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Burning Cities: A Posthumanist Account of Australians and Eucalypts

posted on 2023-05-22, 13:18 authored by Adrian FranklinAdrian Franklin
The posthumanist turn is now well established outside Australia (see, for example, Haraway, 1997; 2003; Cloke and Jones, 2001; Jones and Cloke, 2002; Latour, 1993; Pickering, 2000; 2001; Thrift, 2000a; 2000b) and is producing an account of agency in nature that is inextricably intertwined with the social–cultural. We have yet to see this promising development grafted onto Australian environmental studies – although some authors in this field are edging towards this (see, for example, Bulbeck, 2004; Plumwood, 2002; 2004) – and this paper is offered as a means of making progress in this direction. In this paper I have deliberately chosen the most mundane commonplace natural object in Australia, the gum tree, as my nonhuman. If it can be demonstrated that there is a profound material relation and subsequently a social relation between gum trees and Australian culture– social life, the truth of which simultaneously cancels both nature and culture as viably separate concepts, then the implications for Australian social sciences and also for the life sciences are profound. Rather than feeding more calls for the vaguely stated need for interdisciplinary collaboration (a project that preserves the ontological division of labour as between the human and the nonhuman sciences) I suggest that we commence a more symmetrical programme of research. Work must begin on a sociology and geography of Australians not merely among themselves. Aside from these ontological arguments and the case study that supports them there are some shards and splinters of theoretical fallout resulting from this heresy that may be of interest. The first is methodological and suggests that we do not start with a thing ‘to be explained’, but instead, following Andrew Pickering’s advice in The Mangle of Practice (1995), place ourselves in the action, in medias res or ‘in the thick of things’ where the play or dance of agency takes place. The second concerns the continued relevance of the long-established nature–culture, natural–social dualisms on which most environmental studies are constructed, and also the implications of this for thinking about environmental issues in Australia. If we allow that gum trees are neither purely natural nor purely social but both – what we might call a relational entity after John Law (1994; 1999) – then what does this say about environmental discourses that endorse and seek to reproduce (or restore) so-called primordial natures and about Tim Low’s recent (2003) claim for a ‘new nature’ (in Australia)? The third concerns our understanding of agency as it is used generally in sociology but also in actor-network theory (ANT) and its later mutations and posthumanist writings. This paper also supports those who argue that agency needs to be understood always as an artefact of time: of social, ecological, and glacial times (Jones and Cloke, 2002; Macnaghten and Urry, 1998).


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Environment and Planning




S Elden






School of Social Sciences



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Copyright 2012 Sage Publications

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