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Joshua LaBare

Research Proposal: The Ecology of Everyday Life

As a concept and a practice, adaptation is vital to ecological thinking and vital,


therefore, to the futures of human life on Earth. In The Ecology of Everyday Life I turn my
expertise in theorizing science fiction as a mode of awareness towards the quotidian, asking
both how we humans can better adapt ourselves to our changing global environment and how
our environments might be better adapted to us. Engaging with both globalization and
ecology as worlding practices, this project frames adaptation as a scale-making process by
which the local is made global and the global local. Rethinking and redesigning
contemporary worldaround technoscientific and technocapitalist modes of everyday living is,
I argue, absolutely essential – before it becomes necessary to “terraform” the Earth and make
it humanly habitable again.
In my dissertation, “Farfetchings: on and in the sf mode”, I argue that science fiction
(sf) is best considered not as a genre of literature or film but as a mode of awareness
available to many different media and social practices. Mobilizing an array of what I call “sf
fx”, “Farfetchings” traces the translations or adaptations of these special effects in order to
elucidate a common ground for different expressions of the sf mode. While the sf genre
arguably provides a privileged space for thinking about literary and filmic adaptations, in my
own work I have always been more interested in how the form and content of the genre have
been adapted to fit other purposes – for example, in the theology of L. Ron Hubbard, the
music of Sun Ra, or the lectures and writings of R. Buckminster Fuller. Well-versed in the
history and workings of the sf genre, in my dissertation and other writings I focus on the
ways that sf has powerfully structured our contemporary worldaround ensemble. We live, as
many have suggested, in a science-fictional world, one where the farfetched and
unimaginable quickly become yesterday’s news. Don’t believe the hype, it’s a changing
same, etc., and yet – something has happened, is happening, and will keep happening that is
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somehow “science fictional” in scope. The project I am calling The Ecology of Everyday
Life takes this as its starting point, asking in particular how we can adapt ourselves to an
increasingly science fictional globalizing situation, one in which global warming, mass
extinction, and a forever war on terror inform the texture and tenor of our day-to-day
existence.
Like evolution itself, ecology – “household knowledge” – provides an important
context for thinking about adaptation. Coined by biologist Ernst Haeckel to refer to the study
of the relations between organisms and their environments, “ecology” not only demands that
we distinguish these two but also that we recognize that no clear distinction can hold. In
other words, to paraphrase ecological sf writer John Brunner, organisms are each others’
environments. Who, then, adapts to whom? As with the related concept of “domestication”
– “bringing into the home” –, adaptation is best considered a process of mutual relating rather
than something that one being does to or in another. As with the central insight of James
Lovelock and Lynn Margulis’s Gaia theory, what is important here is to note that all
organisms both adapt to their environments and adapt their environments to themselves.
Eschewing that teleological heresy of evolutionary theory known as “adaptationism”, in The
Ecology of Everyday Life I aim instead to encourage a symbiogenesis of the quotidian, one in
which not only the goals but also the agents of adaptation are never known in advance.
Many of the contemporary and recent catchphrases of ecology – e.g. Gaia theory,
Spaceship Earth, and global warming – make the link between ecology and globalization
quite clear. Indeed, as exercises in science-fictional worlding, both globalization and
ecology remake time and space, implying in the process that all humans on Earth be
considered one deme, a local interbreeding population with a single fate. Given the deep
roots of anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism in globalizing Euro-American societies,
it will, I argue, take a lot more than a few alternate energy sources to change our trajectory,
to bring the human species and much of the other life on Earth back from the brink of
extinction. While I applaud and support the efforts of planetary humanism – a practical
philosophy that seeks to extend rights or respect to all humans, no matter creed, color, ability,
sex, sexual orientation or gender – my own path is in going beyond humanism, in articulating

LaBare 91 Weber street East Kitchener, Ontario, N2H-1C6 T 519-741-5239 shalabare@gmail.com


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new ways of relating with not only other plants, animals, and microbes, but also with those
material things that are the basis of all life and those mutable ideas that are the basis of all
thought. Yes, human ecological adaptation is a global issue – but these new ways of relating
with nonhuman beings not only can but must begin in the local, in making first contact here
and now rather than out there – in, say, “the rainforest” – or at some vaguely defined point in
the futures.
While intelligence and tool-use may provide humanity with an adaptive trump card in
the short term, as futurist Ervin László has suggested, they may not actually correspond to a
longer-term survival advantage. Giving up over and over again the ideologies of both
ecological doom and ecological salvation, in The Ecology of Everyday Life I insist that from
moment to moment we can choose the futures, presents, and pasts that we create. Calling on
methods and concepts drawn from science studies, animal studies, and science fiction
studies, this project involves tracing networks that hook things, humans, other animals and
ideas together in often surprising ways, encouraging the investigation of vast webs of hidden
connections, much like those often invisible connections that allow ecologies to function.
Combined with what people in the sf community call “sense of wonder” – the affective
engagement that sf is said to create – this mode of attention might serve to remind us that
contemporary ecological ethics is first and foremost a question of adaptation.

Relationship to dissertation:
My dissertation – “Farfetchings: on and in the sf mode” – addresses two concerns that are for
me inextricably entangled: science fiction (sf) as a way of thinking about the world and
radical ecological ethics. Well-versed in the creation of new world views, thinking at
strange scales both big and small, imagining vast spatiotemporal frames, and
telling tales of first contact, sf offers an excellent resource for thinking about
human adaptation, both in the sense of adapting to our rapidly changing global
environment and in the sense of redesigning that environment to better fit our
needs and the needs of other life on Earth.

LaBare 91 Weber street East Kitchener, Ontario, N2H-1C6 T 519-741-5239 shalabare@gmail.com