her argument but when she makes the conclusion that partnership ethics are the way forward I get the impression that she is arguing that the ”revolution” which will ”save” Earth is going to happen in our heads by forming ”new ethics” to act upon. To think before acting, can we do this collectively? Maybe it is more pragmatic to expect us to be able to ”feel” collectively before acting rather then thinking.

The view of thought and action as separated strikes me as symptomatic for a mechanistic worldview and this is my real problem with Merchant. The categories of organic and mechanic strikes me as perhaps reproducing the non-constructive dualistic division between body and mind, nature and culture, woman and man, god and evil, light and darkness and so on. There is an strong awareness in Merchants argument that there is a spectrum over time in history of how these traditions of thought have been represented within Western culture but by using these strong categories of organic and mechanic the nuances somehow get lost.