All of those working in the broad field of environmental studies (and I here include, among others, philosophers, geographers, political ecologists, sociologists, cultural historians and critics) are likely to agree to two points. First, the term “nature” which has been so central to our various debates, has lost its all-purpose conceptual status and can no longer be bandied around as it once was. This does not mean that we have ceased to use it. Indeed, it still regularly recurs in ecological laments and admonitions (it is “nature”, after all, that we are being told is being lost, damaged, polluted and eroded; and it is nature that we are enjoined to respect, protect and conserve). But we readily acknowledge now that this is no more than a kind of shorthand: a convenient, but fairly gestural, concept of eco-political argument whose meaning is increasingly contested. This bears on the second point of presumed agreement, namely, that we can, broadly speaking, discern two main parties to this contest over the nature of nature: the realists on the one hand, and the contructivists on the other. Since this distinction will be familiar to readers in its general outline, I shall not here elaborate in any detail upon it. But a few specifications might be added at this point.
Reflections on Norberto Bobbio, Anthony Giddens and the Left-Right Distinction
In a brief exchange with my mother following the British election in 1998, she told me that her bet was that ‘John Major and all the rest of them’ would now be kicking themselves for not having gone ‘New Tory’ and moved a little further to the left. The New Labour success indicated, she thought, that had they done so they could easily have stayed in power. I was not at all sure she was correct in this, but her remark interested me as reflecting both the impossibility of discoursing about politics without the left-right distinction, and one of the main reasons why its continued relevance to the European political situation is being called increasingly into question.