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Re-imagining the ecological subject: toward a critical materialism of entangled ecologies




DeCarlo, Chelsea Loren Welker, author
Macdonald, Bradley J., advisor
McIvor, David W., committee member
Stevis, Dimitris, committee member
Ishiwata, Eric, committee member

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Given the severity of contemporary environmental degradation, especially climate change, a new understanding of the human-nature relationship is necessary for halting this destruction. Political theorists have tried to explain and rethink this relationship by turning to the social, the political, the structural, the historical, the ethical, the individual, the cultural, and the economic realms. At the same time, the production of subjectivity as both an explanation for environmental degradation and a possible domain where cultivating a better human-nature relationship could be found, remains under-examined by political theorists concerned with the environment. The purpose of my project expresses three different but interrelated trajectories of inquiry, each of which represents a dearth in ecopolitical theory generally. First, I interrogate how various radical ecopolitical theories have understood the production of ecological subjectivity and the consequences of these understandings of subjectivity for producing ecological subjects in the context of capitalism, specifically. If who we are and who we think we are matters for how the human-nature relationship plays out, then it becomes vitally important to understand how radical ecopolitical theory conceptualizes the relationship between the causes of environmental degradation, the production of human subjectivity, and the ecological context in which humanity finds itself. In short, I argue that the production of subjectivity has been neglected as one important political component that must be theorized much more robustly for its utility in creating more ecologically minded societies. Second, I would argue that one of the most powerful and intransigent forces preventing humans from re-imagining the human-nature relationship is capitalism, which in addition to its material production, also aggressively targets the production of subjectivity. This assertion constitutes both a starting point of this project, yet also something that requires greater attention from political theorists concerned with environmental degradation and the human-nature relationship. Given this assertion, the task of critically examining the relationship between capitalist subjectivities and the creative production of ecological subjectivities remains necessary to any attempt at the cultivation of an ecological politics. To this end, and thirdly, I argue that Félix Guattari's work engenders the creative impulse necessary for reconceiving of our own subjectivity in the context of the new ontology presented by Deleuze, Guattari himself, and the new materialists. Furthermore, I explore the possibilities for producing eco-subjects through innovative receptive practices attended to by both Guattari and the new materialists in the context of the capitalist overcoding of being. For instance, "becoming receptive" to a rhizomatically (dis)organized world could produce new sensitivities to environmental ecologies through a fundamental acceptance of existential uncertainty. Importantly, Guattari's work, though deeply committed to ecological goals and the production of ecological subjectivities, has been largely neglected by political theorists seeking a solution to environmental degradation and an ethically and politically bankrupt human-nature relationship. Ultimately, ecopolitical praxis requires a further theorization of the numerous ways that capitalism orders and limits human existence in the context of contemporary life. The triad under examination in my project, namely, subjectivity, ecology, and capitalism, represents a necessary contribution to ecopolitical theory which can re-invigorate Guattari's work for its utility in re-imagining the ecological subject, combating capitalism, and working towards a real ecopolitics.


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environmental political theory
new materialism


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