Dissertation Title: In Defense of Home: The Politics of Ecological Belonging
Committee: Jeffrey Green (Chair), Anne Norton, Loren Goldman
Key Topics: Environmental Political Theory; Environmental Politics; Property; Political Economy; Environmental Stewardship; Belonging; Populism
My dissertation, In Defense of Home: The Politics of Ecological Belonging, offers an original approach to environmental politics by exploring a phenomenon I call “ecological belonging” in which people come to feel at home in their environs through experiences of value and attachment. I argue that a viable popular environmental politics must avoid the anti-economism, anti-humanism, and elitism of prevalent strains of environmental criticism while nonetheless directly confronting the economic institutions and doctrines that prize unrestrained development and threaten ecological health and human flourishing.
First, drawing on John Locke, Karl Polanyi, Margaret Radin, and Wendell Berry, I critique the dominant economic paradigm of growth and accumulation (I call this paradigm “developmentalism”) but also emphasize the need for a defense of non-fungible property, like the homes and habitats that developmentalism threatens, as well as a broader vision of good human use of nature. Second, I turn to the eminent conservationist Aldo Leopold for a vision of environmental stewardship that offers a sense of human purpose in nature while demanding a robust commitment to protecting natural habitats for their own sake. Third, I critically engage with environmental writers like Edward Abbey and draw on Homer’s Odyssey to defend affective ties to environmental homeplaces. Against claims that such emotional ties to place are inherently reactionary or backward, I argue that they are the key to a truly democratic and grassroots environmental politics. Finally, I turn to the legacy and promise of 19th-century American populism and the possibility of an ecological populism in which everyday people act to curb developmentalist policies in defense of the places they call home.