The nature-society binary

Yes, we invariably nod in the affirmative to the statement that we, humans, are a part of nature and whatever harms the rest of nature harms ourselves and future generations. This tautology€“ and premise of environmentalism€“ has become widely accepted. And yet, when social scientists study society, we often analyze the social world as acting on, and thus distinct from, Nature. And when environmentalists mobilize, they act to protect the environment from human activity. In this course, we will delve into this paradox, which necessarily involves multiple and conflicting perspectives on the relationship between nature and society. Specifically, we will explore two present-day cases in which this paradox plays out. The first is biosecurity, a set of institutions and practices to contain the movement of pests and pathogens in production and international trade. The second is the scholarship and advocacy related to the Anthropocene, a concept that captures the impact of human activity on Earth’s current geological time. Both the Anthropocene literature and biosecurity policies and institutions reinforce the enduring nature-society binary and have invited critiques from scholars and activists alike. Critical engagement with this complex problem builds on the €œontological turn€ within the social sciences and humanities that seeks to go beyond the nature-society binary. In doing so, we will ask what exposing this €œgrand delusion means for our response to an ecologically fragile future.