This essay examines the origins and development of American environmental history. Emerging from the political contests of the 1960s, environmental history attempts to add a natural dimension to more traditional social and political histories. For many observers, nature remains the picturesque backdrop to human a airs, yet environmental historians endeavor to show how the non-human world influences American life. With special attention paid to the question of natural agency, this essay investigates how debates over the ability of nature to "act" impacts both the direction and acceptance of their field.
Natural Agency and Social Politics in American Environmental History
A Protestant Perspective
First, I want to say thank you for the invitation to speak here to you on the ‘holy mountain’ from a Protestant perspective. With me, you get a reverend from the Protestant church in Rhineland. I live with my bicultural family in Cologne and I work for the section on theology, ecumenics and interreligious dialogue at the Melanchthon Academy, the place for Protestant adult education in Cologne. For a long time it has been a place for Christian-Jewish and Christian-Muslim dialogue, and sometimes we succeed to talk as all three together. For example at the evangelischen Kirchentag in Cologne we organised an Abraham center and we signed the Cologne Peace Declaration, signed by representatives from synagogues, mosques and the churches.
Ethnographic examples and contemporary practices
The article is focused on the practical mechanisms of assembly management in egalitarian settings in a comparative perspective: on the one hand, I examine assemblies in what may be termed classic ethnographic settings (principally East African pastoralists); on the other hand, I turn to meetings in recent social movements (the Occupy movement in the United States and Slovenia; the 15M in Spain; Greece and Bosnia). I have two principal aims. First, I wish to identify and evaluate similarities and differences in the running of meetings with regard to processes of consensus building; the coordination of assemblies through the creation of roles and the menace of leadership; and the management of place, time, and speech. Second, I aim to evaluate current social movements' use of alterpolitics, intended as the practical and imaginary reference to group meetings of the historical, sectarian, or ethnic other.
Distributional Models between National and World Society
Statistical patterns can be found in nature and society. Their distribution may conform to mathematical models. Thus, if two unbiased dice are rolled a thousand times, the number seven will occur with six times the frequency of two or twelve. The resulting histogram will be symmetrical with one peak where the mean, median and mode coincide. Or take a large sample of adult human beings and measure their height. Most cases will fall between five and six feet with very few less than four or more than seven feet. Because this is a continuous variable, the results can be plotted on a graph to which a curve may be fitted. It too will have a single peak with fantails on the high and low ends. We call this the ‘normal’ distribution or popularly the ‘bell curve.’ For more than a century, statistical inference has largely been based on this curve with its parameters of mean and standard deviation.
Chandra Mukerji, Impossible Engineering: Technology and Territoriality on the Canal du Midi (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).
Sara Pritchard, Confluence: The Nature of Technology and the Remaking of the Rhône (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).
The bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis challenged one of the basis principles of modernity: the divide between nature and society. In a case study on the German agricultural sector, I analyze how the societal actors responded in order to cope with the crisis. In their attempt to re-establish the division between nature and society, they employed the ambivalences of this relationship for strategic purposes. The actors sought to relocate or to newly define the boundary in line with their own ideas and interests. It can be seen how "nature" was frequently used as legitimizing ground in the narratives. The analysis of the politics of nature aims to add a process dimension to Latourian diagnosis of the eroding nature-society divide.
On War and Accountability
This article centers on a set of discussions around accountability' as it pertains to war: accounts of war, accounting for war, what war accounts for, and accountability, including anthropological accountability. The essay details stories that ethnographers tell about what they have seen, heard, and done on the front lines. It reviews explanations for the causes, patterns, and practices of war, and for the occurrences of specific wars. The discussion also highlights what war explains, that is, how war creates its own outcomes. It considers who is to be held responsible for all the death and destruction that war inevitably brings and discusses impunity as systemic and strategic. Also considered is the responsibility of anthropology and anthropologists in facing up to the most significant crises of our times.
Max Planck Directors as Fichtean Subjects
One of the core assumptions in agency theory has been that agency is a primordial attribute of persons: an agent is 'the origin of causal events'. However, rather than situating agency at the origin, this article argues that we should a end to where agency, within a given context, itself originates. In Germany's Max Planck Society the departmental heads – so-called 'directors' – possess a significant degree of 'agency' in realizing their personal will. Yet they are not its authors. On the contrary their agency is a secondary product of the philosophies of German Idealism, which eulogize the subjectivity of a heroic intellectual. In this analysis, the agency of the directors is not a precondition of their humanity, but the off spring of a specific cultural inheritance which frames the organization's intramural life. Organizational theorists should thus pay close attention to the geo-cultural location of their object before drawing conclusions about agency.
This article discusses the recent revision of the notion of sovereignty that emphasizes de facto rather than de jure sovereignty, understanding sovereignty as an effect of performative claims to sovereignty. As an implication of this approach, we come to see political landscapes as formed by multiple, overlapping, coexisting, and sometimes competing claims to sovereignty operating within and across boundaries. The article suggests using “formations of sovereignty” as a way of understanding these political landscapes and the way they change over time in specific areas. Empirically, the article analyzes different formations of sovereignty in a Guatemalan municipality at the border with Mexico, from before the civil war of the early 1980s to the present.
Historicizing the Gallic Singularity
Jean Elisabeth Pedersen
This article, the introduction to the special issue “Representations of Women in the French Imaginary: Historicizing the Gallic Singularity,” frames the work of contributors Tracy Adams, Christine Adams, Jean Elisabeth Pedersen, Whitney Walton, and Kathleen Antonioli by analyzing two especially important contemporary debates about French sexual politics, one popular and one academic: (1) the international controversy over Catherine Deneuve’s decision to sign a French manifesto against the American #MeToo movement in Le Monde; and (2) the mixed French and American response to the work of Mona Ozouf in Les mots des femmes: Essai sur la singularité française. The five articles in the special issue itself bring new breadth and depth to the study of these and related debates by exploring a range of different French representations of women in a series of key texts, topics, and historical episodes from the rise of the Middle Ages to the aftermath of World War I.