Ecology has emerged as one of the most important sites of political struggle today. This issue of M/C invited authors to engage with “ecology” not as a siloised field of scientific enquiry, but rather as a way of contemporary thinking and a conceptual mode that emphasizes connectivity, conviviality, and inter-dependence. Proposing a radical revision of anthropocentrism in When Species Meet, Donna Haraway emphasises the dynamism of ecology as an entangled mesh, observing that, “the world is a knot in motion.” The “infolding” of human bodies with what we call “the environment” has never been clearer than the present moment—a time where humans may have undermined the viability of their own and other organism’s life on Earth.
This impending ecological crisis has forced awareness of humanity’s dependence on the nonhuman lives that surround and envelop us. Gregory Bateson reminds us of the gravity of this mutuality with his assertion that the unit of survival is the organism-and-its-environment in a relationship, and that an organism which destroys its environment commits suicide (Bateson). Our unstable ecological future has prompted the emergence of an array of inter-disciplines, and new political, intellectual and cultural alignments including; ecomedia, eco-Marxism, ecological humanities, political ecology and animal studies. These thriving areas of scholarship often attempt to situate, “humans in ecological terms and non-humans in ethical terms,” while highlighting, as Val Plumwood has in her landmark Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason, how, “anthropocentric perspectives and culture […] make us insensitive to our ecological place in the world’ (2).
Despite the growing popular concern for the more-than-human world, Western populations are “citizens of science-led modernity, and are still investing in the narratives of progress” (Myerson 61). Climate change and the contemporary ecological crisis have provided an impetus and opportunity for collaborative scholarship and alternative engagements across the science/humanities divide. Deborah Bird Rose and Libby Robin remind us that the driving forces behind crises are primarily social and cultural. It is therefore essential for media and cultural theorists to be part of the ecological conversation as it seeks to develop new knowledge practices in order to “engage with connectivity and commitment in a time of crisis and concern” (Rose and Robin).
Since James Lovelock proposed the Gaia hypothesis in 1982, conceptualising the Earth as a self-regulating, evolving system, notions of equilibrium and harmony have pervaded ecological thinking. Gaia is “a powerfully productive scientific metaphor and has considerable value as a way to imagine the planet as at once vulnerable and vast, enduring and evolving” (Garrard 201). Because the study of ecology concerns life and the complex contingencies of all of its relationships, applying ecological thought to contemporary “matters of concern” (Latour) can alert us to the limitations of our knowledge, while simultaneously impelling us to act from our enmeshed position in a precariously balanced world. At the same time, as our Feature for this issue recognises, ecological metaphors can paradoxically damage ecologies.
Evidently the theme of ecology has contemporary resonance as we were both excited and overwhelmed with the sheer number (over 20) of papers we received and their theoretical diversity, and we regret that we could not include more than those that follow. Our sincere gratitude goes to our generous referees—all 54 of them. And a special thanks to our colleagues (in Macquarie University’s Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, and Environment and Geography) who we relied upon when reviewers fell through. If we then include the efforts of all our contributors, as well as M/C editors Peta Mitchell and Axel Bruns, this issue is the culmination of the collaborative (and mostly invisible) labour of around 89 people. Thank you.
Invisible labour is one focus of Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller’s feature article for this issue, “The Real Future of the Media.” It is both an eco-Marxist critique of the media industries and a call to action for all media, communications and cultural studies scholars to place ecological issues at the core of their work. Far from the “end of materiality” promised by virtual media’s technological utopia, Maxwell and Miller demonstrate the ways in which the media industries and technophiles alike, tend to obscure not only inequitable and dangerous labour conditions but also the media’s negative environmental impacts. With some staggering statistics around ICT/CE planned obsolescence, E-waste, exposure of workers to toxicity, they emphasise that ecological metaphors more often blind us to harsh environmental realities, rather than illuminate them. By focusing on the not-so-green outcomes of contemporary media practice, they remind us that while ecology can be a useful conceptual mode, it is important to avoid divorcing metaphor from materiality, lest we confuse the map with the territory (Alfred Korzybski).
In a similar political vein, in “Gentrifying Climate Change: Ecological Modernisation and the Cultural Politics of Definition”, Ben Glasson remains sceptical that our current political and economic system can adequately address the challenges that climate change will bring. Focused on the shortcomings of the discourse of ecological modernisation (EM), Glasson argues that environmentalism, rather than being integrated into capitalism, has been co-opted, through a process of gentrification, without necessarily, any tangible environmental benefits.
The next two articles explore filmic portrayals of ecological disaster. Described by one referee as a “breath of fresh air in the field of post-apocalyptic criticism,” Tim Matts’s and Aidan Tynan’s timely piece places Lars von Trier’s recent film Melancholia, in the broader context of humanity’s sense of impending annihilation. Instead of mourning for the loss of Earth, the authors suggest that Melancholia’s central character’s overwhelming melancholy enables a “radical form of ecological openness.” While in “Spectre of the Past, Vision of the Future,” Tamas Molnar celebrates filmmaker Arthus-Bertrand’s Home as a climate change communication text which uses ritual to influence audience’s environmental behaviour. Molnar argues that Home transforms anthropocentric hubris into ecological awareness, as the film’s spectators begin to reconcile the spectral haunting of human-induced environmental devastation with a future vision of personal responsibility and hope for the suffering body of the Earth.
Anita Howarth focuses on another suffering body to explore the convergence of two ecologies which combine to form an “ecology of protest” in “A Hunger Strike-the Ecology of a Protest: The Case of Bahraini activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.” Howarth argues that through an act of corporeal-environmental (self)destruction, the emaciated body of Bahraini hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was transformed into a political spectacle by a global media ecology. Howarth explores how the interpenetration between the ecology of the organism-and-its-environment, and the ecology of a global media system, impacts on protest movements and social justice.
The erasure of the rabbit’s suffering body becomes Katherine Wright’s focus in “Bunnies, Bilbies, and the Ethic of Ecological Remembrance” where she ponders the more sinister dimensions of substituting the Easter bunny with the Easter bilby. Analysing how stories impact on ecological thinking and attitudes, Wright critiques the problematic native/invasive dichotomy that sees the native bilby valued over the invasive rabbit; slaughtered in vast numbers in Australia. In place of this binary she proposes an ethic of “ecological remembrance,” which recognises the importance of memory in sustaining an ethics of more-than-human ecological care.
The following two articles emphasise the importance of storytelling to develop Indigenous ecological understanding and a decolonising ethic. With a focus on Australian Aboriginal story ecology, “Growing up the Future: Children’s Stories and Aboriginal Ecology,” Blaze Kwaymullina et al. explore two works of children’s literature which emphasise the sentience of Country and the responsibilities of future generations to protect fragile ecologies. They argue that through story, children will learn to “enhance the pattern of life,” rather than destroy it. While in “Ecology, Ontology and Pedagogy at Camp Coorong,” Bindi MacGill et al. traverse another pedagogy of Indigenous storytelling which has developed at Camp Coorong: Race Relations and Cultural Education Centre 200km south of Adelaide. An initiative of Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, Camp Coorong is a site of place-based education which passes on ethics of caring for country to students in the Murray-Darling Basin. Through the “gift of story” Camp Coorong has become a site of active decolonisation as non-Indigenous students and teachers are able to hear stories of Aboriginal dispossession, survival, and resilience. By creating a, “pedagogy of discomfort,” Camp Coorong encourages ecological responsibility and commitment, while engaging in the vital task of decolonising Australian culture and environments.
Applying the ecological framework to a very different form of storytelling, Paul Makeham, Bree Hadley and Joon-Yee Kwok discuss what “ecological thinking” can offer studies of the performing arts sector in Brisbane, Australia. Through a case study of Aus-e-stage Mapping Service, an online application that maps data about performing arts practitioners, organisations and audiences, “A ‘Value Ecology’ Approach to the Performing Arts” demonstrates the benefits of ecologically grounded rhizomatic thinking in assessing a theatre industry’s “health” through relationships and flows.
Grounded in the theory of French philosopher Michel Serres, Timothy Barker’s, “Information and Atmospheres: Exploring the Relationship between the Natural Environment and Information Aesthetics” is a thoughtful exploration of the way an array of artworks forges connections between “nature” and information. Through information visualisation and sonification, all three examples give a new sense of materiality to the atmosphere, with EcoArtTech appearing as our cover image for this issue.
This journal edition is populated by papers which explore different niches in ecological thinking, that are perhaps best understood in Latourian terms as an assemblage. The broad scope covered in the following papers demonstrates that ecology is an unsettled concept, made fertile by instability and excess. This issue of M/C hovers in the borderlands of inter-disciplinarity, where creative verve thrives in contact zones. We hope you enjoy it!
Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. London: Paladin, Granada Publishing, 1973.
Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2012.
Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. London: University of Minneapolis Press, 2007. (Kindle edition)
Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30.2 (2004). 27 June 2012 ‹http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/issues/v30/30n2.Latour.html›.
Lovelock, James. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Moreton, Timothy. Ecology without Nature. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2007.
Myerson, George. Ecology and the End of Postmodernity. London: Icon Books, 2002.
Plumwood, Val. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. Routledge; London and New York, 2002.
Rose, Deborah Bird, and Libby Robin. “The Ecological Humanities in Action.” Australian Humanities Review 31-32. (April 2004). 27 June 2012