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Dissolving Nature and Culture: Indigenous Perspectivism in Political Ecology

Johannes Morrow PhD Student, University at Albany

Abstract: Environmental movements have encountered significant dilemmas in advancing their claims for sustainability and protection of the nonhuman world. Environmentalism has typically articulated its claims in a conceptual language incorporating the antinomy of nature and culture. These concepts have created practical problems and conceptual paradoxes which have led to a strategic impasse. Diverse attempts have thus far failed to move beyond impasse because they inadequately unravelled the antinomy of nature and culture. The task engaged in here is not to privilege nature over culture, or to privilege culture by observing the socially constructed character of nature, or to examine the inner dialectical relations that connect them; nor is it to explore genealogical the deeper significance of the antinomy itself. Rather, this essay argues for stepping outside of this conceptual language into a different cosmology. This task is accomplished through an examination of the perspectivism and multinaturalism of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, which he developed in his studies of Amazonian cosmology. It is argued that at the root of the problems of nature, culture and environmentalism are ambiguities and paradoxes having to due with the doctrines of naturalism and objectivism. These ambiguities and paradoxes can only be overcome by recognizing the reciprocal intentionality of humans, animals, spirits and other kinds of subjects.

This paper was originally presented for fulfilling the requirements of RPOS 696, Spring 2009 at the University at Albany. An earlier version was presented at the Western Political Science Association Conference, 2009. This will also become of my dissertation. Comments are welcome, please cite with permission.


Dissolving Nature and Culture: Indigenous Perspectivism in Political Ecology You whites possess the power of subduing almost every animal to your use. You are surrounded by slaves. Every thing about you is in chains and you are slaves yourselves. I fear if I should exchange my pursuits for yours, I too should become a slave. -Big Soldier (in Vine Deloria 1999)

Introduction The idea that nature should be the central concept of environmental political theory seems like a self-evident proposition. That environmental politics and political ecology are about nature seems so obvious that it is not worth mentioning. However, the concept of Nature has been the subject of considerable controversy in the human sciences. In the last ten years or so nature has come under fire in political ecology1 (Chaloupka 2000, 2007). Bruno Latour (2004), an anthropologist and philosopher of science at Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris, in his work on political ecology Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, has gone as far as to say that the concept of Nature has stymied the conceptualization of political ecology. Green activists and ecologists have been shocked and defensive about these brazen attacks. They could not comprehend why intellectuals, supposedly sympathetic to their cause, would attack the idea of nature just as the environmental movement seemed to be gaining traction (e.g. Soule and Lease 1995). But what was under attack, were not trees, rocks, deer, owls or wolves. The target was the concept of Nature that has had a dubious and infamous history in political theory and a dualistic and paradoxical relationship with its twin: Culture or Society. Also a target


I use environmental political theory and political ecology as interchangeable terms.


3 of criticism was the relations of authority these concepts establish among humans and between humans and nonhumans.

Part of the problem is that the strategy of appealing to Nature as a normative rule against which society can be judged is it has lost its originality, authenticity and persuasiveness in contemporary political theory. Environmentalism, for example is only the latest iteration of political theory to appeal to nature as a source of political authority. Liberal political theory, for example, beginning with Hobbes and Locke, initiated a long tradition of justifying favored constitutional orders based assertions about human nature and what is natural. The varying conceptions of nature in this tradition were used to enable political orders that were ostensibly free, yet specifically limited what was politically possible. Or course, this limit has always been a moving target but the transformative character of the practice has had little influence on the structure of that rhetorical strategy. This has made many people suspicious of the “naturalness” of the various presentations of “nature” and therefor its authenticity and persuasiveness has been undermined. It is not my intention to map out the history of this rhetoric for it is well documented elsewhere and its criticism is taken up by much of contemporary political theory and philosophy. I am interested, however, in mapping some of the different attempts to “solve” the epistemological and ontological problems associated with “nature” and the dilemmas encountered in this effort. This is not in order to show that this effort is impossible or futile but rather to suggest a different way of looking at the problem. This style of political argumentation and the corresponding conception of science defined as an inquiry into the separate domain of Nature, (“uncontaminated” by the


4 rouge influences of Society), is a defining feature of modernism (Latour 1993). It is this feature of modernism that is specifically problematic for conceptualizing and empowering political ecology. Latour (2004) argued that the deployment of Nature in political ecology actually makes politics impotent and hostage to the laws of necessity, rather then empowering them. Whereas environmental scientists hoped that authority of Nature would empower them to influence political processes in novel ways, the logic of the “appeal to nature” is inherently limiting and disempowering. It is a demonstration in what is impossible, or conversely, also what is necessary and unavoidable. Therefore, because of environmentalism‟s relationship to this tradition of theorizing, it is held captive by what it takes to be its strongest asset: scientism. Scientism grants environmentalism an objective nature to know and speak for, yet at the same time confines it to an arrangement that has historically supported industrialism and capitalism (Chaloupka 2007). This relationship between scientism and capitalism has been elaborated by a number of traditions. The critical theory of the Frankfort School extended Marx‟s concept of commodity fetishism into a general critique of “bourgeois thought” and instrumental reason that included modern science and its technological products (Vogel 1996). The main gist of these arguments was that the products of science and industry heighten the domination and alienation of humanity in the name of liberating it. Heidegger and his followers were also staunch critics of the relationship between scientism and technocratic capitalism. Both schools of thought were pessimistic about overcoming the combined power of modern science and capitalism. However, they also both tended accept the false self-understanding of science and an ontological dualism between nature and culture.


All this could be suggestive for positive concepts for political ecology.5 These problems have continued to bedevil political philosophy and specifically environmental theory. In addition to Viveiros de Castro‟s presentation of perspectivism. one might ask what that means for environmental theory? If not Nature. „nature‟ and „culture‟. While I think it is sufficient that some theorists offer only critique or imaginative provocations to this conceptual dilemma. the stimulus for this paper is that there are alternative ways of thinking about the relationships between humans and nonhumans. what follows has been influenced and inspired by a generation of indigenous intellectuals that have sought 5 . I propose that the conception of indigenous perspectivism as developed by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (2005) is an insightful and heuristic example for thinking through the dualism of Nature and Culture and unsettling their capture of the environmental imagination. It is possible to find more suitable and useful non-dualist analytic and normative categories that could be employed in political ecology. then what kinds of categories are suitable for political ecology? What the green activists might reasonably ask is what sort of positive vision does the redistribution of Nature (and Culture) reveal? This is a question that 'critics of Nature' are sometimes hesitant to answer because the question seems to demand a universal and totalizing alternative. Thus Latour (2004) argued that political ecology could not be properly conceptualized before the antinomies of Nature and Culture were dissolved and redistributed. What is often denied in this case is a symmetrical and all-encompassing alternative to Nature and Culture as analytic and normative categories and a general distaste of universals. If we are at all intrigued Latour's provocative stance.

the conceptual and strategic problems of the environmental movement have been characterized as crisis of modernism (Chaloupka 2007). Winona Daluke. From the indigenous cosmological point of view. Robert Warrior. Indigenous cosmologies of the Americas do not proceed from the precepts of Nature and Culture. multinaturalism replaces naturalism as an ontological basis and perspectivism replaces objectivism as the epistemological and 2 A very incomplete list includes Leo Little Bear. Gregory Cajete. Jack Forbes. this paper approaches the dissolution of Nature and Culture in a very specific way. under all this are the doctrines of naturalism and objectivism.6 to explicate and legitimate indigenous cosmologies. Linda Hogan. Although there has been extensive debate and confusion about exactly what Wittgenstein meant with that insight. The belief that indigenous thought has important things to say about political ecology (and philosophy more generally) is joined by Wittgenstein‟s invocation that when we come across a dualism or an antimony we ought to dissolve it. Craig Womack. Laying. often invisibly and unchallenged. Here lies the unquestioned and unquestionable boundary of “reasonable” and “rational” thought as well as of science and progress. The specific feature of modernism that are of interest for political ecology is scientism and the social domination related with it. 6 . Taiaiake Alfred. It also includes a long list of other contemporary indigenous intellectuals both within and outside academia 2 . First among this cohort is the late Vine Deloria Jr. Nimachia Hernandez. To address that problem of Nature and Culture in philosophy and in environmental politics I believe it is necessary to cross this boundary. Instead they propose a multidimensional and transformational universe of diverse subjects or persons that apprehend reality from distinct points of view. As mentioned already above in regards to the Frankford School and Heidegger. Elizabeth Lyn-Cook.

Understanding indigenous cosmologies has been a difficult and problematic enterprise (Smith 1999. however. This essay necessarily takes an a stance on all these issues. the characterization of indigenous cosmologies and the suggestive insights for political ecology are but one 7 . Deloria 1996). including those domains associated with „nature‟ and „culture‟. nature/culture and political ecology. Together. All boundaries from this perspective are contingent and mediated. to the explicit epistemological and ontological questions that are raised and form the main content of this essay. Needless to say these are all important problems and the subject of considerable controversy. interpretation. Thus if we get some idea of what the redistribution of Nature and Culture looks like in a certain context. The concepts of Nature and Culture in indigenous contexts prevent adequate understandings of indigenous practices and their intellectual contributions (Forbes 2001). translation and appropriation are involved in pursing a claim like this. context. perspectivism and multinaturalism support a protean and negotiated order of political relations incorporating all beings. commensurably. the concepts of perspectivism and multinaturalism are fully reflexive and apply to themselves. One of the anthropological problems engages the tightly intertwined and problematic intellectual projects of indigenous ethnology. Following from this. if we can better understand the categories informing indigenous worldviews. then we will have made considerable distance in redistributing the concepts of Nature and Culture. comment will be limited. then we may gain some insights for political ecology that might travel to other contexts.7 normative stance. A thorny multitude of anthropological problems having to do with questions of understanding. Because of their intertwined condition. As I hope to show.

8 . Viveiros de Castro‟s conceptualization of indigenous perspectivism is presented as a way of dissolving „nature‟ and „culture‟ and redistributing their referents across a diverse field of subjects. 2004) plays an important role in coming to this conclusion and his work helps to set up my argument about indigenous perspectivism. If a little is learned about each and a few insights are garnered. Next. of course. while the second strategy attempts to incorporate nature into culture. I argue that both strategies have thus far failed because of conceptual reasons having to do with the constitution of nature and culture.8 contingent point of view developed for my specific purposes. This. I suggest that indigenous traditional ecological knowledge and management are one practical and political application of indigenous perspectivism to environmental policy. then this will have been a successful endeavor. Next I survey various efforts to resolve the nature/culture problem. It is by no means the only or best way of looking at indigenous worldviews or the final or complete suggestions for political ecology. Within environmental studies the culture/nature problem has been addressed primarily in two ways: The first strategy attempts to enfold culture within nature. as well as conceptualizations and arguments about environmental theory and advocacy. I argue that these problems have created an impasse for environmental politics and political ecology as practical political strategies. The work of Bruno Latour (1994. Finally. is a gross simplification and some the complexities are addressed and discussed. This „redistribution‟ might stimulate environmental political theorists to think more creatively and imaginatively about their subject matter. This essay begins by illustrating how the construction of nature and culture as antinomies creates conceptual and practical problems for environmental politics.

With both strategies the ideal is some kind of balance or harmony between the two apparently distinct domains. Biersach and Greenberg 2006. 9 . In other words. In the West.9 The Impasse Created by the Nature/Culture Problem The traditional approach and dilemma for environmental theory is how to include humans and 'culture' into the natural world in a just and sustainable manner. civilization and savagery. the ontological divide between humans and nonhumans has also meant a hierarchical of valuation of „culture‟ over „nature‟ as well as the subjects and objects associated with this divide such as humanity and animality. Cronon 1995. This approach to environmental theory. Dickens 1996. have been the target of hierarchical valuation (Haraway 1988). there is little agreement about how to go about this intervention or the criteria for its resolution (Brown and Toadvine 2007. 3 While the problem is recognized in the environmental literature as the need to affect some kind of consilience between these two domains of life and their associated social spaces. at least in part. But before this 3 It should be noted however that each of these dichotomies have a unique history and logic that do not all line up evenly on one side or the other. I will argue. Vogel 1996. to the continuing domination and denigration of those domains of life perceived to be on the „natural‟ or 'object' side of the dichotomy. animate and inanimate along with many other „dualisms‟. has led to an impasse. Populations and practices identified as unnatural. Or conversely. The „unnatural‟ is another leg on the axis of Nature and Culture. men and women. Wilson 1998. This has contributed. the problem is how to bridge the „Great (ontological) Divide‟ between Nature and Culture. like gays and lesbians. Oelschaeger 1991). between the nonhuman and the human. Peet and Watts 1996. others formulate the problem as how to properly include „nature‟ and nonhumans into „culture‟ and the human world in a just and sustainable manner.

under ideal circumstances. In other words. and other features of the environmental landscape. assessing the worth of nonhuman life in terms of its cultural value to humans seems to be at the source of the original problem: that is.10 consilience can be affected and the impasse breached. forests. Alternatively. The construction of Nature and Culture as antinomies needs to be addressed before these critical questions can be answered. The stronger claim. protect what is currently valued by a market regime. 4 The identification of conceptual problems in argument does not automatically mean weakness in political action. point to potential vulnerabilities.4 When. The utilitarian approach can never attribute an intrinsic value to anything. For example. The separation of culture from nature is a problem for environmental politics in two very specific ways: one more theoretical and the other more practical. 10 . preservation and protection of animals. anthropocentric arguments in favor of assessing an „appropriate‟ social utility to the „costs‟ of „natural resources‟ can only. for example. when culture is enclosed within nature. In the first case the separation of culture and nature creates difficulties in making conceptually coherent arguments for the respect. nature becomes an endorsement of the status quo. is that many environmentalists misunderstand the fundamental character of the problem they seek to redress. both of which have led to an impasse. It does however. deep ecology and other ecocentric environmental perspectives attempt to include the „human animal‟ within the „natural‟ domain they lose the normative appeal of „nature‟ as a balanced or homeostatic „system‟ in contrast to a cultural sphere gone astray. which I am also making. the conceptualization of those domains identified in the West as „nature‟ and „culture‟ must be reformulated. central to the processes that have led to environmental destruction in the first place. because the critical distinction dissolves. at the very least.

these environmental organizations told them that their problem was a “community health issue” and not an “environmental” one. William Chaloupka (2000) points out that a strain of authoritarianism in the environmental movement often puts them in league with conservatives who exploit these ecological arguments self-servingly to rationalize inequality and injustice. 11 . Rather than see poor communities as victims of environmental degradation. the Global South) and view their problems as not sufficiently „environmental‟ to warrant their concern. tend to ignore the pressing needs of low-income communities (people of color. Giovanna Di Chiro (1995) relates a story about local residents in south central Los Angeles who were fighting to stop plans to build a solid waste incinerator in their community which would pollute the surrounding air and water. ecocentric approaches often blame the victim as a cause or aggravating condition of these problems. The specter of Third World „overpopulation‟ as the major threat to the global environment is part of this way of thinking. The „practical‟ aspect of the problem is the issue of environmental justice.11 The assimilation of nature to culture. understood in this way. seems no more adequate to addressing the culture/nature problem. Ecocentric environmental organizations are often perceived as privileging the protection of certain animal species and habitats against the survival and welfare of humans and their problems of poverty and injustice. As an example of this. This problem is encountered when certain „natures‟ are privileged over certain people or „cultures‟. Ecocentric approaches to environmental policy unfortunately. When community activists asked the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund for assistance.

This tradition resolves the nature/culture problem toward the pole of Culture. But this is hardly the case. Attempts to Resolve the Nature/Culture Problem Within the literature on environmental theory. materialism or discourse. these communities more often than not share the fate of their flora and fauna brethren. poststructuralist and postmodern engagements with environmental studies. The second tradition is a diverse and eclectic corpus incorporating post-Marxist. because theorists from these perspectives often think they are accomplishing something different.12 In the context of human needs. those that aim to incorporate the human and the cultural into a unified field of nature are most associated with a „wilderness or nature tradition. The objectification of the „natural‟ world as exploitable natural resources has its corollary in the treatment of human communities as labor resources or expendable obstacles to „progress‟. To the contrary. The same logic of domination operates in both domains. it might appear that an anthropocentric or a human centered approach would be better suited to the problems of environmental justice.‟ This tradition decidedly resolves the nature/culture problem toward the pole of Nature. This is said with a fair degree of tentativeness. Within this body of 12 . The economic utility typical of anthropocentric approaches has never been very helpful to these particular human communities: That is the vast majority of people that live in material poverty and in the Global South. like transcending nature and culture via dialects. These two traditions correspond to the two camps that most bitterly fought the „Nature Wars‟ of the nineteen nineties where greens accused postmodernists of undermining the environmental movement by claiming that “nature” was “socially constructed” (Chaloupka 2000).

Aldo Leopold among many others (Oelschaeger 1991). mets the scientistic „objective‟ nature of ecology. The argument will proceed by examining how nature was conceived and the dilemmas confronted by these conceptions. The Nature/Wilderness Tradition Central to the project of resolving the nature/culture problem in the direction of nature is the claim that Nature can in some way tell us the right ways to live and organize the polity. The Land Ethic was a profound criticism of industrial society and an attempt to bridge 13 . Advocates of deep ecology often take up this claim. Two main principles of deep ecology are egalitarianism between humans and nonhuman and the belief that nature is characterized by a fundamental harmony or balance.13 work. Henry David Thoreau. Aldo Leopold‟s concept of the Land Ethic in A Sand Country Almanac is one expression of the uneasy relationship between the 'spiritual' and 'scientific' aspects of environmentalism and the competing tendencies toward immanence and transcendence. Insofar as this was and is the case. Deep ecology is a methodologically diverse grouping of ecological perspectives. those that failed to critically examine and unpack the mutual constitution of Nature and Culture as antinomies were unable to provide an adequate theoretical basis for political ecology. claiming intellectual heritage from thinkers as diverse as Spinoza. Heidegger. The modern environmental movement in the United States originated in the transcendentalism of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir. the transcendental spiritual 'nature' of Thoreau. Nature or wilderness plays a spiritual role for the environmental movement that is not easily reconciled with its tendencies toward scientism. John Muir. In deep ecology.

It is wrong when it tends otherwise” (Leopold. was the question of what and whose criteria of „preservation‟ should be used to make such judgments. that nature. however. he wanted to transcend the culture/nature chasm as a historical process. it is unlikely that Leopold‟s argument can get us there.” Leopold‟s emphasis on community attempted to bring humans. What was unclear. once the logic is made explicit. as did Thoreau. a chasm that he saw growing ever wider in his own lifetime. stability. He believed. He also thought that humans had something to learn from this ecological balance. into the natural world. Leopold used the metaphor of a community to advocate for human responsibility toward the land and all its creatures within a single “biotic community. left to its own devices. Leopold could have had in mind Thoreau‟s claim that. If these values and judgments do not 14 . then we must rely on the ecologist's values about what should be preserved and what constitutes a balanced system. “In wildness lies the preservation of the world. the opportunity to learn from wild 'nature' was rapidly disappearing. would thrive and maintain a harmonic balance. Specifically. He concluded that. This „preservationist‟ attitude forms part of the basis for deep ecology and specifically the claim outlined above that nature has values and can tell us the right way to live. Although the direction Leopold wanted to go seemed fairly clear. “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity. But if wilderness and nature are more than a description of what ecologists currently observe. and beauty of the biotic community. physically and ethically. cited in Oelschlaeger 1991: 238).14 the gap between scientific concerns for a detached objectivity of ecological systems and the ethical concerns about making normative judgments on what was right for the land and for nonhumans.” But as „wildness‟ disappeared.

and anti-democratic as political strategy and policy. But if you remember. 2007). He makes a strong case that the current environmental problems. however. and the problems of industrial society more generally. But because Oelschaeger believes that the separation is a linguistic construction and not in a physical quantity located in the brain. This is contrary to the view that the distinction is a historically recent and culturally relative achievement. an untenable position conceptually. then „culture‟ must be influencing the judgments and understanding of those values. the conceptual waters of deep ecology were considerably muddied. A more recent attempt to resolve the ontological separation of culture and nature in the direction of a nature is made by Max Oelschaeger (2007). Combining elements of poststructuralism with post-Darwinian theory he argues that the culture/nature separation occurred with the acquisition of language some 50. This is.15 come solely from the description of „nature‟.000 years ago. „culture‟ was supposed to be the cause of wilderness destruction and therefore sanitized from ecologists‟ observations. he argues that it is possible and necessary to loosen the grip 15 . couldn‟t this situation be described as one of competing values within „culture‟ or between cultures rather than between a pristine „nature‟ on the one side and a corrupted „culture‟ on the other? Although culture was supposed to be enfolded into nature. Once the subjective elements of values and political choices was allowed to enter the model. are rooted in this ontological divide. the dualism and separation would appear to be necessary for a critical point of view. Alternatively though. What the Nature versus Culture construction provided environmentalists was a privileged access to an objective truth and certainty as well as a source of authority beyond cultural values and political debate (Latour 2004. in the the model of deep ecology.000-200. Chaloupka 2000.

the concept of nature/wilderness needs to be explored. There is agreement here that the culture/nature distinction is a linguistic construction. However. It glosses over qualitative differences in language that point to a deep linguistic relativity (Lee 1996). exemplified by Leopold‟s Land Ethic. Most of the places identified as „wilderness‟ in the Americas were places of Native habitation and these landscapes were profoundly influenced by indigenous practices. The ecological attitude. Criticism of the Nature/Wilderness Tradition Before moving on to the alternatives. Although Oelschaeger‟s account is an attempt to shore up the weaknesses and ambiguities found in the Land Ethic. this displacement of the nature/nature distinction to the acquisition of language grants entirely too much to those same dominant Western narratives. but we cannot assume that the culture/nature distinction or even the concepts of „culture‟ and „nature‟ are human universals without first submitting them to a “rigorous ethnographic critique” (Castro 2005: 36). is a workable raw material that I will use as a stalking horse to compare and contrast with the concepts of perspectivism and multinaturalism. The problem was that Europeans misrecognized these landscapes as the 'natural' or original state of the 16 .16 of the narratives of cultural and natural separation. perhaps through Gramscian counterhegemonic narratives. it does not do any better and likely moves us further away from the target. One of the conceptual difficulties with the Land Ethic‟s reformulation of the „human-natural‟ relationship is that it lacks any historical/empirical referent.

p. In another article. 17 . War. was the newly emptied “Wild West” created by the processes of colonialism. the landscape would revert to something similar to the one that they found in America. Natives also preferred the open spaces that the fires created for hunting and travel. providing a 5 One famous expression of this idea that “in the beginning all the world was America. Cronon points out that concern for disappearing wilderness and the political motivation to preserve certain landscapes for future generations to experience occurred precisely at the conclusion of the Indian wars and with the confinement of Natives to reservations. Clearing the detritus and brush promoted old growth trees and berries in the open spaces. They imagined that if humans disappeared from Europe. wild edible plants and the large ancient trees that Europeans encountered in colonial New England were all enhanced and cultivated by Native practices. emphasized that the abundance of game animals. Geography. 158. William Cronon (1983). Intentionally set fires played an enormous role in creating the „park-like‟ atmosphere of many New England landscapes. seen by wellto-do vacationing Easterners. disease and the internment of Natives made the West safe to be enjoyed as wilderness and „untouched‟ pristine Nature.” is ma de by John Locke in the Two Treatises of Government.5 The idea of an untouched and sublime wilderness has been a persistent idea since these first European encounters in the Americas and continues to inspire the imagination of environmentalists even though it is empirically and historically unsupported.17 world. and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Madison. as well as new grazing grounds for game animals. The vast and empty so-called wilderness of the West. the Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History. Cronon (1995) writes about the origins of the conservation movement and the circumstances under which the national parks in the western United States were created.

or the idea of untouched pristine nature. For these reasons wilderness. see the nature/culture problem resolved through dialects or the continual transformation of culture to nature and vice versa. The borders of nature and culture at one particular time and place are never clear or certain. The conceptual hurtles throw up by Nature and Culture are encountered by Aletta Biersach (2006). Industrialization and colonization built cities and spaces felt to be lacking in „nature‟ and causing „man‟ to become effeminate for lack of rugged wilderness to test „his‟ mettle on. Studies that embrace the Culture pole of the nature/culture dualism also face sticky theoretical and historical problems because they do not properly address the mutual constitution of Nature and Culture. or in other words. Beyond Nature? A second generation of environmental theorizing sought to resolve the nature/culture distinction on the side of culture. in an introduction she wrote to a collection of essays on political 18 . For example post-Marxist approaches to environmental studies. was the same root cause of the need for preservation in the first place. What can be known is what Marxists and post-Marxists call second nature. is an equivocal and problematic concept. their efforts also led to a dead-end at a problematic impasse. This is why post-Marxist approaches are categorized in the tradition that resolves the nature/culture problem in the direction of culture.18 temporary escape from the „infirmities of civilization‟ in the East. However. thoroughly cultural. The irony was that the form of life that created the economic wealth that enabled people to enjoy the „wilderness‟ of the West as a past-time. which is acknowledged to be marked by human labor. The commodification of human labor and its products is the prime example of second nature.

and any combination of the two terms impossible. this is viewed as the unfolding of truth and reality. What marks this grand critique as post-Marxist perhaps is its intellectual heritage and social commitment and the double denunciation that dialectical thinking enables. And even more seriously. Dialectics allow for the rapid transition and transformation of Nature to Culture as the essence of historical process. poststructuralism. feminism and postcolonialism without adequately examining each of the approaches or inquiring into their compatibility with one another. functionalism. While the attempt at synthesis and the social commitments may be admirable we might keep in mind Bruno Latour‟s suggestion for constructing political ecology: Political ecologists have supposed that they could dispense with the conceptual work. Poststructuralist and postmodern approaches to environmental studies resist their categorization into a single frame. Rather. What is striking about this montage of theoretical approaches is the ease at which the „modern critique‟ allows one to move back and forth between incommensurate theoretical resources. they have claimed. There she attempted to weld together an eclectic set of conceptual approaches invoking culture/power/history/nature in an all encompassing critique. any synthesis. to have “gotten beyond” the old distinction between humans and things. She strings together. in the enthusiasm of ecumenical vision. sculpted in such a way that they had gradually become incompatible (Latour. Nothing about this is seen as contradictory.‟ Theorists taking the first position come essentially to 19 . It is not at all clear that the glue of culture and history can hold nature and politics together without first carefully retracing the steps that created nature and politics as contrary concepts. Four positions can be identified depending on what sort of status they grant to „nature. profiled. without noticing that the notion of nature and politics had been developed over centuries in such a way to make any juxtaposition. to the contrary. subjects of the law and objects of science—without observing that these entities had been shaped. 2004:3) Emphasis added. post-Marxism.19 ecology.

there are those that explicitly want to break down the boundaries of nature and culture and to re-image the world. I find this line of research the most interesting and draw on their insights and criticisms to support my argument for perspectivism and multinaturalism and the dissolution and redistribution of Nature and Culture. animate and inanimate.” arguing for the breakdown of the “last beachheads” of human uniqueness such as language. tool use. which is most characteristic of postmodernism. “Nothing really convincingly settles the separation of humans and animals. I do not address the literature taking up the second and third positions. “Constructing Nature: Elements for a poststructuralist political ecology. that nature is knowable only though its particular cultural manifestation. social behavior. The third position. 1993). that is. yet unwilling to concede to its irrelevance. are deeply suspicious of the boundaries between nature and culture. As a discursive artifact. each of these 20 . Donna Haraway writes. recognizing that the ontological divide between nature and culture is inherently unstable. and their associated divisions between humans and animals. physical and mental. The second position simply denies the concept of nature has any real referent and relevance. For example.” (1996) takes up this position. 1991: 193).g. Instead. Dissolving Nature and Culture as Antimonies These „posthumanist‟ theorists. nature is variously constructed and contingent. often feminist. and mental states (Haraway.20 the same conclusions as the post-Marxists. Arturo Escobar‟s essay. theorists in this group prefer to explore the paradoxes and contradictions manifested by nature and culture as antinomies (e. Chaloupka and Cawley. Rather I address them conceptually with arguments from the forth position. remains agnostic about nature. Lastly.

I will argue that humanity needs to be understood in a very distinct way. Gary Lease. These comments express an anxiety over the loss of Nature as source of objectivity and authority. 21 . by no means slight.g. that the consequences of collapsing the ontological partitions of „nature‟ and „culture‟ meant a redefinition of the „human‟ being and the very meaning of „humanity‟. is collection of essays dedicated to militating against the excesses of postmodernism and the „assault‟ on the idea of nature in environmental theory. Lease then demurs by wondering “What can Haraway mean?” In this statement Lease hopes that his audience with will be equally as frustrated as he is. with doing the careful thinking required for the conceptualization of political ecology. to rescue nature from the onslaught of modern technologized humanity. Haraway understood. declared in exasperation that: “Haraway wants to focus attention on the fact that even the attempts to rescue the nonhuman from the human. Santa Cruz. and impatient.21 „beachheads‟ had been chipped away at by studies of nonhuman primates (e. 1995:3). a co-editor of this volume and a professor in History of Consciousness at the University of California. Reinventing Nature: Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction (1995). 2007). perhaps similar to the crisis feminism went though over its „third wave‟ (Chaloupka. is itself a human construction” (Lease. Cronon and others. of course. The implications of these claims are. they lack merit. Chaloupka argues that these defensive responses express a crisis in green theory. These attempts to dissolve the nature/culture divide have provoked a backlash. Later. Because they fail to respond to the criticisms put forth by Haraway. Haraway 1988). perhaps more than others.

Haraway‟s program. Luther Standing Bear. in Land of the Spotted Eagle (1933). To us it was tame” (Standing Bear. Redistributing Nature and Culture What this latter „post-nature‟ group (the group that resolves the nature/culture problem in the direction of culture) may have in common is a desire to go beyond all the modernist dualisms. as she often wants to push the limits of imagination for thinking about the world. indigenous peoples have been expressing similar sentiments ever since confronted with these peculiarly Western intellectual dilemmas.22 If there is any merit to these worries. and as it could be. there are alternative models of ecology and politics available. does not remove it from its structural relationship to a colonial project. This may be intentional. insightfully commented on the problem of viewing nonhuman beings as „wild‟ and „wilderness‟: “Only to the white man was nature “wilderness” and only to him was the land “infested” with wild animals and “savage” people. but a change in concepts and conventional ways of thinking and acting. The fact that modern environmentalism places a positive valence on the concept of wilderness. does not translate easily into terms that are desired by environmentalists. it is the apparent lack of a positive program for environmental theory. That having been said. and an uncertainty of where to go from there. and nature as wilderness. both as it currently is. 1933: 38). Indigenous perspectivism as I have been suggesting is one of them. What sort of world is envisioned without this ontological divide? My 22 . Although the formulation I present is specifically developed to address the nature/culture problem. for example. exemplified by Nature and Culture. What is needed is not simply a change in vocabulary.

1993). Hence. adds to that intellectual exchange. but his essay on perspectivism and multinaturalism reflects on themes covering indigenous thought throughout the Americas. hopefully. Latour coined the term „multinaturalism‟ to distinguish it from cultural relativism and Viveiros de Castro has developed that concept further in order to highlight certain feature of indigenous cosmologies.” Retracing the steps of these theoretical moves is necessary to envision the world without Nature and Culture as antinomies. because they were constructed as constitutive conditions of modernity (Latour.23 suggestion. Viveiros de Castro cites We Have Never Been Modern as an initial inspiration for his article on perspectivism and multinaturalism. He argues that the uncertainties and ambiguities of postmodernism and poststructuralism depend on theoretical moves that created the world as “modern. He argues that the concept of indigenous perspectivism cannot 23 . a Brazilian anthropologist at the National Museum of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. This should not be a great surprise because the insights flow both directions: Latour cites Phillipe Descola‟s anthropology of the Archurs of the Peruvian Amazon as an exemplar of holistic knowledge. there is a dialogical process in these Western theoretical discussions about transcending the dichotomizing tradition. where indigenous points of view are beginning to make an impact. began his research in indigenous Amazonia. most closely follows the philosopher and anthropologist Bruno Latour in this work We Have Never Been Modern (1993). This essay. but rather amodern or nonmodern. Viveiros de Castro. In this work he argued that the necessary approach to envision the world without Nature and Culture as opposing ontological domains is neither modern nor postmodern. (that is the insights I hope to show coming from indigenous cosmologies).

immanence and transcendence. The critique of these Western intellectual traditions “requires the disassociation and redistribution of the predicates subsumed under Nature and Culture: universal and particular. body and spirit. it resists the opposition between relativism and universalism which characterize the dominant intellectual traditions in the West. “predator animals and spirits see humans as animals of 24 . Rather. fact and value. the given and the constructed. 2005:36-37). multinaturalism suggest the unity of spirit and the diversity of bodies. “Typically. Whereas cultural relativism rest on the assumption of the unity of nature and the diversity of cultures.24 be reduced to current understandings of relativism “which at first it seems to call to mind” (Viveiros de Castro. necessity and spontaneity. however they are heuristic and edifying in the effort to unthink the dualism of nature and culture and the conceptual traps they lead us into. “humans see humans as humans and animals as animals. physical and moral.” Conversely. animality and humanity. among many more” (opt. cite). Viveiros de Castro admits that all of these contrasts are too neat and too symmetrical to be anything more than speculative. Indigenous Perspectivism Indigenous cosmologies of the Americas do not proceed from the precepts of Nature and Culture. in normal conditions. This “conceptual reshuffling” leads Viveiros de Castro to the concept of multinaturalism to describe the contrasting indigenous ontological categories.” Viveiros de Castro writes. What follows will attempt to show this. Instead they propose a multidimensional and transformational universe of diverse subjects or persons that apprehend reality from distinct points of view. objective and subjective.

marriage rules etc. They see bodily attributes (fur. would look like naxnoq. and that to them. The „perspectival‟ principle is illustrated by this example of the relations between salmon.) (opt. ethical relationships are seen to be continually negotiated among diverse sorts of „persons‟ and entities that are considered to have agency or intentionality. the underlying logic is significantly different. feathers. etc. the idea of community or communities comes to life in a much more direct and literal sense. beaks. in comparison to Leopold‟s idea of an ecological community in the Land Ethic. bears. I do not 25 . cite).). For many indigenous peoples of the Americas this idea extends to plants and other aspects of the environment. The Achuar of the Ecuadorian rainforest. rituals. for example. stipulate that many plants possess souls that are formally “identical to the one humans are endowed” (Descola 2005: 22). claws. Therefore. This gives plants consciousness. animals are people. intentionality and the ability to feel emotions and communicate with each other and with humans. the leaves of the cotton tree falling in the Skeena River are the salmon of the salmon people. and they see their social system as organized in just the same way human institutions (with chiefs. However. while ethical concerns thoroughly permeate relations between human and nonhuman persons. however. More specifically: Seeing us as non-human beings. we human beings. or „persons‟ too. For instance. They perceive themselves to be or become anthropomorphic when they are in their own houses or villages and experience their own habits and characteristics in the form of culture. etc.25 prey to the same extent that animals of prey see humans as spirits or predator animals” (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 38). the dead see crickets as fish. Rather than a homeostatic balance in a mechanistic system. one would discover that salmon people are to themselves as human beings are to us. the world looks like a human community surrounded by an spiritual realm. including an animal kingdom with all beings coming and going according to their kinds and interfering with each others' lives. if one were to go and become an animal. Thus they see their food as human food (jaguars see blood as manioc beer. animals and spirits see themselves as humans. for the human being. Such translation goes through several levels.) as adornments or cultural instruments. cotton trees and humans: If one is to follow the main myths. or perhaps bears feeding on their salmon. a salmon for instance. vultures see the maggots in rotting flesh as grilled meat. shamans. Seen in this way.

Different peoples recognize different species. All aspects of the landscape are not equally significant however. cited in Viveiros de Castro 2005: 51). guess they appear what we look like to the salmon unless they looked like bears. materialisable. 26 . in a human bodily schema concealed behind an animal mask” (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 38) However. objects and locations as more or less powerful. The importance of place cannot be underestimated when discussing indigenous cosmologies.26 know what the salmon would be for the leaf. Physical and conceptual geographies are in fact inseparable (Hernandez 1999). more or less imbued with spirit or subjectivity. and a variable bodily appearance. such as shamans. This fact is central to the idea of traditional ecological knowledge which will be discussed further on. (Guedon 1984:141-42. let us say. Predator-prey relationships exemplify the relational perspectives of the subject. It is central to notions of identity. where the subject takes the form of the human being. The attribution of spirit or intentionality depends on the particular place and on the „original instructions‟ or stories that established that place and maintain the relationships between a particular „human‟ people and other nonhuman peoples that share that place (Deloria 1997). material welfare as well as conceptual formation. concealing an internal human form which is normally only visible to the eyes of the particular species. it is important to note that this is not a dichotomous “distinction between an anthropomorphic essence of a spiritual kind. or to certain transspecific beings.” This incorporate the idea that the “internal form is the spirit of the animal” which is “an intentionality or subjectivity which is for mally identical with human consciousness. common to animate beings. The idea of universal sociality or agency is related “with the idea that the visible form of every species is an envelope (a 'clothing').

” because bodily appearance is “not a fixed attribute but rather changeable and removable clothing” (opt. humans who are inadvertently changed into animals —an omnipresent process in the “highly transformational world” (Riviere 1994) proposed by Amazonian cultures (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 38). Knowledge of the world. Knowing as a Way of Doing This thoroughly social and relational ontology proposed by indigenous cultures of the Americas implies a way of knowing altogether different from the objectivist epistemologies arising from the naturalistic ontology of modernism and rhetoric of Western science.27 characteristic of each species. one's own or that of others. in shamanic discourse) as a prosopomorphic agent capable of affecting human affairs is always present. physical and universal laws (like gravity) govern and are the final cause of all phenomena. from this perspective. cited in Viveiros de Castro 2005). Something that appears as an animal. The processes of transformation are ever present. In other words: „This notion of clothing‟ is. at the root of everything. animals that turn into other animals. In this regard. in fact. Even the apparently most complex phenomena like human bodies and minds or ecosystems. one of the privileged expressions of universal metamorphosis—spirits. cite). are the result of these physical laws and can in principle be reduced to them. is measured by the degree of objectification that can be applied to an object or a process. a plant or an object of some sort might be a spirit in disguise of something of an altogether different nature (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 39). personal experience. This leads to the “possibility that a hitherto insignificant being reveals itself (in dreams. the dead and shamans who assume animal form. is more decisive than any substantive cosmological dogma. Daniel 27 . The Western scientific ontology presupposes that.” Therefore the distinction between animals and spirits or animals and plants seen in their spirit form is “not always clear or pertinent” (Alexiades 1999:194. Along these lines.

animals and other beings of the cosmos continue to be humans. Gaining knowledge about something means adducing the maximum amount of intentionality and agency to that thing. This means that knowing involves understanding and participating in the characteristic ways and customs of that subjective domain. from the „Western‟ science perspective. The efficacy of this approach depends on correctly identifying the mechanisms and feedback loops in operation. By contrast. indigenous thought concludes the inverse principle. as well as the short term and long term anthropocentric requirements and aesthetic judgments. exemplifies the ideal of objectification. on a faith in reductionism. then subjectification is its counterpart in indigenous epistemologies. Having once been „completely‟ animals. acquiring knowledge is the processes of turning an artifact or an object into a subject or agent. seeing a nature as culture. Ecosystems management attempts to identify the complex mechanisms and feedback loops that govern an ecosystem so that they can intervene and make adjustments. That is to say. Biology. that having once been humans. from this same „Western‟ perspective. in other words. Knowledge of an ecosystem. is the objectification of the human body into its constitutive parts and the processes which ultimately reside in the chemistry and physics of molecular biology. 28 .28 Dennett has argued that we should attribute only the minimum amount of intentionality necessary in order to explain a given action or phenomenon with the epistemological ideal of „reducing intentionality to zero‟ (Dennett 1978). albeit in a non-evident way” (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 41) If objectification is the name of the game in the epistemology of western science. This type of research depends. ultimately. 6 A subject is always an insufficiently analyzed object. „deep down‟ we remain animals. 6 It should be noted that the reduction of physics and chemistry to quantum physics has been considerably more problematic project. Therefore a Western evolutionary biologist sees: …humanity as built from animal foundations which are normally hidden by culture.

for disease. the spirit of smallpox. An object is always an insufficiently analyzed subject. The ideal of knowledge here is nearly opposite to the ideal of objectification advocated by western science. it is a political art—a diplomacy (Viveiros de Castro 2005:42).29 Shamanistic practices and discourses exemplify this approach to knowledge. shamans are capable of playing the role of active interlocutors in transspecific dialogues. Above all. the science of the body is the process of communicating and negotiating with its spirits or souls (some peoples claim that an individual has a plurality of souls) and the other spirits or spiritual forces affecting them (e. The encounter with or exchange of perspectives is a dangerous process. from an indigenous point of view. coca leaves. making an offering of tobacco. This is an ongoing. in the case of fright or trauma). Social institutions incorporate shamanistic doctrines in the maintenance of these relationships. Some of these occur on an everyday level though practices of reciprocity and renewal. From the indigenous perspective the ideal is a dialogue and political negotiation (consistent with the notion of diplomacy) of diverse perspectives and interests. rather than the idea of intervention in a mechanical system of feedback loops. From indigenous perspectives. Seeing non-human beings as these beings see themselves (as humans). shamans are capable of seeing others in their human form.‟ This is the case with something like „ecosystem‟s management‟ or its indigenous equivalent. corn 29 .g. which is something that laymen are hardly able to do. For example. But above all they are capable of returning to tell the tale. Shamanistic knowing is a way of doing or interacting in the world and communicating with diverse kinds of agents in order to manage the relations between humans and nonhumans. are a „political art or diplomacy. what is ordinarily not possible for most „laymen‟. I want to emphasize the notion that the processes of knowing and knowledge. give and take that requires constant attention in order to maintain and renew beneficial relationships (Cajete 2000). the spirit of jaguar perhaps.

moon. but also rivers. for instance. 30 . Another example of reciprocity is the way Natives of the Pacific Northwest throw their salmon bones back in the river so that they can return to the ocean and be reborn (Menzies 2006).30 dust or other „spiritual currency‟ is a typical act of reciprocity and thanks for use of a plant or taking of an animal. that must be balanced. Ceremonies like the Sun Dance of the Great Plains indigenous nations and sacrifices like fasting contribute and are vital to cosmic processes of renewal and continuity (Cajete 2000. on another level. predatory relations are unavoidable. The Tairona of northern Columbia. One could say that just living or existence accumulates a karmic debt. Respect is the appropriate attitude for these relationships. From this cosmic perspective. They see their role as Elder Brother to balance the cosmic debt created by Younger Brother. humans are indebted to animals and plants. ancestors. While respect and reciprocity are the social ideal for all relationships in indigenous contexts. and stars among many others. This necessitates shamanistic interventions and ceremonial practices of renewal and sacrifice (Cajete 2000). through spiritual practices and informing younger brother to the worsening condition of earth (See Ereira 1993). so to speak. 1999). their mother. They view all other humans as the „Younger Brother‟ who they view as foolish and destroying the earth through a predatory culture. the earth. All these are subjectivities with the intentionality to choose to grant humans and others the possibility of life. As mentioned above. call themselves Elder Brother and view themselves to be the keepers of the earth. Deloria. humans may play as vital role to another subjectivity which may be just as significant as water is for humans.

these kinds of practices have little ecological value and are viewed. like planting crops together like corn.7 From this point of view the persistent culture/nature distinction dissolves. This leads to multinaturalism or the idea that there are many „natures‟. From indigenous perspectives the relations between humans and nonhumans are social. 1996. but natures that are always contingent and transformable. which are only transgressed under unusual conditions or by specially trained individuals is perspectivism. like control burning. beans and squash that create a natural nitrogen cycle and control weeds as well as knowledge of medicinal plants that can be understood and appreciated from the „functionalist stance‟ of ecological science. The cultural is the form of the universal and the natural is the form of the particular. wildlife biology and chemistry. This may be recognized as animism. That people typically recognize boundaries between themselves and other beings. However. It is precisely because these „natural‟ beings and objects are perceived as agents or subjects possessing intentionality that these relationships cannot be very well interpreted according to a functional logic. There are other practices. is cultural and enacted from another. however. animals. as superstitions. This is the inverse principle to the one operating in western science. the point must be emphasized. for the most part. Viveiros de Castro writes that: 7 There is at least one context in which boundaries are ordinarily crossed: dreaming. as mentioned before. Humans.31 Clearly. plants and other beings exist and interact within a single sociocosmic domain and field of normativity. from a Western science perspective. see Lee Irwin. that the different point of view on these matters is exactly what is in contention. practices of permaculture. 31 . What is natural and given from one perspective.

Stated a little differently. because when applied to itself. body-objects in 'ecological' interaction with other bodies and forces. really at base. It cannot apply to itself.32 In our naturalist ontology the nature/society interface is natural: humans are organisms like others. and so on. the culture/nature dualism must come back in to create a special knowing subject: which is currently. naturalism has a reflexivity problem. animals and other beings is humanity and not animality. it perpetually oscillates between a naturalistic monism (socio-biology or evolutionary psychology being two of its current avatars) and an ontological dualism of nature/culture (culturalism or symbolic anthropology being some of its contemporary expressions) (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 45). Social relations. the self dissolves into an object. the human species. as our tradition shows. Whereas in popular evolutionary theory humans are. can only exist internal to human society. consciousness. really at base. but it cannot account for ethical questions or the anomalous status of human beings as both „natural‟ and „non-natural‟ beings. The unstable status of „culture‟ is why the culture/nature distinction is such a persistent problem. Our ecocentric critic might argue that this is insufficient because it is still anthropocentric and evaluates all life in terms of a human metric. intentionality. From the western perspective. but has not always been. A naturalist ontology may provide a basis for the idea of an ecological system in homoeostasis. contractual or instituted relations among subjects. animals and other beings are. animals. and objects do not have knowing capacities. But indigenous perspectivism is not 32 . human. But this is the problem of naturalism: how „non-natural‟ can these relations really be? Given the universality of nature. Universal Humanity The common condition of humans. from the indigenous perspective. all of them ruled by the necessary laws of biology and physics. the status of the human and social world is profoundly unstable and. in terms of epistemology. that is. 'productive forces' harness natural forces. It was the „unstable‟ status of the human social world that I identified as a problem for deep ecology and Leopold‟s attempt to create a conceptual basis for the land ethic.

This leads to a necessary distinction between the idea of humanity as condition and humanity as a species. all of humanity in terms of generalizations about its character or worries about third world „overpopulation‟ is an example of the conflation of humanity as a condition of all life and humanity as a species.33 anthropocentric. or on behalf of. if by this we mean dominated by one set of interests and understanding of the world. What reconciles these two apparently contradictory principles is the idea that full personshood is expressed through human particularity rather than through human 33 . The conflation of these contrasting notions has led environmental politics into the philosophical binds of the culture/nature dualism and the practical misrecognition of environmental justice as not sufficiently „environmental. Anthropocentricism is more like speciesism where the „human species‟ is a special evolutionary achievement above all other forms of life. The proposition that humanity is a general background condition for all being and subjectivity makes humanity as species specific form very problematic. Indigenous concepts of self and collectivity illustrate the need to distinguish these two concepts (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 47). which is an important conceptual distinction. One aspect of indigenous thought that has been widely commented on is the idea that humanity stops at the boundaries of the group. the animistic character of indigenous thought extends humanity well beyond the borders of the group and human beings as a species to diverse forms of life. On the other hand. a clear expression of ethnocentrism. Anthropomorphism here entails the idea that the form of the subject or spirit is prototypically a human form (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 45).‟ The idea that environmentalists can speak about. however. It is anthropomorphic.

In this sense also. colorings and characteristic behaviors which are seen as cultural adornments and performance rather than natural expressions of species determination. Viveiros de Castro puts it this way: …emphasis on the social construction of the body cannot be taken as the culturalisation of a natural substrate but rather as the production of a distinctly human body.34 genericity. it is a habitus. If the human form is the model of the spirit and universality. feathers. Here. meaning naturally human. barely living. as the site of differentiating perspective. must be differentiated to the highest degree in order to completely express it (Viveiros de Castro 2005: 59) original emphasis. the dualist dichotomy of Culture and Nature dissolve into a common humanity of the spirit and particular expressions of peoplehood. Such a process seems to be expressing not so much a wish to „de animalise‟ the body through its cultural marking. as well as behaviors like food proscriptions and prohibition and language. but rather to particularise a body that is still too generic. What this repeats is the idea that culture is the form of universal and nature is the form of the particular. The body. but this genericity is. In other words. This particularization takes the form of body art and adornment such as piercing and tattooing. 34 . One „person‟ literally dies and becomes something else. This is what indigenous people has been saying about community and identity all along. intra-species differentiation may be as significant as interspecies differences. The full expression of the self and personhood through particularization and naturalization of the body severs the idea of species distinctiveness in favor of particular peoplehood. “Killing the Indian to save the man. really all socialization. This is why animals have their particular fur. then the animal body is the model of particularity and full personhood. Agamden points out.” is a kind of spiritual death and loss of personhood.8 A critic might argue that the colorings and fur of animals do not equate with human tattoos or ornamentation because a human person can choose how to color their 8 There is perhaps an interesting analogy here with Agamben‟s idea of bare life in Homo Sacer. not dead but not really alive. If a person is tripped down to bare life that is the human being at its most generic. differentiating it from the bodies of other human collectivities as well as from those of other species. Particular humanity or „peoplehood‟ is most closely associated with the prototypical ontological perspective.

35 hair or what tattoo to get. and all foxes molt in the spring and grow thinker coats in the fall. It certainly is the conventional “coat” of their ancestors. after all. Tattoos are generally viewed as connecting a person with their ancestors and thus enabling them to become more fully „Samoan‟. and therefore more fully achieving „personhood‟ or a „particular humanity‟ as I suggested. the first rebuttal might ask how we know that the fox does not choose its coloring (at least in the sense that Samoans “choose” their tattoos). while a fox cannot choose its fur and colorings. this hardly solves the „on the ground problems of environmental politics or environmental justice. change their colorings twice a year. Tattoos and hair coloring are viewed as „free choices‟ and „self-expression‟ in the popular culture of the West. Tattoo practices. in the Pacific for example. convention. But I believe it does dissolve the endless and intractable debates about social justice versus environmental 35 . or anthropocentric versus ecocentric approaches to environmental politics dissolve into the particular dilemmas of specific group of persons (human or nonhuman) versus other group of persons (human or nonhuman). As for the fox. the two examples are at least closer than they might have initially appeared. typically depict ancestral designs that follow authorized patterns that express particular historical meanings and community recognized achievements among other things. the great dilemma of human versus nonhuman interests. Of course. and determination. for example. Multinaturalism With this way of thinking. and perhaps it is the one they like the best? Arctic foxes do. In one sense this is true. So perhaps in regards to choice. However in indigenous contexts the expression of the self resides closer to the expression of the collectivity.

36 preservation. human culture versus the natural world and their various iterations. Stated in that way the circularity I think becomes clear.V. Aldo Leopold was on the right path with the idea of an ecological community. If the dichotomizing intellectual tradition that has led to the culture/nation distinction in the first place has at all contributed the environmental degradation we are currently experiencing. Worry about the status of this „faith‟ underlies a number of projects in the post-empiricist philosophy of science. W. Starting out with the premise that all things in the world operate according to physical laws. through a different intellectual framework. but he bumped up against an invisible wall in attempting to submit that idea to a naturalist ontology. The precepts of naturalist ontology have had great difficulty and are perhaps incapable of accounting for subjectivity and dealing with them in an ethical manner.O. than thinking about these things differently. may be one step toward establishing more balanced and sustainable relationships among all beings. Perspectivism and the social and relational ontology associated with it easily assimilate the anomalous phenomena left over by objectivist research programs. where all „faiths‟ were supposed to have been eliminated. objectivists conclude that all things in the world operate according to physical laws. Quine‟s argument for a „naturalized epistemology‟ and Stephen Toulmin‟s arguments for an „evolutionary epistemology‟ can be viewed as efforts to (re)establish a foundation for this faith. Anomalous phenomena that do not (yet) follow any (known) physical laws will be deciphered in the future. It may also help in another way. The objectivist epistemology that is the twin of naturalism can only „objectify‟ the many beings of the cosmos. But 36 . An article of faith must support the foundation of objectivist research programs.

a political solution to environmental management in that it supports maximum autonomy and self-determination for indigenous nations and 37 . although we may learn something from them in order to appreciate indigenous cosmological perspectives. human and nonhuman. We need not necessarily accept shamanistic epistemologies of subjectification. Empirical research is still possible within a perspectival and relational ontology. Indigenous knowledge is not a static or self contained object locked to a „pre-modern‟ time-capsule (Fabian 1983). The normative relationships established by indigenous perspectivism support practices of traditional ecological knowledge. TEK is first and foremost. Native approaches to knowledge are seen as more empirical and less doctrine driven in contrast to Western objectivist approaches to knowledge. It is transformed and transferred through relations with other peoples.37 indigenous cosmologies also compete to interpret the so-called law governed phenomena as well. Berkes 1999. or TEK. To be clear. is one practical solution to the problems of environmental destruction (Cajete 2000. Deloria 1999). from the indigenous point of view. Western ecological scientists and environmental managers can learn from indigenous scientific traditions in the same way that indigenous peoples say they learn from bear or wolf peoples about how to hunt or from plant peoples about how to heal and so on. and therefore remains a flexible and living process of many indigenous communities. Little Bear 2000. Traditional ecological knowledge is the communal and intimate knowledge of indigenous peoples about their territories which promotes environmental sustainability and biological diversity (Barsh and Henderson 2003. Brush and Stabinsky 1996). Traditional ecological knowledge.

As it turns out. It does not require nor depend on the understanding or participation of western scientists and environmental policy makers. Nature and culture turn out to be distinctions particular to specific cultural perspectives. Brush and Stabinsky 1996. The theory of indigenous perspectivism contributes to environmental politics by dissolving the impasse of the pernicious debate about „culture‟ and „nature‟. environmental policy makers. Perspectivism addresses the particular impasse faced by ecological thinkers who want to conceptually reconcile human beings into the natural world. My hope is that this intervention would support the greater autonomy. while productive in some respects. Within indigenous cosmological framework the culture/nature distinction dissolves into the unity of the spirit or a profound and universal humanity that incorporates all beings. and not an ontological condition fundamental to reality. as well as by the general public. the manner in which they were going about this reconciliation. Perspectivism is an attempt to present one aspect of the theoretical basis of TEK through indigenous cosmological categories. It is only secondarily a knowledge resource for the later (and the general public). was highly problematic for conceptualizing political ecology and has led to a 38 . the transmission of TEK should occur under the terms and conditions established by the communities from whose territory the knowledge originates. In addition. This is especially important because indigenous knowledge has become the latest exploited commodity and site of colonialism in the twenty-first century. self-determination and intellectual confidence for indigenous peoples as well as an increased interest in appropriate research in TEK by non-indigenous scientists. Biopiracy is a clear example of the continuation of colonial relations in the domain of intellectual property (Mgbeoji 2006: Shiva 1997.38 their territories.).

Multinaturalism suggests that the differences in perspective are less to be found in the subjective differences in the thinking. are the „knowings‟ of indigenous epistemologies.” The perception of nature(s) are inseparable from a perspective that is structured by a communities set of intellectual traditions. The correction to this mistake and the way though the impasse is another perspective. Using the more familiar term of cultural relativism to describe the relationship between indigenous worldviews and “Western” thought always leaves the status of the former uncertain and a question of “mentality. incorporated in these theories were askew. then the dualism could not be breached. than in objective differences in worlds. the concepts of culture and humanity. As long as culture was thought to be an outgrowth or an emergent property of nature and animality. The concept of multinaturalism captures the idea that a community‟s fundamental perceptions of nature are ontological and constitutive for its particular way of life. Particular peoples establish particular relations with a place and the other „peoples‟ that cohabitate the place. These ecological thinkers were captured by a concept of the human being from evolutionary biology that was confused with the concept of humanity as a condition for all beings. Conclusion The conceptual and strategic problems of the environmental movement have been traced back to a crisis of modernism. In addition. The features of modernism that are problematic for political ecology are the doctrines of naturalism and objectivism and the rigid and 39 . The „doings‟ of establishing and maintaining these relationships. and not the other way. Nature(s) are internal to culture(s) in the plural.39 strategic impasse.

Unfortunately these were precisely the doctrines that were often enthusiastically embraced by environmentalists as the solution to environmental troubles rather than seen to be part of the problem.9 Naturalism must give way to multinaturalism if we are to fully extend the principles of respect and recognition to nonhumans. from indigenous perspectives there was a classic means ends disjuncture. 9 For example. As we could see. The objectification of nonhumans (and much of humanity) led to their disregard as „persons‟ with their own ways of life. All boundaries from this perspective are contingent and negotiated. and they assumed this would guarantee authority and political action. They sought to deploy Nature. dare I say.40 hierarchical form of political authority it establishes and regulates. He suggests as much in his discussion of Bill Reid‟s “Canoe” and its mythological inter species beings. Thus. including those domains associated with „nature‟ and „culture‟. James Tully‟s arguments in Strange Multiplicity (1995) could apply very easily to nonhumans. culture. habits and. Perspectivism and multinaturalism support a protean and negotiated order of political relations incorporating all beings. the domain of necessity. this indigenous „model‟ of „cosmic politics‟ dissolves the antimonies of Nature and Culture and redistributes the domains of necessity and spontaneity across a field of diverse agential action. 40 . If we take indigenous points of view seriously. then we might recognize a different way of understanding and relating to nonhuman persons as an expanded and ongoing constitutional negotiation.

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