Alf Hornborg, Professor, Department of Human Geography, Lund University

Political ecology and posthumanism: are they compatible?

In anthropology the concept of political ecology is associated with Eric Wolf and his Marxist perspective on the political economy of human-environmental relations. The common denominator of studies in political ecology is the focus on how human-environmental relations are intertwined with relations of power and unequal distribution. Like Marxist approaches in general, the perspective of political ecology assumes a critical realist ontology and the existence of an objective reality that can be studied with the ambition of accomplishing increasingly valid and emancipatory representations. The so-called posthuman turn in anthropology – with Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, and Marisol de la Cadena as prominent proponents – also presents itself as critical and subversive of modernity but assumes a relativist ontology that in practice precludes rigorous critique of the worldview associated with neoliberal capitalism. Posthumanists are inclined to advocate premodern worldviews instead of subjecting the modern worldview itself to critical cultural analysis. They tend to endorse a universal human inclination toward fetishism and magic rather than reveal the forms of fetishism and magic that are prevalent in modern society. This seminar presentation invites discussion about how the anthropological propensity to deconstruct and defamiliarize our modern categories can be combined with the ambition of political ecology to offer an alternative and radically critical narrative.

Alf Hornborg is an anthropologist and Professor of Human Ecology at Lund University. He is author of The Power of the Machine (2001), Global Ecology and Unequal Exchange (2011), and Global Magic (2016) as well as editor of several volumes at the interface of anthropology, environmental history, and political ecology. He has recently completed a monograph to be published by Cambridge University Press called Nature, Society and Justice in the Anthropocene.

All seminars in the series.