Publication Details

Castree, N. (2016). Nature. In J. Adamson, W. A. Gleason & D. N. Pellow (Eds.), Keywords for Environmental Studies (pp. 151-156). New York, United States: New York University Press.


There are close connections between scientific claims about the contemporary world and wider shifts in the terms of societal discourse. As history demonstrates time and again, scientists change our actualite not only through their technological inventions but also through the vocabularies and methods they employ to persuade those outside science to pay attention. Consequently, when Time magazine recently informed its many readers that "[n]ature is over"-one of "[t]en ideas that are changing your life"-it came as no surprise to discover science as its inspiration. In his article, Time journalist Bryan Walsh pointed to the idea-first advanced by Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and freshwater biologist Eugene Stoermer (2000)-that we now live in "the Anthropocene." But he could just as easily have referenced the research of laboratory scientists, such as the world-famous geneticist Craig Venter (2013). Where Crutzen and Stoermer suggested that the supposed ontological divide between humans and nonhumans has been unintentionally breached on a planetary scale, the likes of Venter have for many years sought to dissolve the divide in more controlled, localized circumstances. In different ways, these spokespeople for the material world tell us that nature, in its various forms, has lost its former naturalness-either by accident or by design. Whether "the Anthropocene" concept enters public discourse worldwide remains to be seen, but the current familiarity of "genetic modification" and "synthetic biology" reminds us of how esoteric scientific neologisms can, given time, become keywords in the everyday arenas of politics, commerce, and civil society.