Nature is a familiar category of political analysis, established in the canonical literature by Aristotle’s claims that “man is by nature a political animal” and that “the city is one of those things that is by nature”. A number of political theories have understood nature as generative of political life. Ibn Khaldun framed the development of human society as an escape from the difficult existence that “natural” man had endured in the wilderness.
Between the development of a Roman law theory that established nature and the city as distinct realms of jurisprudence, the scientific revolution, and the emergence of social contract theory, many traditions sought to establish a sharp boundary between the natural and the political. But another set of ideas, ranging from Confucianism as it developed in early China, and later Physiocracy and social Darwinism, sought to extend the empire of nature over society and govern the human world by natural laws.
‘Nature’ has thus come to occupy many, frequently conflicting, positions in political thought. The natural environment is understood variously as a neutral field providing the backdrop against which human affairs take place, as the malleable object of human action, or as the terrifying antithesis of culture, order, and civilisation.
Today, circumstances demand that we rethink ‘nature’ and its many roles in political thought and intellectual history. Anthropogenic climate change, human-made microplastics found in even the most remote places, and mass species extinction mean that nature can no longer be understood as unaffected by human activities. It is now evident that nature has been and continues to be transformed so profoundly and completely that the traces of human impact have become a constitutive part of it. And by focusing our attention on the vast epochs of geological time, the Anthropocene also encourages us to reconsider the traditional temporalities of political thought and its history. All of this points to new ways of thinking about the relationship between political thought and nature.
The 2023 Cambridge Graduate Conference in Political Thought is therefore inviting abstracts that explore the relationship between political thought and the natural environment. Proposals may wish to consider, but should not feel limited to, the following themes:
- The role of nature in underpinning or authorising political ideas
- The implications of the Anthropocene for political thought
- Nature, gender and feminism
- Breaking with existing paradigms about nature
- The relationship between the socialised and naturalised human, as exemplified in tensions between mind and body
- Thinking about the natural environment and urban space
- The history of nature, environment, and related concepts
- The role of science and epistemological questions in determining understandings of nature and politics
- Non-western approaches to the relation between political thought and nature
- Ways in which the Anthropocene problematises the traditional temporalities of political thought
- Methodological considerations for (the history of) political thought in the Anthropocene: including, but not restricted to, the possible role of science fiction, theology, and the limits of reason
To apply, please send an abstract of no more than 300 words to email@example.com by 29 March 2023. Successful applicants will be informed no later than 19 April. The conference will be held on 20 June. The keynote speech will be given by Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty.
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