THE GREENING OF IDENTITY:
three environmental PATHs
Department of Sociology
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
4505 Maryland Parkway
Las Vegas, NV 89154-5033
Published in Studies in Symbolic Interaction – Vol. 24, FALL 2001 (pp. 245-271)
We argue that the individual in society, his or her subjectivity, sense of selfhood, and experience of a life world, all have an ecological dimension. We all experience our selves as being in a relationship with an ecology, and we all express our selves in a conversation with this web of connections. We orient ourselves to nonhuman others as well as human others and reference groups. We are all essentially grounded in, and bonded to, a nonhuman world…Life and meaning are fundamentally ecological. This has radical implications for the ways we theorize society, culture, communication, and the self (Jagtenberg and McKie 1997, pp. 122-123).
On reconnâit la vraie rationalité à sa capacité de reconnaître ses insuffisances [You can tell true rationality by its ability to acknowledge its own blind spots] (Morin & Kern 1993, p. 188 -- my translation).
The problem of how to transmit our ecological reasoning to those whom we wish to influence in what seems to be an ecologically “good” direction is itself an ecological problem (Bateson 1975, p. 504).
Located at the fertile intersection where a postmodern symbolic interactionism meets ecological thought, this paper invites the reader to consider the ecological dimension of identity by exploring three paths which might hopefully guide this endeavor. Before proceeding any further, let me emphasize that I do not provide here absolute solutions or final answers to the complex topics of identity and ecology. My aims are more modest and consist in calling the reader’s attention to recent insights in eco-theories of identity and to encourage symbolic interactionists and others to further develop them.
The issue of identity has admittedly become increasingly complex in the wake of the post-structural turn, a turn which has produced a bewildering number of arguments about the meaning and very existence of this slippery concept (Gergen 2000, 1991, Hall 1996). Rather than offering grand conclusions about this voluminous and multidisciplinary literature, I will begin by suggesting that any theoretical statement about identity --the present one included—ultimately articulates and reproduces subjective experiences, cultural assumptions, ideological orientations, matters of ability and choice. As Jagtenberg and McKie (1997, p. 124) put it, in the final analysis, statements about identity always communicate about “who we think we are”. And since pronouncements about who we think we are vary so greatly across time and space, it would seem prudent to approach any statement about identity equipped with both flexible intellectual parameters and critical self-reflexivity. Thus, for example, while we are busy trying to rationally support or categorically reject the idea of an ecological self who is in constant interaction with an autonomous environment, we tend to overlook that, for most of history and in most cultures, such an idea was understood as plain common sense (see Egri 1997, Gottlieb 1996). Bateson (1975, p. 484), for example remarks that:
Anthropologically, it would seem from what we know of the early material, that man in society took clues from the natural world around him and applied those clues in a sort of metaphoric way to the society in which he lived. That is, he identified with or empathized with the natural world around him and took that empathy as a guide for his own social organization and his own theories of his own psychology.
As French sociologists Morin and Kern (1993, p. 61) also remind us, “while the mythology of every civilization has located the human world squarely in nature, Homo occidentalis was, up until the middle of the 20th century, completely oblivious and unconscious of his cosmic and terrestrial identity.” (my translation) From an ecological perspective then, it is not the ecological self which should be approached as a bizarre and odd phenomenon requiring extensive theoretical justification and compelling empirical evidence. Rather, what really begs analysis is a self and a discourse of the self which ignore or deny this ecological dimension. As ecopsychologists suggest (and the argument is rather seductive), spending more than 90% of our lives indoors, we might have developed “indoors thinking” (Cohen 1998) -- particular ways of knowing which literally frame our experiences and theories of identity, as well as our theories of the world around and within us.
More problematically however, since “who we think we are” not only shapes our experiences of identity but also inevitably guides our daily practices, acknowledging the ecological dimension of identity –or failing to do so—has real consequences which reach well beyond the symbolic realm of theory, the concrete walls of academia, the printed page, and our relatively short individual biographies. Whether we perceive them as real or don’t. Accordingly, while an indoors epistemology is (philosophically, historically, psychologically) a fascinating development in the history of human consciousness, it is also a dangerously maladaptive one in need of urgent transgression. To quote Bateson again, (1975, p. 485 & 487):
Epistemological error is all right, it’s fine up to the point at which you create around yourself a universe in which that error becomes immanent in monstrous changes of the universe that you have created and now try to live in…I believe that this massive aggregation of threats to man and his ecological system arises out of errors in our habits of thought at deep and partly unconscious levels.
Lately, a small but growing number of social scientists of various persuasions have begun to give the natural environment increasing attention. But while the multiplying number of eco-sociological journals, organizations, sections, books, courses and programs attest to a (still pale) “greening” of sociology, this ecological turn has remained largely ignored in theories of identity (postmodern ones included), 1 or constructed in problematic ways. In most of our writings, it seems, the environment is either ignored, marginalized as the backdrop against which important human actions take place, or reduced to social construction. For example, although usually flexible, dynamic, and willing to face new intellectual challenges head on, postmodern symbolic interactionism has remained largely hesitant to acknowledge the important insights various ecological theories could contribute to its distinctive approach to social phenomena. Accordingly, since the concept of identity is so central to symbolic interaction theory, the topic of an ecological identity seems to constitute a particularly strategic point of entry, a fruitful terrain where those theories can converse and inform each other. In Jagtenberg and McKie’s (1997, p. 125) words:
The idea of an ecological self is manifestly not simply a problem for deep ecologists and New Age philosophers. The whole modernist paradigm of self-perception—its glorification in individualisms that cut across gender, class, and ethnic sensibilities—is challenged by any broadening and recentering of the self across nonhuman territories.
Pushed beyond the topic of identity, this argument also suggests that since nature exists beyond our social constructions, it constitutes a challenging new intellectual terrain, a new perspective from which we can re-assess our theoretical assumptions.
(2) identity after post-structuralism
For most of its history, psychology has located the me within human persons defined by their physical skin and their immediate behavior. The subject was simply the me in my body and in my relations with other subjects. Over the past 20 years all this has been scrutinized, dismantled, and even junked. Postmodernism has deconstructed continuity, self, identification, identity, centrality, gender, individuality. The unity of the self has fallen before the onslaught of multiple personalities (Hillman 1995, p. xx).
The self, however, like nature and the universe, is a category that is never exhausted of meaning (Jagtenberg ands McKie 1997, p. 125).
We can decide to limit [our self] to our skin, our person, our family, our organization, our species ... The ecological self, like any notion of selfhood, is a metaphoric construct and a dynamic one. It involves a choice (Macy 1994, p. 293 & 298).
The post-structural intervention in the social sciences has profoundly challenged our theories, and such challenges have encouraged symbolic interactionists, critical social psychologists and others to develop new understandings of identity. Following the post-structuralist dismantling of the Cartesian subject and its positing of the continuous discursive construction of identity across multiple positions, many theorists are increasingly asking themselves “whether the individual self, sui generis, actually exists” (Spears 1997, p. 15; see also Davis 1999, Featherstone 1999, Gergen 2000, 1999, Grodin and Lindloff 1996, Hall 1996, Kvale 1992). Suggesting that a surface analysis is best, many reject depth-theories of drives, inner-structures, personality traits and attitudes, or conclude that the subject is best left untheorized altogether. Instead, they approach identity as an ongoing narrative accomplishment—stories which organize our everyday experiences and structure our accounts—and propose that the focus of inquiry should switch from inner psychological processes to discursive practices. For example, in his introduction to Questions of Cultural Identity, Stuart Hall (1996, p. 4) remarks that
actual identities are about questions of using the resources of history, language and culture in the process of becoming rather than being: not “who we are” or “where we came from”, so much as what we might become, how we have been represented and how that bears on how we might represent ourselves….not the so-called return to roots but a coming to terms with our “routes”.
Although in general agreement with Hall’s essay, his dismissing of roots in favor of routes is unfortunate as it reproduces problematic assumptions. More precisely a project of identification which ignores our ecological roots --and eschews ecological thinking generally—while remaining focused on discursive resources will remain intellectually stimulating but inevitably incomplete. From an ecological point of view, we should first acknowledge our roots in the natural environment before proceeding any further onto the routes we might follow across postmodern landscapes. While identities are constructed with “the resources of history, language and culture,” they must still be rooted within natural environments. In other words, while subject positions change across time, space, and interactional contexts, our positioning as biological “natural” organisms remains universal and constant.
Additionally, while this dismantling of the modern subject has produced far-reaching and liberating insights about the importance of discursive practices in the constitution, reproduction and fragmentation of identity, it has also led many to a sense of political paralysis, cynicism, abstinence and a reluctance to formulate a solid epistemological position. Decrying this situation, Spears (1995, pp. 17-19) argues that
we need a theory of the self to know which side we are on, both epistemologically and politically. Epistemologically, we need to know who we are in order to act... Selfhood therefore provides perspective and a sense of identity which are necessary for conscious agency...A theory of the subject in these terms, then, would seem to be an important ingredient for a critical social psychology if it is to have bite, and allow us to descend from the fence...Formulating a theory of the subject provides agents and agency that can be the vehicles of resistance and change.
Motivated partly by the desire to contribute, however modestly, to the greening of sociology, this paper does not claim to have found final answers to the question of ecological identity, but invites readers to approach the project of an ecological identity along three paths (ecopsychology, ecological symbolic interactionism, and deep ecology) and to explore the insights these paths reveal. Following Bateson’s position (1975, p. 505) that “the ecological ideas implicit in our plans are more important than the plans themselves…”, this paper is openly partisan, and my wandering along these three paths is thus also a means to other ends. These are: (1) to problematize the anthropocentric bias in post-structuralism, (2) to promote an ecological dimension to the projects of identity-construction and identity-theory, and (3) to advocate ecological thinking.
(3) beyond TextualiSM and Anthropocentrism
How do we speak of that which is not reducible to the mode in which we speak—both acknowledging the mode in which we speak and that which asserts itself apart from having a “voice”? There is an earth after all. Species do die out. Rains do come down. Toxic waters do damage. Organisms do attach to place (Bertland and Slack 1994, p. 2).
Anthropocentrism means human chauvinism. Similar to sexism, but substitute human race for man and all other species for woman...When humans investigate and see through their layers of anthropocentric self-cherishing, a most profound change in consciousness begins to take place (Macy 1994, p. 292).
Clearly, even without the stimulus of new social movements, the symbolic interaction that occurs between self and other often involves nonhuman life forms and their ecologies. Yet we have still to develop the theoretical tools that will allow an ecological self to be adequately expressed in social theory and general philosophy (McKie and Jagtenberg 1997, p. 25).
One first limitation ecological thinkers (Shepard 1996, Spretnak 1991, for example) charge post-structuralism with is its excessive textualism—the emphasis on the textual construction of identity, society, and reality. Accordingly, the very mentioning of the environment in the context of post-structuralism is problematic since, from such a perspective, the environment is but textual constructions and can only have meaning through the various discourses we deploy about it —from Congressional Acts to Earth First! newsletters. In other words, Nature is here just “nature”. From an ecological perspective, however, such an approach to the environment is not significantly different from a modern one. Thus, while a modern-materialistic discourse positions nature as the alien Other of Western culture and imposes a fundamental hierarchy between the two, thereby promoting violent domination and exploitation (the “mine and dump” view), the post-structuralist one also attempts to colonize and silence nature, but by reducing it to a mere effect of human symbolic activity. While the first approach constructs nature as a warehouse of raw resources for economic exploitation, the second one reduces it to a warehouse of raw resources for symbolic manipulation. In their respective ways, though, both approaches deny nature an autonomous existence, a will of its own, an essential value independent of human needs --whether economic or symbolic. As Shepard remarks in this context:
the genuinely innovative direction of our time is not the final surrender to the anomie and meaninglessness or the escape to fantasylands but in the opposite direction—toward affirmation and continuity with something beyond representation...To argue that because we interpose talk or pictures between us and this shared immanence, that it therefore is meaningless, contradicts the testimony of life itself (1996, pp. 160-162).
Thus, while the deconstructionist impulse would “dispute the existence of any independent reality beyond the stories we tell, or at least ones we can get at in any meaningful sense” (Spears 1995, p. 5), a more realist argument would advance that if “reality is always constructed by its users, this does not necessarily mean that reality...is only socially constructed.” Quoting Mead, Weigert (1997, p. 39 & 47) reminds us that
meaning is in nature…Natural meanings always, everywhere, and necessarily ground social and symbolic meanings. Social meanings exist, as it were, only within a spacesuit or spaceship, that is, within a narrow band of the tremendous range of physico-chemico-bio variations that exist in interaction in the cosmos...Recognizing these realist limits prevents analysts from a linguistic turn into the symbolic fallacy that reduces meaning to semiotic structures, contingent cultures, or virtual universes...
For ecofeminist Spretnak (1991) also, our enthusiasm with deconstruction has led us to a rather bleak intellectual dead-end which conceals the idea that there is something beyond and outside our texts. To state the obvious, all human acts (and hence all social constructions) always require certain objective conditions which are simply physico-bio-chemical, and which we systematically fail to take into consideration when discussing identity, its dispersion, fragmentation, and discursive construction. Although our symbolic constructions vary widely over time and across space, our essential need for fresh water, a fragile mixture of gases, 2 protection against extreme temperatures, and constant access to other organisms we transform as food does not. As deep ecologists and ecopsychologists ceaselessly remind us, we are not only in nature but we are still –organically-- of nature, from nature, in a certain sense we are nature. Like every other organism, we are suspended in webs of complex ecological processes before we are suspended in webs of complex symbolic meanings, and as Weigert (1997) astutely remarks, we can never be certain that the meanings we weave about these processes really capture what they are about.
Anthropocentrism, a second limitation of post-structuralism derives from and reinforces its textualism. More specifically, while the daring and welcome post-structuralist deconstruction of Euro-phallo-andro-logo-helio-hetero-centric discourses has radically transformed our understanding of central sociological concepts and has informed new and important political projects, it has remained generally reluctant to tackle anthropocentrism --the meta-narrative which spawned all these discourses in the first place. In other words, by positioning humans and their discursive practices at the center and horizon of its project, the post-structuralist deconstructive élan reaffirms anthropocentrism and human exemptionalism. While post-structuralism has deconstructed Man, it has not decentered the human. As a result, modernist hierarchies distinguishing human from nonhuman and culture from nature quietly return through the back door (and between the lines) of even the most radical deconstructionist work (see Cheney 1995, Michael 1997, Spretnak 1991). Post-structuralism is certainly neither the sole nor first discourse guilty of anthropocentrism, but given its attention to the power of metanarratives in both the constriction and construction of cognitive maps, this silence about anthropocentrism is, to say the least, surprising. For deep ecologist Shepard (1996, p. 160-161), the assumption that there is nothing outside the text is itself “the articulation of the profound arrogance of humanism which fails to be critically reflexive with regard to this meta-narrative”. As Jagtenberg and McKie conclude (1997, p. 127), “in the final analysis, neither materialist dialectics nor poststructural textual analysis are ecological theory—they are resolutely human centered…”
Ecological theorists submit that, among other effects, excessive textualism and stubborn anthropocentrism inhibit our progress towards a necessary social, intellectual and psychological (r)evolution by (a) encouraging an emotional and moral autism vis-à-vis the natural environment, (b) limiting our understanding of identity as solely an effect of textual and social constructions, and (c) reproducing problematic binarisms. Accordingly, by transgressing these obstacles, an ecocentric perspective could (a) cultivate qualitatively different emotional and moral responses towards the natural environment, (b) ground or at least align our continuous project of identity more firmly (and more humbly) with/in the natural environment rather than in social and textual constructions, and (c) nurture new forms of critical thought, validate radically new “ways of knowing”, and transcend long-established but inappropriate dichotomies. As they also suggest, these developments will then hopefully guide our daily practices as well as inspire life-enhancing social and political projects (see Zimmerman 1994). Summarizing these ideas, Jagtenberg and McKie (1997, pp. 123-124) explain that:
An ecocentric shift also encourages new transgressive thoughts—such as the idea that identity and self-awareness are ecological in essence. Self can now be seen as socially constructed and sustained in community with an enormous number of interconnected others along with their ecologies and habitats. As soon as community is extended beyond the human sphere, a number of significant barriers are crossed: The dualisms of nature-culture, reason-emotion, mind-matter, male-female are, in practice, all transgressed by life and nature itself.
For many ecological thinkers, the development of an ecological identity constitutes one—some say the most—important step in this evolution from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric perspective.
(4) bringing identity down to earth: THREE paths
Ecological consciousness, ecosophy, the ecological self, the ecological unconscious: these are just a few of the metaphorical terms that have been used to formulate an epistemology of mind and ecosystem...In other words, they offer a new synthesis of knowledge, based on a comprehensive reappraisal of various normative views of the world (Thomashow 1995, pp. 18-19).
It is important to look at ideas we hold about the self in a changing world because our notions of self and the symbols we deploy will be of direct relevance to the worlds we build in the future. The way we refashion our ecosystems will emerge fundamentally from the structurally constrained use of our symbols of self-expression. The breadth and diversity of all that we identify with self and subjectivity will clearly determine our ability to deal with difference, otherness, and multiplicity... (Jatenberg and McKie 1997, p. 148).
The past two decades or so have witnessed a small but inspiring number of works scattered across the human sciences which have been developing the idea and project of an ecological identity. As many note, this ecological identity constitutes an important process that fosters significantly different ways of relating to the environment (and of relating per se) and an inspiring source of environmental activism (see especially Ingalsbee 1996, Thomashow 1995l, Weigert 1997). Although the precise features of this identity, self or consciousness are still much contested in different branches of ecological thought, most agree that it is characterized by several important tendencies. Synthesizing findings generated through a variety of experiments, therapeutic encounters, theoretical developments, and pedagogical practices, several ecotheorists (Cahalan 1995, Fox 1990, Greenway 1995, Harper 1995, Sewall 1995, Thomashow 1995) advance that ecologically-informed shifts in the definition/experience of identity often produce significant and enduring changes in individuals’ experiences of self, and of human and nonhuman others. Characterized by mutuality, reciprocity, cooperation, compassion, a nurturing ethic, complementarity, empathy, the experience of permeable boundaries between inner and outer processes, and feelings of solidarity with both human and non-humans, such tendencies not only seem inherently desirable and adaptive, but on a more theoretical level, seem especially resonant with the project of an “affirmative” (Rosenau 1992) postmodern symbolic interactionism, and a spiritually-inclined one (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000) .
But how does one go about developing this ecological identity? For the purpose of this paper, I want to explore three paths which might guide this project. These paths originate in ecopsychology, in an ecologically-informed symbolic interactionism, and in deep ecology. Although these three paths proceed in different directions, they also intersect as they all (a) emphasize the primordial importance of the natural environment which exists outside, beyond, and in spite of our social constructions, (b) challenge the repression, exclusion, and misconstructions of the natural environment in our theories and experiences of identity, (c) advance that an ecological identity is an important step in developing an ecological perspective and, hence, ways of thinking which can more effectively evolve beyond anthropocentrism, and (d) suggest that an ecological identity is often informed by epiphanic, emotional, and even spiritual experiences and insights with/in the nonhuman environment. These non-rational experiences are of course enormously problematic since they cannot be logically demonstrated or even adequately communicated to others who have not shared them and who would deny their validity by relying on modern-scientific criteria or post-structuralist ones.
The Wild and Visceral Path: Ecopsychology’s Ecological Unconscious
The Ecological Self is an identity practice that involves the deconstruction of the externality of Nature. It leads to an expansive identification of larger interconnected Self...The Wild Within our selves is repressed into the subconscious by reigning discourses of modernist technocratic society; to release the Wild Within is considered a subversive, counter-discursive activity (Ingalsbee 1996, p. 269).
An ecologically harmonious sense of self and world is not the outcome of rational choices. It is the inherent possession of everyone; it is latent in the organism, in the interaction of the genome and early experience...Beneath the veneer of civilization, in the trite phrase of humanism, lies not the barbarian and the animal, but the human in us who knows what is right and necessary for becoming fully human...We have not lost, and cannot lose the genuine impulse. It awaits only an authentic expression (Shepard 1995, pp. 39-40).
Originating in Freudian and neo-Freudian discourses, ecopsychology approaches the development of an ecological identity accordingly. Roszak --a leading figure in this approach—suggests that we are all the bearers of an ecological “voice” which is a source of visceral and intuitive wisdom about self and environment. Calling this voice the “ecological unconscious”, Roszak locates it at the most fundamental level of human sensory experiences, preceding even Freud’s id. Unfortunately, he argues, this ecological unconscious has been repressed and atrophied through a socialization process which has effectively resulted in “the permissible repression of cosmic empathy, a psychic numbing we have labeled ‘normal’” (Roszak 1995, p. 11). For psycho-historian Shepard also, the history of the human species is the history of a gradual and violent severing—physical, social and psychological—of a fundamental connection between humans and nature, between psyche and ecology. In his view, children growing up in contemporary Western society reproduces this tragic severing in their own biographies and cannot, as a result, develop as healthy individuals.
In the ecopsychological perspective, the ecological unconscious is such an important aspect of identity because it allows us to directly access and experience the link between psyche and ecology—a link which is cosmic, evolutional, physico-chemical, cellular and thus often hard to define. As Roszak explains (1992, p. 320),
(1) The core of the mind is the ecological unconscious. For ecopsychology, repression of the ecological unconscious is the deepest root of collusive madness in industrial society; open access to the ecological unconscious is the path to sanity. (2) The content of the ecological unconscious represent, in some degree, at some level of mentality, the living record of cosmic evolution, tracing back to distant initial conditions in the history of time...(3) Just as it has been the goal of previous therapies to recover the repressed contents of the unconscious, so the goal of ecopsychology is to awaken the inherent sense of environmental reciprocity that lies within the ecological unconscious. Other therapies seek to heal the alienation between person and person, person and family, person and society. Ecopsychology seeks to heal the more fundamental alienation between the person and the natural environment.
As he hopes, once this powerful link is re-experienced and assimilated, we will re-assess the self-environment relationship and reorganize our identity according to a logic which is much more attuned to and informed by the natural environment. Anticipating the disbelief and criticism such ideas were likely to ignite, he remarks that (1995, p. 7):
In our culture, listening for the voices of the Earth as if the nonhuman world felt, heard, spoke would seem the essence of madness to most people. Is it possible that by asserting that very conception of madness, psychotherapy itself may be defending the deepest of all our repressions, the form of psychic mutilation that is most crucial to the advance of industrial civilization, namely, the assumption that the land is a dead and servile thing that has no feeling, no memory, no intention of its own?
Additionally, ecopsychologists criticize traditional psychology and psychiatry for their failure to recognize that, ultimately, our relation to self and others cannot reasonably be healthy as long as we remain so alienated from, and destructive of, our environmental roots —an assumption which “stone-age psychiatrists” have always held as self-evident (Roszak 1995). As Roszak also put it, developing theories about human behavior by observing individuals interacting in urban environments is not unlike developing theories about wild tigers’ sociation patterns by watching them nervously pace in their zoo cages.
For ecopsychologists and deep ecologists, the provincialist reduction of nature to mere matter or symbolic construction already articulates and reproduces a fundamental alienation from nature. 3 Although ecotheorists do not generally agree on the original cause of this alienation (physical dislocation, patriarchy, gerontocracy, monotheism, the advent of horticultural society, the agricultural revolution) they have drawn interesting parallels between our treatments of nonhuman external nature and of human internal nature —one’s mind, experiences, consciousness, the (always embodied) mechanisms of identity, subjectivity, and meaning-construction. As ecopsychologists propose, the pathological behaviors we (un)consciously and routinely visit upon the natural environment, those we collectively manifest as a society, those we privately experience as individuals (White 1998), and those we commit in our epistemologies (Bateson 1975) all articulate each other.
In this view (already advanced by Marcuse in 1972), the technological colonization of nature out there complements the logical-rational domination of nature in here. The extinction of species out there is matched by the elimination of psychological possibilities and insights in here, the brutal mutilation of nature out there is coordinated with the violent distortion of nature in here. The list could go on indefinitely, but this idea has been perhaps best articulated in Native-American leader Black Elk’s few words: “What man does to the earth, he does to himself and to others.” As ecopsychologists insist, the awakening of the ecological unconscious or “voice” is a vital means and ends of digging out the psychosocial roots of our assault on the environment and of healing ourselves (see also Berry 1988). While Roszak insists that “ecology needs psychology and psychology needs ecology,” (1995, p. 5) it seems clear that the same can be advanced with regard to sociology, to social psychology, and Western epistemology generally (see Bateson 1975).
Having located the source of an ecological identity in the pre-id ecological unconscious, ecopsychologists promote various strategies to awaken this “voice” and to listen—with one’s body, senses, emotions—to the insights it communicates. One particularly interesting form of intervention they propose in order to awaken the ecological unconscious is the “wilderness” experience 4 -- a literal “walk on the wild side”. In line with their attempts to transcend inner/outer, civilized/primitive, and human/nonhuman dualisms, ecopsychologists maintain that experiencing the wild “out there”—in natural, uncultured spaces—will awaken the wild “in here”—in mental and sensory ones (see especially Greenway 1995, Harper 1995). As they point out, the recovery, experience and validation of the “wild” within us can reawaken the “animal-instinctual” self (Harper 1995, p. 196), can provide much-needed insights about the biological/ecological basis of identity, and can make us more human in the full (and ecological) sense of the term.
Although wilderness therapies may, at first, sound somewhat narcissistic and self-indulgent, they have also been shown to promote epiphanic shifts in identity-formation, and in some cases also, to translate into enduring commitment to ecological activism (see Greenway 1995, Ingalsbee 1996, White 1998). Underneath the neo-Freudian terminology, ecopsychologists also reiterate what the main founders of the American environmentalist movement had each discovered, described and realized in his and her own way: David Thoreau at Walden Pond, John Muir in the high Sierras, Rachel Carson on East coast beaches, and before them, Jean Jacques Rousseau on his solitary nature walks (1968). All developed far-reaching intuitive ecological insights and discovered new dimensions of their selves (and the modern human condition) by finding themselves in wild places. 5
At the same time, ecopsychologists remark that most people having experienced this ecological shift in identity will inevitably “cross back” from wild natural and mental spaces to urban ones, and as a result, the extent to which the voice and insights of the ecological unconscious can survive in such unnatural spaces remains unclear. Still, although difficult to sustain in urban settings, ecopsychologists believe that ecological insights encountered in wild places will permanently alter one’s sense of identity and relation to the natural environment.
Ecopsychology’s stepping stones (the ecological unconscious, the “voice of the earth”, the earth’s psyche) generate quite a bit of resistance, and are often dismissed as essentialist at best, and ridiculous at worst. Yet, while critics would be quick to point that individuals experience the psyche-ecology link only because they believe in it and discursively construct it, ecopsychologists would retort that individuals the world over and throughout history believe in this link because they have experienced it, and because this experience occurred prior to/outside of representation. Thus, while it is certainly true that we can “only know the environment through human templates” (see for example Fine 1992, p. 162), this does not necessarily mean that these templates are always or only limited to cultural-linguistic ones. As such, following the ecopsychological path by relying on traditional logico-positivist or constructionist maps can only lead to a dead-end because this psyche-ecology link cannot be demonstrated to be either “real” (in the logico-positivist sense) or to exist beyond representation. 6 As Roszak also notes, our very insisting that this link between psyche and ecology be somehow demonstrated is already a tragic symptom of the depth of our alienation from both. In other words, finding oneself in nature necessarily evokes different perspectives. To reduce these new perspectives and insights to mere linguistic constructions reproduces (ecologically) problematic assumptions about self, nature, and meaning. Thus, while we have little trouble appreciating Simmel’s insights about the profound effects of urban “jungles” on our mental, emotional, behavioral and social dispositions, we find it suprisingly more difficult to grant wild forests a similar effectivity (Rolston 1998). In the same vein, while the suggestion of a psyche-ecology interpenetration is readily dismissed as absurd, fuzzy, irrational, and even just “Californian” (anonymous, personal communication), the beliefs in collapsing boundaries, of merging or interpenetration between psyche, body and simulational technologies have already become cliché in most postmodern circles. As deep ecologists and ecofeminists of various camps (Merchant 1994, 1992, Salleh 1995, Zimmerman 1994) point out, our difficulty to acknowledge this “natural” interpenetration between psyche and ecology is intellectually puzzling, psychologically interesting, but ideologically suspect.
The Rational-Moral Path: Generalized Environmental Other & Transverse Interaction
Selves are meanings we realize in our actions and in the responses we and others, including nature, makes to our actions (Weigert 1997, p. 161).
All landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper, “I am watching you—are you watching yourself in me?” (Durrell 1971, quoted in Devall 1988, p. 65).
It is possible for inanimate objects, no less than for human organisms, to form parts of the generalized... other for any given human individual, in so far as he responds to such objects socially...Any thing—any object or set of objects, whether animate or inanimate, human or animal, or merely physical -- towards which he responds, socially, is an element in what for him is the generalized other; by taking the attitudes of which toward himself he becomes conscious of himself as an object... and thus develops as self (Mead, 1934, p. 154, in Weigert 1997, pp. 172-173).
In Self, Interaction, and Natural Environment: Refocusing our Eyesight, Weigert (1997) traces a second path to the ecological identity by developing an ecological turn to two central concepts of Symbolic Interaction theory: the generalized other and symbolic interaction. Following this turn, Mead’s generalized other expands to the Generalized Environmental Other, and his symbolic interaction becomes subsumed under Transverse Interaction. In this approach, if our sense of identity develops through increasingly more complex role-taking skills with others (real, present, implied and imagined), then a central blind spot of much symbolic interactionist work on identity has been to restrict this other to human dimensions. Weigert’s fist step, the Generalized Environmental Other, propels role-taking skills to a more complex level that now includes the nonhuman realm and the ecosphere at large. Following the familiar symbolic interactionist logic, the “voice” of the environment becomes incorporated into the repertoire of others we spontaneously activate as we mentally rehearse actions, self-reflect, and anticipate responses from an environment that is both human and not. As Weigert explains (1997, pp. 164-169),
The generalized other is a mental construction of collective reality that informs personal thinking and motivation. It is not a physical individual we see or touch... So, too, each of us has a generalized understanding of the physical environment, a Generalized Environmental Other. My personal General Environmental Other frames the way I see and decide about interacting with the earth...A new environmental self emerges as self interacts with an object that orients self’s actions to the organized responses of ever more inclusive ecosystems as a Generalized Environmental Other.
Jagtenberg and McKie (1997, p. 136) also elaborate on this idea:
Despite Mead’s apparent consensus orientation … there is no a priori reason to exclude ecological considerations from the field of self in post-Meadian theory. With a broader understanding of the social construction and identifications of self, we can allow ecological others to be significant points of orientation in decision making and other routine activities, such as the stories we tell to sustain our identities.
Just as Mead argued for the social necessity of a Generalized Other --the internalization of organized community responses which allow for the constitution of a moral and normal social self-- so too, Weigert posits the moral and simply self-evident necessity to think, act and self-reflect in relation to a Generalized Environmental Other: “an integrated set of internalized expectations of the systemic reactions of the natural world to individual and collective action.” Although often met with disbelief and reservations, this orientation towards the natural environment as a meaningful co-interactant is taken-for-granted in many societies we call “indigenous” (see especially Abram 1997). As Devall (1988, p. 47) reminds us,
the Koyukon of Alaska, for example, live in a world that watches. The surroundings are aware, sensate, personified. They feel. They can be offended. And they must, at every moment, be treate[SG1] d with respect.
Research in a variety of spiritual traditions ranging from Native American ecosophies to Eastern religions (Gottlieb 1996) also indicate that such an approach to the environment appears to be the rule rather than the exception. While such a broad cross-cultural and trans-historical consensus cannot of course prove the claim that the environment is indeed an autonomous and self-conscious interactant, it should at least motivate an honest re-assessment of our own approach to the environment which constructs it as inert, conscience-less, and passive. In other words, if we insist that the only environment that matters is the socially constructed one, we should be prepared to courageously submit our own anthropocentric assumptions to (ecocentric) scrutiny and deconstruction.
In order to better develop and integrate this Generalized Environmental Other, Weigert suggests his second step: expanding our focus from interhuman symbolic interaction to transverse interaction. This term refers to human-environment interactions—those routine and daily actions we, consciously and not, perpetrate on the natural environment (my daily consumption of large quantities of natural resources including other organisms, production of waste, dangerous chemicals, etc.). As we now realize, the individual and combined outcomes of such routine actions are often unknown and unknowable, invisible to the naked eye, can only be detected by relying on complex technologies, and manifest themselves with much delay. But, as Weigert insists,
For the first time in history, modern selves are self-consciously aware of the need to analyze their actions as transverse interaction within the world that is there for all humans...Whatever else we think we are doing, we necessarily affect the environment. Such transverse interaction has routinely been out-of-focus, forgotten or denied...(p. 159)
Following these two intertwined ecological steps with even a minimum of self-awareness, the environment takes on a very different presence in our mind, in the ongoing process of self-reflection so central to the development of identity, and hence to the very meaning one attaches to identity. The incorporation of the Generalized Environmental Other as a meaningful voice now prompts entirely new categories of questions and provides a new perspective from where to interpret my and others’ everyday actions. As I reflect on my transverse interactions from its imagined point of view, many behaviors I once believed to be inconsequential or simply failed to notice I now interpret as harmful, cruel, disrespectful, wasteful, or suicidal. Incorporating the Generalized Environmental Other as a voice in my internal audience now also raises new questions about who I think I am as I for the first time attend to my transverse interactions, ask myself what sorts of social psychological disposition these articulate, and compare my interactions with the environment to my interactions with humans. The natural environment, the nonhuman, thus becomes a new “Other”, a new mirror in which I see my own reflection. As I increasingly experience it as part of me, I also become increasingly aware of my interactions with/in it, and what those indicate about me:
Redefining the other is part of self-redefinition...Self is empirically constituted by networks of others with whom or with which self interacts. Networks of interacting selves provide what Peter Berger calls “plausibility structures,” that is, groups of confirming others who validate self in context of a group’s world view and the personal identities realized within that world view. The new environmental self explicitly includes organic and physical others within its plausibility structures. An integrated view of the social-natural world includes frames for experiencing self, perceiving others, seeing the world, and motivating action with an environmental identity (Weigert 1997, pp. 163 & 170).
Pushing this point further, Weigert also asserts that this Environmental Other should be given a more compelling voice than the societal one. Thus, if one’s societal groups have, up until now, constituted the main sources of the social self, an environmental identity is also importantly “based on the realization that the meaning of social action is primarily environmental and universal, and secondarily societal...” (p. 161) In other words, while the meanings of my interactions may vary greatly across contexts, the consequences of my daily transverse interactions do not --whether I am aware of them or not, whether I interpret them correctly or not. 7 Although it is certain that the voice of this Generalized Environmental Other is polyphonous, ecotheorists still maintain that our shared human biological and genetic makeup will tend to communicate certain understandings rather than others. As anthropological and historical evidence suggests (Bateson 1991, 1979, 1975; Gottlieb 1996), certain fundamental ecological meanings have almost universal recognition and currency – probably because they are more attuned to the logic organizing the natural environment, life in general, and hence our own (human) nature.
While Roszak’s ecological unconscious is already within us and awaiting to be awakened, Weigert’s ecological self requires cognitive incorporation, conscious attention and moral development. While Roszak promotes a withdrawal from the “socialized” or cultured self in order to access the nonrational ecological unconscious and the instinctual self, Weigert presents role-taking with the environment as a quasi social-moral duty. As such, although enormously useful for the development of a more ecologically-sensitive identity in symbolic interaction theory, Weigert’s path still tends to reproduce a certain dualism between human self and an ecological Other which acts back on us in ways which are difficult to grasp, feel, or visualize. In addition, his justification for environmental accountability, role-taking, and moral responsibility still remains somewhat anthropocentric as he emphasizes that such developments are ultimately essential not for nature’s own sake, but for the sake of future human generations. But those weaknesses can also be seen as opportunities. By ecologizing familiar symbolic interactionist concepts and models, Weigert’s sober approach can appeal to individuals who are interested in exploring ecological identity but who might be uncomfortable with the neo-Freudian physical and nonrational path characteristic of ecopsychology or with the more ecocentric and spiritual one distinctive of deep ecology.
The Spiritual and Transcendental Path: Deep Ecology’s Ecological Self
How do we develop a wider self? What kind of process makes it possible? One way of answering these questions: There is a process of ever-widening identification and ever-narrowing alienation which widens the self. The self is as comprehensive as the totality of our identifications. Or, more succinctly: Our Self is that with which we identify. The question then reads: How do we widen our identifications? Identification is a spontaneous, non-rational, but not irrational process through which the interest or interests of another being are reacted to as our own interest or interests (Naess 1985, p. 261).
It is through this process of self-realization, based on identification, that we being to widen our sense of identification from self, family and friends, and community and nation to include the natural world surrounding us...(Frodeman 1995, p. 131).
Deep Ecology is among the most radical branches of the environmental movement, and its association with Earth First! and other eco-activist groups has contributed to such a categorization. Believing that the ecological crisis is at basis a crisis of character and culture, deep ecologists stress that reforming existing practices (decreasing pollution, pesticides, etc.) without changing self and culture will not suffice in the long run. Ultimately, although urgently needed, such reforms only address the symptoms of ecological devastation not its roots. For Sessions --an important figure in the movement-- “an ecologically harmonious social paradigm shift is going to require a total reorientation of Western culture.” (Zimmerman 1994, 31-32).
In contrast to visceral experiences or rational role-taking with the environment, deep ecologists suggest that the path to an ecological identity should include an expanded identification with the natural environment, an identification which is cognitive, emotional, ethical and even spiritual (Devall 1985, Egri 1997, Spretnak 1991). As developed by philosopher Arne Naess, and strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism, Native-American traditions, American environmentalism, and various currents in Western philosophy, deep ecologists posit the two fundamental and interrelated axioms of Self-Realization and Biocentric Equality:
Self realization refers to the unfolding of a self whose identification capabilities expand beyond the notion of the isolated ego striving primarily for hedonistic gratification or salvation. While in many traditions, spiritual growth requires that we cease to understand ourselves as isolated and competing egos and begin to identify with other humans (from our family and friends to, eventually, our species --Devall & Sessions 1985, p. 67), the deep ecological path requires that identification extends beyond humanity to include the nonhuman world, the “organic whole”, and beyond that, what they call the great Self, the Absolute, a sacred spiritual force or presence which creates and permeates all that exists. Central to this notion of self-realization is the understanding that there are no real boundaries between humans and nonhumans as everything that exists is a manifestation of the same agency:
Warwick Fox, an Australian philosopher, has succinctly expressed the central intuition of deep ecology: “It is the idea that we can make no firm ontological divide in the field of existence: That there is no bifurcation in reality between the human and the nonhuman realms…to the extent that we perceive boundaries, we fall short of deep ecological consciousness” (Devall & Sessions 1985, p. 66)
Summarizing common ecological insights found in various traditions, Spretnak (1991, pp. 207-208) also notices that in many, we find the ideas that:
Perceptual boundaries between the ‘inner and the ‘outer’ dissolve, and an intense awareness of the whole as a benevolent and powerful common is present.…One comes to understand the person as a unique but integral manifestation of the social whole and the cosmological whole… [and] since interbeing is the nature of existence, measures of reciprocity are the ‘internal logic of life’.”
As deep ecologists also suggest, since this identity is rather difficult to achieve, it is best to speak of process of identification which is informed and energized by ecological awareness, meditation, a variety of ecological practices, and political activism.
(b) Biocentric Equality
When we experience the illusory nature of the boundaries between self and non-self, human and non-human, inner and outer, Biocentric Equality -- the second principle of Deep Ecology—is a logical corollary. It posits that “all things in the biosphere have an equal right to live and blossom and to reach their own individual forms of unfolding and self-realization within the larger Self-realization.” (Devall & Sessions 1985, pp. 67-69) Following this identification which collapses the self-Other and human-nonhuman distinctions, all moral exhortations to protect nature become irrelevant as “care will naturally flow from humans to nature.” Following the deep ecological path, humans’ self-realization is intimately connected to the self-realization of all other species and the ecosphere. In other words, one becomes impossible without the other, and one is the precondition for the other. As identification with nature extends the boundaries of the self to other species, the environment, and the ecosphere, the sense of identity becomes radically transformed: “Emphasizing our commonality and continuity with the natural world rather than the differences allows us to reinterpret our sense of self-interest in terms of others, our community, and the natural world” (Frodeman 1995, p. 131). As they also add, since there are no boundaries and since “everything is interrelated…if we harm the rest of Nature then we are harming ourselves.” But insofar as we perceive things as individual organisms and entities, this insight draws us to “respect all human and nonhuman individuals in their own rights as parts of the whole without feeling the need to set up hierarchies of species with humans at the top.” (Devall & Sessions 1985, p. 68).
Starting from these two fundamental axioms of Self-Realization and Biocentric Equality, the deep ecological path proceeds along these 8 following principles:
(1) The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on earth have values in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes
(2) Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
(3) Humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity except to satisfy their vital needs.
(4) The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
(5) Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive and the situation is rapidly worsening.
(6) Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
(7) The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living, There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
(8) Those who subscribe to the foregoing point have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.
While the deep ecological belief in a spiritual Absolute or the principle of self-realization for all organisms has been rejected by social constructionists and others as metaphysical and theoretically untenable, it has also been the recipient of much criticism on the part of cultural ecofeminists who see the ecological identity advanced here as suffering from “ideological pollution”. More precisely, one main criticism charges that it reproduces a male subjectivity and psychology by “seeking either a vampirish absorption or an infantile fusion with nature” (Zimmerman 1994, p. 286). As such, deep ecology is accused (not always justifiably) for promoting a sense of identity with nonhuman Others rather than respect for radical difference, and for failing to recognize that “women’s experience could provide an immediate ‘living social basis’ for this new consciousness” (p. 276).
Deep ecologists (Devall 1988) as well as a few voices in cultural studies (Bertland and Slack 1994, Whitt and Slack 1994) and ecological postmodernism (Cheney 1995) also point at community, “bioregion” or local geography as the optimal space for enabling an ecological identity, and as the most strategic terrain of necessary political projects. As they suggest, the development of an ecological identity must be grounded in “storied residence…bioregional ways of dwelling that are informed by narratives arising from experiences in a particular place and the relationships with specific beings” (Zimmerman 1994, p. 297). Promoting a postmodern ecological orientation, Cheney for example suggests that:
The fractured identities of postmodernism...can build health and well-being by means of bioregional contextualization of self and community. The voices of health will be as various and multiple as the landscapes which give rise to them...The notion of socially constructed selves gives way to the idea of bioregionally constructed selves and communities. In this way, bioregionalism can “ground” the construction of self and community without essentialization and totalization typical of the various “groundings” of patriarchal culture...Self and geography are bound together in a narrative which locates us in the moral space of defining relations...Mindscapes are as multiple as the landscapes which ground them (1995, pp. 131& 138).
Although the idea of a bioregional identity certainly constitutes a logical step or stage on the deep ecological path, I believe that it suffers from two limitations. First, such an identity is predicated on a certain permanence in and attachment to “place” – a relationship to space which is charged with historical, cultural, emotional and even physical investments, and which may “naturally” foster care and a sense of responsibility. However, the increasing geographical mobility characterizing the contemporary American lifestyle, and the accelerating virtualization of everyday life, interactions, and nature itself (Weigert 1997) may seriously incapacitate the developing and sustaining of such a relationship. Second, bioregionalism could also, under the “right” conditions and subtle slogans, encourage exclusionary dispositions towards whomever happens to be considered an “alien” or “stranger” at any particular point in time and place. Still, the merging of eco-activism, bioregionalism, multicultural spiritual traditions, and the principle of biocentric equality provide a richly multilayered path that can probably appeal to a wide variety of people, as well as offering diverse possibilities for a much-needed dialogue between sociology, ecology, and spirituality.
CONCLUSIONS: THE ECOLOGICAL IMAGINATION
There is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds, and it is characteristic of the system that basic error propagates itself. It branches out like a rooted parasite through the tissues of life, and everything gets into a rather peculiar mess (Bateson 1975, p. 484)
Ecological thinking...requires a kind of vision across boundaries. The epidermis of the skin is ecologically like a pond surface or a forest soil, not a shell so much as a delicate interpenetration. It reveals the self ennobled and extended rather than threatened as part of the landscape and the ecosystem, because the beauty and complexity of nature are continuous with ourselves (Shepard 1996, p. 112-113).
As images of “human nature” becomes more problematic, an increasing need is felt to pay closer yet more imaginative attention to the social routines and catastrophes which reveal (and shape) man’s nature in this time of civil unrest and ideological conflict (Mills 1959, p. 15)
In this paper, I have briefly explored three different paths guiding the development of an ecological identity. Although following different directions, all three paths bypass the modernist conception of identity, follow the post-structural turn pointing at its textual construction, but attempt to proceed beyond the anthropocentrism still present in post-structuralism. They all emphasize that there is something beyond or outside the text. That something is nature, the ecological, the environment --a dimension which exists before, after, around and inside us, a dimension which we represent in our discourses but which also exists beyond our representations. In their own way, each of these paths suggests that nature (both external and internal) cannot be reduced to its anthropocentric modern (see Bateson 1975) and postmodern constructions. They all stress that the experience and practice of identity must expand and involve the nonhuman, and that, paradoxically, such an expansion can only enrich our humanness, deepen it, and root it in the ground that matters most --the one that provides the resources necessary for the survival of all species, the source of all that exists. All three paths also maintain that developing an ecological identity constitutes an urgent social, psychological, moral and political project. Although they each suffer from shortcomings, I believe that they still point to new and necessary directions which traditional theories of identity do not (or refuse to) acknowledge. And while theoretical spats are not infrequent among scholars following these different paths, I see them as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. In some sense, they each trace different points of access or even consecutive stages 8 in the process of ecological identification.
Since the concept of an ecological identity utilized by many of the thinkers discussed here contradicts post-structural insights about the discursive construction, fragmentary nature, and constant recombination of multiple identities, one way of resolving this contradiction might consist in replacing the concept of identity by identification—a position which is especially pronounced in deep ecology. In contrast to identity which connotes a stable entity, sameness, a fixed and static presence, identification evokes the ideas of process and movement, but also of compassion, empathy, and solidarity. It bespeaks of relationships --a term of considerable importance in ecological thought. Following this logic, ecological identification is not a fixed label we apply to our self but is perhaps best conceived as an ecologically-informed process. It informs who we think we are, questions the limits of our capabilities for role-taking and empathy, guides how we act, invites us to develop a different epistemology, and encourages us to reposition our sense of self in relation with the natural environment rather than in social or semiotic structures.
Yet, even this move from identity to identification does not resolve a certain tension between ecological and post-structural discourses because, while post-structuralism might suggest that an ecological identification informs one among many subject-positions, ecological thinkers will respond that we are first and foremost biological organisms, terrestrial creatures, part of nature. Although this position can be doubtlessly labeled as essentialist, it still seems that, in contrast to every other basis of identity-construction, our essential ecological origins (and ultimate destination) cannot, at this point, be reasonably deconstructed.
As a last thought, one particularly interesting idea promoted by ecotheorists posits that humans are the earth’s “central nervous system” (Berry 1988), consciousness, or “risky experiment in self-conscious intelligence” (Roszak, in Zimmerman 1991, p.79), and there are obvious parallels between this positioning of humans as the planet’s self-awareness and the positioning of sociology as society’s self-awareness. Following ecotheorists’ call for an ecologically-informed revolution in our ways of thinking, the concept of an “ecological imagination” seems especially fruitful. Although this topic can only be briefly introduced in the space remaining here, I believe that there is much to be learnt by ecologizing Mills’ canonical Promise (1959). For example, if “the sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society,” (p. 6), the ecological imagination will posit that “neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding” the complex relations of both with/in their natural environment. Accordingly, an ecological “quality of the mind” cannot be limited to self-reflection from the point of view of environmental activists, 9 recycling plastic bottles, a yearly Earth Day celebration, or thinking about the ecology. The “quality of the mind” characteristic of the ecological imagination will require that we start thinking ecologically –that we develop thinking patterns that transcend the immediate human milieus of our biography, that surmount anthropocentric binarisms, and that align psychosphere with ecosphere, epistemology with ecology. To quote Bateson one last time (1975, 502)
Ideas, to survive and to ensure survival must develop similar characteristics as organisms trying to adapt to their environments.
If the understanding of biography-in-society is a primordial insight in the development of the sociological imagination, an understanding of identity-with/in-environment might very well be the critical step in the flowering of the ecological one.
1. For an insightful critique of the absence of the ecological in Cultural Studies and Symbolic Interactionism, see especially Jagtenberg and McKie (1997) and Whitt and Slack (1994).
2. As an anonymous author once put it, what would our social constructions be like if we were breathing helium or nitrous oxide instead of air?
3. See Marcuse (1972), Merchant (1994), Metzner (1995, 1992), Roszak (1995), Salleh (1995), Sessions (1985), Tobias (1985), Zimmerman (1994), for example.
4. Although ecopsychologists criticize traditional psychotherapy for its anthropocentrism and urban logic, there are still interesting parallels between traditional psychoanalysis and this “wilderness” therapy. Of course, this does not mean that all the therapies offered by ecopsychologists will occur in wild places and will aim at uncovering the ecological unconscious.
5. Although not referring to ecological thought, Neumann’s study (1992) of new experiences of the self by Grand Canyon hikers provides concrete and more recent illustrations of these transformations.
6. As a tangent I find hard to resist, since grasping the ecological unconscious and the psyche-ecology link is most successfully accomplished through in situ personal experience, this project exhibits interesting parallels with self-reflexive ethnography: It requires that we leave our etic-anthropocentric-textual assumptions behind, that we get our feet wet (or muddy), that we go to “the field” (the forest, the canyon, the mountain, the desert), immerse ourselves in it, develop empathy with its members, sensitivity to its dynamics, attentiveness to its sounds and fluctuations, and notice how these transform our own subjectivity. In both cases, there is no substitute for actually doing it. In both cases also, there is always much more going on than we could ever faithfully transcribe, cogently represent and convincingly communicate.
7. An addendum to this idea suggests that I am also always influenced by environmental forces (gravity, sound, electromagnetic fields, light, micro-organisms, thermal fluctuations, smells, ultraviolet rays, seasonal cycles, radiations, air and water composition, altitude, vegetation, barometric pressure, etc) whether I am aware of them or not, whether I interpret them correctly or not.
8. There are, for example, interesting parallels between, on the one hand, Freud’s id, ego and superego and, on the other, the visceral ecological unconscious (in ecopsychology), the rational-moral self-reflection and self-monitoring (in ecological symbolic interactionism), and the transcendental self-realization through spiritual identification with the ecosphere (in deep ecology), respectively.
9. This solution was suggested by an anonymous reviewer.
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