Routledge, 2016, 264 pages
What do natural reserves, botanical and zoological parks, anthropology museums and department of linguistics have in common? They all describe their objects as endangered beings. The series of essays collected by Fernando Vidal and Nélia Dias start from this diagnosis. If there is a contemporary “endangerment sensibility” in global communities of experts, what is its history, and what kinds of assemblages does it produce?
Raising such historical questions involves stepping back from the catastrophic discourse on species extinction and the sense of crisis that often accompanies environmental humanities. When so many different objects are described and conceived as endangered, what does it tell about our contemporary ontologies? First and foremost, it means that the classical distinction between a stabilized nature and a realm of culture opened to human initiative is obsolete. At the age of the ‘anthropocene’ (beautifully evoked by Julia Adeney Thomas in her coda to Vidal’s and Dias’s volume entitled “Who is the ‘We’ Endangered by Climate Change?”), when the human species appears as a geological force able to transform its environment permanently, all the beings we live with appear as more or less endangered.
The two terms that constitute the title of this book—biodiversity and culture—do not rely, therefore, on the classical distinction between nature and culture. On the contrary, the editors rely on Philippe Descola’s argument that the problem of biodiversity forces us to think “beyond nature and culture”, since natural diversity is as endangered as cultural diversity.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.