An Anthropology of Nature – or an Industrialist Anthropology?

Authored by: David W. Kidner

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138782877
eBook ISBN: 9781315768946
Adobe ISBN: 9781317667964


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The alienation from nature that is foundational to so much of the industrialised world has also left its imprint on academic thought; and this trend has become even more firmly established since the mid-1980s. Today, the suggestion that evolutionary or ecological factors are primary influences on human life is distinctly out of fashion among anthropologists. The association of evolutionary perspectives with the eugenic movement, racist ideologies, and the sometimes simplistic notions of evolutionary psychology has led to a retreat into the paralysing embrace of a defensive relativist ideology which regards human being simply as the malleable product of cultural factors (Bloch 2005). This trend has been reinforced by reactions to the inadequacy of some early anthropologists’ attempts to generalise about ‘human nature’. But rejecting simplistic accounts of our rootedness within the natural world need not entail a wholesale denial of its significance; and in denying nature we risk being drawn into the same assumptive framework as industrialism, viewing humanity as anchored within a context that is defined solely by technological, ‘cultural’, and economic considerations. In this chapter, I will sketch out some of the ways that anthropology may sometimes unwittingly legitimate industrialism’s destruction of the natural world, redefining humanity according to an industrial template and framing nature as the formless raw material out of which industrial products are manufactured.

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