LAII 2017-2018 PhD Fellow Co-Edits Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity
July 17, 2020
The Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity (2020) is a timely book, as across the globe more and more of us awake to our always interconnected selves. The Handbook brings the ecological turn to sociocultural understandings of self and group identities, introducing an interdisciplinary, insightful assembly of original theory and research on planetary positionalities in flux in the Anthropocene – or what in this Handbook cultural ecologist David Abram presciently renames the Humilocene, a new “epoch of humility.” Forty international authors craft a kaleidoscopic lens, focusing on ways all identities are ecocultural and on the multiple and unspooling ways identities evolve and transform and, in so doing, may support reciprocal surviving and thriving.
Introduction chapter and endorsements are below. Table of Contents, editor bios, and authors can be found at this Routledge link. Routledge has also provided a 20% discount code: FLR40.
"We humans are cultural and ecological beings. This doesn’t make us unique as a species – myriad other beings, from orcas to elephants, are cultural and ecological, too. Yet, perhaps for an increasing majority of us humans, it seems as if our ecological selves have become steadily less accessible. The lack of earthly self-awareness in an increasingly human-centered world is reflected in the invisibility and deniability we assign to our environmental interlinkages, impacts, and interdependencies. And this lack of wakefulness is reified in the largely unabated extractive and destructive orientation that powerful interests and the majority of governments maintain toward the planet.
The absence of ecological palpability also has been evident in much social activism, which often has emphasized sociocultural identity formations, such as race, gender, sexuality, and class, yet largely disregarded interrelated more-than-human dimensions (environmental justice movements being among the clear exceptions). Equally in scholarship, research overwhelmingly has articulated identity as shaping, and being shaped by, human society but rarely as shaping, and being shaped by, the more-than-human world (Dervin & Risager, 2017; Gupta & Ferguson, 1992; Nakayama & Halualani, 2010). Indeed, identity, representation, difference, contingency, and power can be understood as ‘pre-ecological’ concepts (Jagtenberg & McKie, 1997, p. 121), notions emerging from societies and scholarships that predominantly have ignored or denigrated extra-human relations, knowledges, and practices.
As important as extant identity scholarship and activism have been to understanding and improving aspects of the human condition, cultural commentators such as Akanbi (2019) have begun to explore how clinging too hard to sociocultural dimensions of one’s identity ‘can shutdown conversation,’ make social movements ‘hollow and full of holes,’ and block compassion, empathy, understanding, nuance, interconnectedness, and common recognition. This clinging is part of a cultural condition Haraway (1991) pinpoints as a long-defined ‘proper state for a Western person’ that centers an urge ‘to have and hold a core identity as if it were a possession’ (p. 135). Such ‘ownership of the self’ (p. 135), however, conflicts with actual social and ecological interlinkages of selves, which interweave unavoidable, often invisible commonalities and evade hubristic attempts at possession. Indeed, all of us, each and every one, are always participants in crisscrossing sociocultural and ecological webs of life, whether consciously or not. It is the growing majority of humanity’s obliviousness – and even active denial – of our interrelated sociocultural and ecological constitutions and conditions that has us where we are today, in the midst of unfolding anthropogenic biospheric catastrophe. This is the context for the Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity.
This Handbook brings together diverse voices from around the globe to illuminate dynamics and forms of ecocultural identity so we can better understand – and better relate and respond to – the intertwining of disrupted ecosystems and our day-to-day and long-term mutual existences. The chapters within account for a plurality of subjectivities in flux and formation in the Anthropocene (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000), Capitalocene (Moore, 2015), Chthulucene (Haraway, 2016), or what Abram (2020) in this Handbook presciently introduces as the Humilocene, a grounded-human epoch steeped in both humiliation and humility. In order to intervene in the ontological, political, and institutional flows that configure this many-named epoch of human-surpassed earthly boundaries (Alexiades, 2018), the Handbook authors reinterrogate what it means to be human and reimagine the many ways we identify that are of essence to whether we can think and cultivate our ways into inhabitable futures.
The Handbook’s assembly of original theory and research provides views into ways sociocultural and ecological identities not only are entwined but also mutually constituted. Our intention is to help foster a radical multi-lensed epistemology focused on ways ecocultural selfhood is being, and could be, understood, felt, performed, and practiced. As such, this Handbook has three core transdisciplinary goals: first, to provide a prismatic introduction to the emergent concept and framework of ecocultural identity for researchers, instructors, students, activists, and practitioners; second, to provide a catalytic resource for examining, critiquing, and activating ecocultural identities as they manifest in everyday lives and in structural processes; and, third, as the Handbook illuminates the depth, breadth, and common threads of a diverse budding body of knowledge and expertise, this collection aims to ignite increased interest in academic and public realms and to expand dialogues regarding the planetary positionalities at the heart of our most actively destructive and robustly thriving presents and futures.
What is ecocultural identity?
As identity has become an increasingly central concept across the public sphere, scholarship has examined ways ‘the lived experience of identities is always implicated in processes of transformation’ (Elliot, 2020b, p. 12). Narrations and navigations of identity intersect with politics, society, and processes of reinvention, reconstruction, and renewal. Antiessentialist understandings of identity emphasize ways identities never emerge from an already present unchanging core, but rather within contexts and relationalities, making identities ‘continually and differently constituted’ (Escobar, 1999, p. 3) often partly in milieus of power. What largely has been missing across disciplines and in the public domain, however, is a dedication to understanding identity ecologically in tandem with cultural and social modes of consideration. An ecocultural identity framework troubles this tendency to conceive of the environmental as separate from or a subsidiary of the economic, political, historical, and cultural, and instead situates group and individual ecological affiliations and practices as inextricable from – and mutually constituted with – sociocultural dimensions.
As Abram states in this Handbook, ‘we don’t have a hoot of a chance of healing our social justice issues until we begin including the more-than-human world within our sense of the socius, or the community’ (Abram with Milstein & Castro-Sotomayor, 2020, p. 24) The large-scale erasure of our species’ perception of our nestedness within ecological communities, Abram argues, also renders our human relationships – from the intimate to the international – remarkably brittle. As Earth floods, quakes, and melts, and as extremist rhetoric intoxicates much of the political arena, an ecocultural perspective on identity offers an expanded, potentially recuperative lens for understanding self, others, and existence as intrinsically relational and broadly ethical.
This Handbook introduces a new term: ecocultural identity. As such, we want to make clear from the start what this term means and what it does not mean. The notion of ecocultural identity offers an overarching framework for understanding all identities. In other words, ecocultural identity is not a normative concept – for instance, chapters in this Handbook are not limited to environmentalist identities, which much previous work has focused on (e.g., Chianchi, 2015), nor ecocentric identities (e.g., Clayton & Opotow, 2003; Horton, 2003; Thomashow, 1995), another area of well-developed research. Rather, an ecocultural identity lens serves to widen the scope on all identities to understand ways sociocultural dimensions of selfhoods are always inseparable from ecological dimensions.
The ecological turn in this conceptualization of identity hinges upon the assumption that all identities have earthly constitutions and forces – whether those identities are destructive or protective, complacent or creative, extractive or restorative. In illuminating ecological dimensions of identity, the importance of culture also cannot be overlooked as identities are always materially and discursively constructed. We are made of, part of, emerging from, and constantly contributing to both ecology and culture – producing, performing, and constantly perceiving and enacting through the both. In these ways, one’s ecocultural identity – whether latent or conscious – is at the heart of the positionalities, subjectivities, and practices that (in)form one’s emotional, embodied, mental, and political sensibilities in and with the all-encompassing world.
The lens of ecocultural identity is boundary-crossing in a number of respects – traversing across different fields of thought as well as surmounting culturally constructed borders separating human, flora, fauna, and environment. As such, the study of ecocultural identity has the potential to illuminate the complex and thickly storied self as vitally entangled within the stories of other species and the Earth itself. Such ecocultural inquiry expands notions of intersectionality to include not only sociocultural categories but also oft overlooked more-than-human groupings, including but certainly not limited to those of mammals, oxygen-carbon dioxide exchangers, land-dwellers, bodies of water, and biomes. This more-than-human intersectionality can lead to acknowledgements of enduring intraspecies, interspecies, and elemental commonalities and to shared questions, concerns, and actions regarding our collective course of living (Nicholas Jacobson, personal communication).
Scholarly explorations of cultural and ecological identification as mutually constituted have been steadily growing (Armstrong, 1995; Carbaugh, 1996; Elliot, 2020a; Gómez-Barris, 2017; Grusin, 2015; Hodden, 2014; Jagtenberg & McKie, 1997; Junka-Aikio & Cortes-Severino, 2017; Mendoza & Kinefuchi, 2016; Milstein, 2012b; Milstein, Thomas, & Hoffmann, 2019; Mortimer-Sandilands & Erickson, 2010; Weiss & Haber, 1999). These developments of renewed understandings of an extended self, at once indivisibly ecological and cultural, unshackle predominant notions of human subjectivity, senses of selfhood, and worldly experience, and have liberatory potential. As Grusin (2015) states,
"To extend our academic and critical concern to include nonhuman animals and the nonhuman environment, which had previously been excluded or ignored from critical or scholarly humanistic concern, should be a politically liberatory project in very much the same way that earlier, similar turns toward a concern of gender, race, ethnicity, or class were politically liberatory for groups of humans." (p. xix)
In these ways, as part of a new social grammar (Santos, 2011), an ecocultural lens can contribute both to problematizing and redefining conventional concepts of self amidst a crisis of group and individual identity marked not only by a fierce fixity of identity labels but also by a pernicious anthropocentrism that fixes humanity at the center of existence. While inquiries into sociocultural identity can productively focus on linking related oppressions that disparate groups experience in order to build up coalitions that actively change society, a notion of identity that additionally embraces the intrinsic ecology of existence aims at coming to terms, too, with the roles our oppressions and liberations play in our common extinctions or continuances in one form or another. The move to expand views of identification to always include who we are relationally as ecological bodies and environmental forces and reactants is also a move to address dominant feelings of disconnection and polarization that underlie both environmental and sociocultural struggles, and to form new insights that open alternative public spheres and counter patriarchal, imperialist, capitalist, and extractivist systems of modernity that rapidly have (trans)formed our shared milieu (Junka-Aikio & Cortes-Severino, 2017).
Movements, such as Indigenous-led protector uprisings, Extinction Rebellion, and the child-led School Strike for Climate, are examples of ways ecocultural perspectives contribute to fostering and delineating a radical democracy that, in Sandilands words, ‘is an ecological necessity, one which necessarily includes a variety of struggles in transcendence of fundamentally limiting notions of the subject’ (as quoted in Code, 2006, p. 20). An ecocultural identity lens assists us in remembering we are ‘earth citizens,’ which can ‘help us recover our common humanity and help us transcend the deep division of intolerance, hate, and fear that corporate globalization’s ruptures, polarization, and enclosures have created’ (Shiva, 2015, p. 6).
Transdisciplinary and international scope
Today’s problems and opportunities require holistic and kaleidoscopic conversations. As such, the Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity provides far-reaching original transdisciplinary international research on the role of ecocultural identity in processes of local and global disturbance and renewal. Such scholarly inquiries commonly are dispersed among separate disciplinary subfields or discrete interdisciplinary schools of thought with relatively small numbers of adherents – and tend largely to be limited to culturally Western regions. In an attempt to broaden and interconnect the conversation, the Handbook’s authors speak from a wide variety of disciplinary and multi-disciplinary backgrounds, including geography, communication, environmental studies, anthropology, education, planning, agricultural sciences, linguistics, history, sociology, arts, cultural studies, and philosophy. The Handbook authors hail from North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania, and employ an interlinking array of methodologies and a diversity of orientations integral to ecocultural work’s vital transdisciplinarity.
The Handbook’s resulting collection of original theory and research provides an essential reference on ways individual and collective ecocultural identities endure, emerge, and transform responsively with/in today’s disrupted world. At the scale of identity, the Handbook chapters examine the reasons, ramifications, and possible resolutions for anthropogenic environmental problems. Chapter authors develop and apply an ecocultural lens to theory building and case studies to illustrate and nuance sociocultural and ecological tensions within and among a wide range of identities – including but not limited to Indian Hindu river protectors, U.S. Evangelical Christian environmentalists, Ghanaian illegal miners, Swedish pastoral farmers, Thai canal dwellers, and American West ranchers. The research within engages broad spectrums of cultural, spatial, temporal, and environmental contexts – such as polar imaginings, nation-state borderlands, interspecies mobilities, childhood educations, Indigenous–settler intersections, forestry relations, fossil fuel industry-induced earthquakes, desert waterscapes, and ancient and pre-colonial interspecies and political ecological histories.
Part I of the Handbook, ‘Illuminating and problematizing ecocultural identity,’ features chapters that both create and examine generative theory to reveal ways ecocultural identities are produced, felt, negotiated, constrained, and transformed in everyday, historical, and institutional contexts. Part II, ‘Forming and fostering ecocultural identity,’ comprises chapters that examine specific cultivations and forces of identity that further ways of being in the world, and investigate how these intersect with class, race, gender, religion, and the colonial present within historical, political, environmental, spatial, interpersonal, and multispecies contexts. In Part III, ‘Mediating ecocultural identity,’ chapters highlight media and technology contexts and consequences for ecocultural identity and the significance of public sphere representations in reflecting and shaping both ecocultural identifications and relations. Chapters in Part IV, ‘Politicizing ecocultural identity,’ examine the hybridities, inclusions, and exclusions that circulate within and transform identities in praxis and politics, and ascertain barriers and opportunities for more radically inclusive and restorative democratic systems. The fifth and final part, ‘Transforming ecocultural identity,’ features chapters illustrating the interpretive power of an ecocultural approach to demonstrate and inform transformation in ways often overlooked or undermined by exclusively sociocultural or exclusively environmental orientations.
A note on terminology
In creating the Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity, in our dialogue together as editors and with chapter contributors, we encouraged reflexive engagement with ways the very language we use can function to both constrain and cultivate ecocultural vernaculars and ways of knowing. We also worked collaboratively with chapter authors to have the diverse and evolving original research and theory-building of this Handbook be accessible to an equally diverse and evolving readership.
Where possible, unnecessary discipline-specific or field-specific jargon has been avoided and essential terms that may not have the same centrality of meaning across disciplines or in the public sphere have been clearly defined. Further, we challenged all contributors to avoid unreflexive use of common terms such as ‘nature,’ ‘environment,’ and ‘animals’ – terms that in the context of dominant discourses often function to reproduce notions of a separate, homogeneous, and backgrounded ecological other. Instead, we asked contributors to trouble the tendency to frame the ecological or the animal as separate from or subordinate to the human and to attempt to revive the ecocultural power of language to evoke earthly immersion and relation. The Handbook also attempts to avoid unreflexively reproducing politically strategic terms that have become central to popular speech, such as ‘climate change’ (introduced by a U.S. Republican think tank to replace the term ‘global warming’ in order to lessen public concern) (see Luntz Research Companies, 2002). Instead, the chapters favor explanatory terms such as climate ‘disruption,’ ‘crisis,’ or ‘emergency’ to indicate human agency and biological urgency.
In understanding ecocultural identity as often shaped by powerful vested economic and political interests, we also tried to remain reflexive about the potentialities and difficulties of directly engaging with and introducing an expanded ecocultural scope in the purviews of long-established, long-anthropocentric academic disciplines most of us Handbook contributors were trained in as researchers. The ecocultural lens itself serves to engage a struggle over meaning and can be seen in reflexive symbolic moves and intentions of scholars such as Haraway (2008) in her use of the integrative term ‘naturecultures.’ In this Handbook, in part by engaging such ecocultural neologisms and concepts as the more-than-human world (Abram, 1996), humanature (Milstein, 2016; Milstein, 2012a), and humanimal (Mitchell, 2003), we discursively interlace culture and ecology in scholarship as they are in life, turning toward ‘lexical reciprocal intertwining’ (Milstein, 2011, p. 21, note 1) and away from dominant binary constructs that reproduce an anthropocentric status quo.
The iterative process of working with chapter authors from multiple disciplines and practioner realms, most of whom have never met in person, mirrored challenges of and opportunities for doing recuperative ecocultural work within the public sphere, in daily interactions, and throughout the institutions that structure our worlds. From the original call for papers, to review and selection of chapters, and through several revision stages, as a diverse group of authors we faced a shortage of established common frames for ecocultural inquiry. In conversation, however, we experienced ways expansive and expressive terminologies and frameworks can be engaged, emerge, and multiply to galvanize the ecocultural issues of our times.
In the Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity, we have strived to create and provide a shared, collaborative, and reflexive platform for introducing, connecting, and expanding conversations about the ecocultural manifestations and reverberations of identities. We worked closely with contributors in expressing a multi-voiced language and transdisciplinary orientation to define and illustrate ecocultural identity as a framework and to apply it as a fruitful lens to a wide variety of today’s overwhelming questions. In honoring the significance of both the ecological and the cultural in the configuration of the self, this Handbook expansively reclaims the constitutive and responsive dimensions of identity. Our hope is this expanded ecocultural scope provides a useful lens through which to clarify who we have been until now and who we would like to be tomorrow.
What has been said about the Handbook:
“Intricately transdisciplinary and cross-geographical, it is the first volume of its kind to caringly craft a gathering concept, that of ecocultural identities, bringing together the social, political, and ecological dimensions of identity. What results is a treasure of insights on the politics of life, broadly speaking, and a novel toolbox for tackling effectively the damages caused by modern capitalist modes of extraction and the urgent task of Earth’s ontological repair and renewal.”
Arturo Escobar, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“Too often mislabelled an ‘issue,’ the environment is in fact integral not just to everything we do but to who we are. This link between our identity and our ecology has long been recognised in many societies, but others seem to have forgotten its signal importance. This superb collection shows why all identities are ecocultural ones, and why full recognition of this is essential to all our political futures.”
Noel Castree, University of Manchester
“A smart, provocative, and original collection, the Handbook of Ecocultural Identity provides a definitive introduction to the constraints upon, and the contexts, formations, and impacts of, our diverse – but often unexamined – ecological selves.”
Robert Cox, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and three-time national president of the Sierra Club
“I am in complete solidarity with this book.”
Donna Haraway, University of California, Santa Cruz
“If diversity is a crucial condition for healthy cultural and ecological affairs, it is also so in scholarly matters, and that is what readers will find in this excellent Handbook – a variety of ways of keeping our social and ecological worlds mutually articulated, healthily together.”
Donal Carbaugh, University of Massachusetts
“Some of the most transformative scholarship occurs when we don’t simply critique the limits of existing approaches, but courageously throw in front of us new conceptual approaches or orientations, often marked in the first instance by new words. It is in this vein that the Handbook of Ecocultural Identity runs, offering up and then beginning to give form, colour, and texture to the term ‘ecocultural identity’ as a way to think beyond a range of dichotomies that have constituted and normalized human exceptionalism and our violent estrangement from the eco-worlds in which we are embedded. In a spirit of humility and generosity, the editors do not try to fix this new term in the net of their own interpretations, but rather create a rich interdisciplinary and global forum where the chapter authors are welcomed to articulate their understandings of what ecocultural identity means, and what this term might do to how we might think and act. Readers too are invited to join the conversation in what promises to be a fertile approach to thinking and acting with appropriate humility in an era that is crying out for humans to come home to themselves as ecocultural beings.”
Danielle Celermajer, University of Sydney
“This is a superb compilation of exciting transdisciplinary theory and research about ecocultural identity, or the intertwining of culture and ecology in more-than-human and human beings. This volume demonstrates an impressive diversity of epistemological, methodological, ontological, and disciplinary approaches as well as case studies from throughout the many regions, cultures, and species of the Earth. The Humilocene, critical ecocultural intersectionality, sankofa, pacha, and human animal earthlings are just a few of the fruitful concepts introduced that expand our ability to see and understand ecocultural identity. The Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity lays the groundwork for a radical revisioning of human relations with/in the more-than human ecological world. It provides needed strategies for ecological resilience in the midst of the Anthropocene and for imagining our collective future.”
Danielle Endres, University of Utah
“As we find ourselves faced with the extreme environmental consequences of the Anthropocene, we need guides to help us negotiate appropriate ways of living with and understanding our relationship to the more-than-human world. This Handbook offers to the field a significant theoretical contribution, ecocultural identity, providing a practical and necessary guide for comprehending our inseparable place in the ecological web of life.”
Barb Willard, DePaul University