Vital materialism and political theory: reanimating nature, reconstituting colonization?




Chapman, Laticia Vierra

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In Western thought, the concept of nature has a long history in relation to the question of what or who counts as the subject of politics. This thesis works in the relatively recent body of work that engages the possibility of ‘re-vitalizing’ nature; challenging the legitimacy of mechanistic conceptions of nature with the aim of offering the possibility of consciously different behaviour in relation to the more-than-human world. I engage with Michel Serres, Bruno Latour, and Jane Bennett, in their thinking on the agency or ‘subjectivity’ of the extra-human world, nonhumans, and matter itself. While each author offers an analysis of the shortcomings of current political givens, and each proposes alternative but demonstrably associated ways of conceptually, ethically, and practically relating with nonhumans, this thesis asks: when thinking about taking nature into political account, in what ways are we at risk of forgetting the history and politics that excluded, obscured, or collapsed peoples into ‘nature’, as the very operation of bringing the modern subject of politics into being? In a resonance that will gain meaning as my text proceeds, colonization (of lands and bodies), the subject, and nature can be seen to form a triad for thought. My question, specifically, is to ask if, and how, the political-ecological history of colonization is omitted in the recent ontological impetus to think an animate nature.



political theory, environment, politics of nature, colonialism, new materialism