DOI: 10.1177/01622439231190884 ISSN: 0162-2439

How to Turn Politics Around: Things, the Earth, Ecology

Noortje Marres
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Anthropology

In this article, I give a personal view of Bruno Latour’s work on the politics of ecology going back to his work during the early 2000s on the politics of things. Based on my exchanges with Latour over the years, from the time that I became his student in the late 1990s, I show how he developed his understanding of the politics of ecology through a critical engagement with early twentieth-century theories of a “politics of things,” notably the one developed by the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey. I propose that Latour, who was greatly inspired by Dewey’s book The Public and Its Problems, through his more recent work on climate change demonstrated that the ecological crisis poses a profound challenge to the pragmatist vision of material politics. This challenge led Latour to undertake a radical reconstruction of the very idea of ecological politics and envision what he calls a politics of the earth. In a second section of this essay, I articulate a related but different possibility for the reconstruction of ecological politics, one that I believe Latour saw clearly, but did not pursue. If we are to succeed in turning politics around ecology, we will need to engage much more deeply with feminist understandings of politics, which affirm materiality, embodiment, and connectedness as unavoidable political realities. This in turn enables us to appreciate the wider relevance for understanding the ecological crisis of the feminist critique of the bifurcation of politics, which Carole Pateman identifies as the underlying schema of modern democracy. I argue that it remains one of the main blocks on our ability to reenvision politics in ecological terms today. Part reflection, part criticism, and part homage, this article then argues that we should look for orientation in feminist politics of ecology, if we want to take further the work of Latour and many others for a politics of the earth.

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