False antitheses? Marxism, nature and actor-networks
This paper stages an encounter between two critical approaches that have been central to the recent "greening" of left geography. The theoretical and normative claims of the first approach, eco-Marxism, have been subject to sometimes biting criticism from advocates of the second approach, actor-network theory (ANT). Taking a nonorthodox Marxist perspective, I argue that the ANT critique of political economy approaches to nature is overstated and only partly defensible. By distinguishing between different modalities of eco-Marxism and ANT, I show the seeming standoff between the two approaches to society-nature relations to be false. Splitting the difference between a weak version of ANT and a relational version of eco-Marxism yields a political economy approach to socionature that arguably avoids the excesses of strong modalities of ANT and dualistic forms of eco-Marxism. By seeking to bridge the apparent gap between Marxism and ANT, the paper avoids reducing either approach to society-nature relations to one fixed position or theoretical-normative "essence". Instead, a particular modality of ANT is used to address the weaknesses of certain extant versions of eco-Marxism. The resulting synthesis offers conceptual tools with which Marxists can still critique a pervasive mode of human relationality to nature-namely, capitalist-while multiplying the actors and complicating the politics involved in approaching the society-environment nexus.
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