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Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature Paperback – October 17, 1996
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From Library Journal
In this thought-provoking collection of essays edited by environmental historian Cronon, scholars such as Carolyn Merchant, Richard White, Kenneth Olwig, Donna Haraway, and others "contribute to an ongoing dialog about the environment." The book has its roots in an interdisciplinary seminar on "Reinventing Nature," held at the University of California, Irvine's Humanities Research Institute in 1994, and is similar in scope to another Reinventing Nature project entitled Reinventing Nature?: Responses to Postmodern Deconstructionism (Island Pr., 1995). This work explores our ideas of nature in a cultural context, for "if we hope for an environmentalism capable of explaining why people abuse the earth as they do, then the nature we study most become less natural and more cultural." By using materials such as photographs, advertisements, and paintings (termed "found objects" by Haraway) to stimulate fresh ways of viewing and responding to nature, the group has produced an enlightening work that challenges our very ideas of the natural world. Highly recommended.
S. Maret, Univ. of Colorado, Denver
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
An intellectually pathbreaking book. -- Daniel J. Kevles
An intellectually pathbreaking book.--Daniel J. Kevles
An intellectually pathbreaking book. --Daniel J. Kevles"
The best kind of book, one that shocks the reader into entirely fresh ways of thinking. --Michael Pollan"
Top customer reviews
What makes this anthology so important is that many of the essays in it emphasize that our views of the environment, nature, and wilderness are "narratives" that are entangled with religion, culture, politics, and race--not just science. Cronon's introduction explores the concept of "wilderness" through time to the modern preservationist notion of a pristine, human-free zone, and the quandary that idea presents: wilderness preservation requires that all humans be removed from it.
This anthology contains essays about: the "Eden narrative" in Amazonian environmentalism (the Times reported today that the Amazon's indigenous cultures are now extinct); architecture and green space; what the "work" of an environmentalist entails; the role of nationalism in the creation of the park system; a study of the cladistics of ecological thinking in the 1950s; environmentalism as social justice in the inner city, and an essay by Donna Haraway about the role of race and "nature" in science.
My favorite essay, way ahead of its time, is by N. Katherine Hayles, "Simulated Nature and Natural Simulations." This essay addresses the epistemological problem in the distinguishing between the natural and the artificial, exemplified by two studies: the classical ethological modeling of animals as machines and the claim or right to aliveness for a-life computer parasites.
"Uncommon Ground" is just a dip in the waters. Sorely missing from this volume is E.O. Wilson's theory of "biophilia," which has been forgotten by almost everyone but selfish-gene proponents. Also missing is an economist's perspective of how industry's "use value" of a resource explodes beyond the point where it can be gauged in an environmental context. Take Superfund sites or the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A quick profit on a resource--boosting workers for a time--can ultimately destroy their property values, recreational and subsistence use of wildlife, and the priceless and unknown values of ancestral/family claims, biodiversity, and health for decades, if not all time.
The rest of the essays reflect the result of a year-long at symposium at UC-Irvine on rethinking nature. Contributors include some very influential figures as well as young scholars, whose work is often (but not always!) weaker than that of the more established scholars. This book has greater coherence than most edited volumes, thanks to the ongoing symposium.
Even after twenty years, some of these essays will challenge you to rethink how you imagine “nature.” Some are overly specialized and insufficiently insightful, and drag the book down a bit. Even so, this book well deserves the influence it has had.