enviro theoryenvironmental studies

Selected Close-readings from the Encyclopedic “Companion to Environmental Studies”

Selected Close-readings from the Encyclopedic “Companion to Environmental Studies”

We are using Companion to Environmental Studies as a reader in environmental theory class. I’m writing this post to quickly identify 15 of the 100+ entries as ones that will support my development of a thesis framework. I’ll dive into each over the remainder of fall term.


  • (1.5) Environment – constructed meaning key to understanding public discourse of enviro. concerns and unanswered questions.
  • (1.6) Ecosystems – a foundational concept to nonhuman life & well-being that comes up in discourse on right human place in nature.
  • (1.12) Nature – a word layered with meanings that usually are not addressed directly in popular use, usually concept for protected/otherwise defined spaces with a lower density of forms of human development and reserved for specific recreational purposes. I’m interested in its continued use at BTI in terms of decoupling.
  • (1.25) Wilderness – another concept implying untouched nature, well-critiqued (e.g., quite famously by William Cronon).
  • (2.13) Hybridity – a move toward articulating circumstances of reality as mixed up rather than cleanly separable. Serves as a simple counterpoint to view of purity.
  • (2.1) The Anthropocene – the contended term to describe a new geological epoch of the Earth as significantly influenced by the human species. Contention along multiple points, e.g., how far back would the name refer—since the advent of agriculture, so even Holocene=Anthropocene?
  • (1.19) Scarcity and environmental limits – Malthusian and then neo-Malthusian, now in BTI circles possibly considered a finished issue—assuming that limits will continually be surpassed/defined anew by technological development (efficiency/substitutes).
  • (2.18) Planetary boundaries – the new face of limits discussion, above.

Scholarly movements

  • (6.2) Ecological modernisation – very close to “ecomodernism”, necessary to look at what’s been said here.
  • (3.5) Ecofeminism – has been the site of more & less compelling critiques…would attend to this as situating work, e.g., by N. Katherine Hayles.
  • (3.20) Science & technology studies – this to situate work by Bruno Latour and others to address claims that post-limits/boundaries puts question of (developing/implementing) technology at forefront; this scholarship makes room for continual critique of ideas that want to settle into unquestioned universals.
  • (4.13) Environmental political theory – thinking of actors, in mostly a traditional political sense, negotiating an environmental discourse.
  • (4.14) Political ecology – thinking of environmental actors and acting in an even broader/more interesting way. (Sept. 2019 update: critique published here)


  • (7.1) Anthropocentrism – an ethical stance, contrasted most clearly against biocentrism, that can help explain fundamental ethical prioritization between human/nonhuman categories.
  • (7.3) Environmental science & politics – similar to section 4.13 above, but this deals with knowledge/truth (science) in relation to political process.
  • (7.8) Expert and lay environmental knowledges – as above, deals in questions of knowledge and validity and power of experts.
  • (7.10) Interdisciplinary environmental inquiry – essential to learn as much as possible about others’ perspectives on this to keep directing how to do this effectively. (Sept. 2019 update: critique published here)
  • (7.18) Representation and reality – questions of ontology, interpretation, symbols and meanings. Semiotics and other theories are useful as a foundational means of assessing projects representing (how to move in) reality with ideas.
  • (5.1) Anthropogenic climate change – a contextual issue for debates on what & how society ought to reproduce itself.
  • (5.10) Land degradation & restoration – another contextual issue, one that I am thinking of in relation to terms above (ecosystems, the question of limits, substitutes and technology, anthropocentrism) as an issue that accommodates both classical and contemporary orientation and scholarship.

Featured image: Paris, France 2014

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