Hunting for Nature’s Treasures or Learning from Nature?: The Narrative Ambivalence of the Ecotechnological Turn

in Nature and Culture
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Abstract

Scientists need narrative structures, metaphors, and images to explain and legitimize research practices that are usually described in abstract and technical terms. Yet, sometimes they do not take proper account of the complexity and multilayered character of their narrative self-presentations. This also applies to the narratives of ecotechnology explored in this article: the treasure quest narrative used in the field of metagenomics, and the tutorial narrative proposed by the learning-from-nature movement biomimicry. Researchers from both fields tend to underestimate the general public’s understanding of the inherent ambivalence of the narratives suggested by them; the treasure quest and tutorial narratives build upon larger master narratives that can be found throughout our culture, for instance, in literature, art, and film. We will show how these genres reveal the moral ambivalence of both narratives, using two well-known movies as illustrations: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1940).

Contributor Notes

Sanne van der Hout is an assistant professor of biomedical ethics at Maastricht University. In October 2014, she defended her PhD thesis, “It’s Alive! Ecological Genomics and the Promise of a New Relationship with Nature” (Radboud University Nijmegen), in which she critically reflects on the opportunities offered by emerging technologies for bringing about a new, more sustainable relationship between humans and nature. Her current research focuses on the ethics of reproductive technologies and the philosophy of biomimicry. E-mail: s.vanderhout@maastrichtuniversity.nl

Martin Drenthen is an associate professor of philosophy at Radboud University Nijmegen. His research topics include environmental ethics, philosophy of landscape, ethics of environmental restoration and rewilding, and environmental hermeneutics. He is currently project leader of the VIDI project “Reading the Landscape: A Hermeneutic Approach to Environmental Ethics,” about ethical issues regarding rewilding and landscape conservation. He recently co-edited Interpreting Nature. The Emerging Field of Environmental Hermeneutics (Fordham University Press, 2013), Environmental Aesthetics: Crossing Divides and Breaking Ground (Fordham University Press, 2014), and Old World and New World Perspectives in Environmental Philosophy: Transatlantic Conversations (Springer, 2014). E-mail: m.drenthen@science.ru.nl

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