LS 812: Contested Relationships between Humans, Ecosystems and Other-than-Human Animals

Fall 2017  | Dr. Stephen Duguid


This Seminar is an exploration of the relationship between Nature and Culture.  Is human culture a mere artifact of nature, akin to a beehive, a spider’s web or beaver’s dam, or is it a unique construction stemming from an equally unique reflective consciousness?  Do humans act on nature or within nature?  To what degree can such distinctions be sustained?  Are current human attempts to dominate nature through cultural constructions (e.g. technologies) a natural development or an aberration in the evolution of Homo sapiens?  To what degree is the seemingly pervasive spread of Capitalism and Neoliberal ideology a threat to the global ecology? How might the way we think about nature affect the way we act upon nature?  To what extent are humans unique, either as stewards set apart by evolution or by God from the rest of creation, or, as some would argue are we a rogue species, a natural alien?

In exploring these questions we will focus on three areas of inquiry:

The variety of human interactions with the natural world (4 weeks)

  • Francis Bacon, The Great Instauration & the New Atlantis
  • Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
  • Erazim Kohak, The Embers and the Stars

Critical Perspectives on Human/Nature Relations (4 weeks)

  • Val Plumwood, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason
  • Deborah Cook, Adorno on Nature
  • Alasdair McIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues

Future Directions in Thinking About Ecological Issues (5 weeks)

  • Jacques Derrida, The Animal that therefore I Am
  • Jason Moore (ed.) Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism

Course Requirements

  • Submit by e-mail at least two discussion questions/points two days prior to each weekly seminar. These will form the basis for our exploration of each of the texts.
  • Research Paper/Project – On a topic of your choice based on the issues raised in the course.