Identification and Identity Politics
For most individuals, identification with
various forms of human collectivity, or with established sets of values and principles, fulfils important human needs. Indeed
the ability to see oneself within a larger context is fundamentally important in providing a sense of wider meaning and purpose.
It represents, as Geertz (1973, p.258) has argued, "a social assertion of the self 'as being somebody in the world.'" Thus,
an important aspect of identification is the desire to overcome loneliness through a sense of belonging; and to find significance
beyond the compass of individual experience.
The construction of identity is assumed to be a lifelong process involving internal and external referents; the self
is constituted both of what one considers oneself to be and what one believes to be "other". The extent to which difference,
or differentiation from others, is central to identity is a contested area, however. Clearly there are merits in Bikhu Parekh's
(1995, p.256) argument that "identity is logically and ontologically prior to difference". Nevertheless, while difference
or negative identification cannot of itself form the basis of identity, the construction of boundaries around identity groups
and the establishment of eligibility criteria play an important role in according significance to group members. Thus, Stuart
Hall (1996, p.5) maintains that "identities can function as points of identification and attachment only because of their
capacity to exclude, leave out, to render outside"(emphasis in original). Since an ecocentric identification does not depend
to any great extent, if at all, upon reference to an external other, this issue has considerable significance for the present
In complex contemporary societies, individuals encounter a range of identity sources although are not free randomly
to choose their identities. Given the salience of skin colour to some forms of collective identification, Hobsbawm (1996,
p.38) surely goes too far in asserting that "identities are like shirts rather than skin". Individuals should, rather, be
considered as more or less knowledgeable agents involved in a creative process of identity construction, in which personal
preference interacts with structural factors governing the availability of various identities. Thus, identity is, in part,
a function of eligibility. It derives from membership of a social group or organisation, or espousal of a set of values and
ideas held in common by a number of others. Sources of identity are many. They include, amongst others, gender, sexuality,
class, ethnicity, a political organisation or ideology, a religion, a state, region or city, a football team. As an alternative,
or in addition to these social (anthropocentric) sources of identity, it is proposed that individuals may achieve a broader
and potentially more fulfilling ecocentric identification.
The availability of a range of identity sources is not necessarily experienced by individuals as problematic or destabilising;
multi-faceted identities are the norm in complex societies. Such identities become problematic only if major incompatibilities
arise between their components. In such circumstances, those attempting to politicise identity would demand that a choice
be made and a superordinate loyalty declared, since "identity politics assumes that one among the many identities we all have
is the one that determines, or at least dominates our politics" (Hobsbawm 1996, p.41). The key to development of an ecocentric
identity thus becomes the ability, and willingness, to reconceptualise one's own place (and that of human beings as a species)
within the ecosystems of which we are a part. Politicisation of such an identity would demand that we pursue action consistent
with the belief that the whole must take precedence over the parts.
As a prelude to assessing the potential of alternative
sources of ecocentric identification, we consider the extent to which traditional approaches facilitate conceptualisation
of an identity politics based neither upon the attribution of superior characteristics to group members, nor upon the exclusion
of others, but which nevertheless demands high levels of commitment.
Approaches to Identity Politics
Traditional thinking about the nature and potential of identity
politics can be broadly divided into two schools, primordialist and rationalist. Rationalists offer a materialist treatment
of identity, which emphasises the contingent and multi-faceted nature of contemporary identities. This perspective rejects
essentialist treatments of identity based on ethnicity. In modern societies, for rationalists, affective ties of kinship are
largely replaced by pragmatic (even instrumental) associations. Thus, identification with cosmopolitan or universal ideas/movements
is capable of supplanting more particularistic identities. In consequence, differentiation from an alien other is not a necessary
feature of identity
From the perspective of constructing an ecocentric and essentially connected identity, rationalism's lack of exclusivity
has positive implications. Nevertheless, rationalist universalism rests firmly upon notions of individual human worth; it
falls far short of the fundamental sense of interconnectedness between all life forms implied by an ecocentric identity. Moreover,
attachment to one's home place, which could provide a point of departure for the development of an ecocentric identity, is
de-emphasised in rationalist thought. Instead there is focus upon the significance of time/space compression and associated
opportunities for mobility (both actual and virtual) in loosening emotional attachments to particular places. Thus, it is
argued, in fast-moving contemporary societies "There is a continual smudging of personas and lifestyles, depending upon where
we are and the spaces we are moving between. It is the speed, the fluidity with which these identities mingle and overlap
which makes any notion of fixed subjects seem more and more anachronistic - distinctly early 20th century"(Mort, 1989, p.169).
From this perspective, identification with green causes (in the Western societies implied by this discussion) relates
to a significant extent to lifestyle. Thus, a strong association can be traced between adherence to green causes and the post-material
values of the "new middle class" (Hannigan, 1995). This may reflect an expression of self, and presentation of the self to
others, as fashionable or non-conformist. Additionally, protection or improvement of the environment is likely to produce
aesthetically pleasing outcomes or otherwise enhance the quality of human life.
Ultimately, rationalist universalism privileges human well-being over the survival of other species. Moreover its
emphasis upon the contingent and shifting nature of identification is unconducive to the demands, in terms of commitment (even
self-sacrifice) implied by an ecocentric identification and an associated transformatory politics.
In contrast, notions of commitment and sacrifice are at the centre of primordialists' considerations. From this perspective,
while there may be acceptance that identification can be multi-faceted, there is believed to be a deep, central core of identity
which is instinctive. Consequently a politics of identity cannot be a matter of choosing a superordinate identity. Primordial
ties are particularistic, enduring and potentially infused with passion; and, by definition, their claim upon allegiance is
prior to and takes precedence over all other potential sources of identity. In consequence the significant qualitative differences
between identity sources cannot be dismissed through "repeated use of the frivolous clichés of the day, such as 'socially
constructed'" (Grosby, 1994, p.169).
For primordialists, the essential core of identity derives from kinship and locality,
the family and the familiar, blood and soil. Emotional attachment to home and family is regarded as extending relatively unproblematically
to identification with a people and willingness to die in defence of a homeland. For primordialists, collective ethno-national
identities are strongly associated with processes of differentiation from and assumptions of superiority over alien others.
From this perspective Plato's description of the Athenians "by nature hating the barbarians" has broad, if not universal,
Individual identification with a kinship group, a region or a people involves not only a sense of belonging but also
of ownership; creating an extended "horizon of ownness"(Grosby, 1994, p.165). This suggests the potential for an identity
politics modilised to defend the environment of one's locality, region or home place; but precludes a broader ethic of concern
for complex and interrelated ecosystems beyond the borders of the home place. Primordialists provide no satisfactory solution
to pressing transborder or global environmental problems.
Our discussion of identity politics has so far provided only
a broad context for consideration of potential forms of ecocentric identity. Neither primordialism (with its focus upon ethnicity
and home place) nor rationalism (with its focus upon the quality of human life) has proposed that the ecological dimension
be prioritised over the human as a source of identity. it is to deep ecology that we must furn to find perspectives which
do propose such a prioritisation.
Deep Ecology and Identity Politics
The notion of deep ecology
is here employed to encompass a number of perspectives which reject the anthropocentric, rationalist/materialist assumptions
of Western Enlightenment thought. Deep ecology provides an ecocentric approach which in terms of fundamental principles...regards
the question of our proper place in the rest of nature as logically prior to the question of what are the most appropriate
social and political arrangements for human communities. That is social and political questions must proceed from, or at least
be consistent with, an adequate determination of this more fundamental question (Eckersley, 1992, p.28).
From this principle there derives a need radically to reassess the position of humans as a species which has no greater
intrinsic value than any other but is unique in its capacity to abuse and exploit others. Accordingly, there is a related
need for a reordering of human behaviour, in all its facets, in order to reflect the true position of humans and enable them
to live in harmony with non-human species and the ecosystems of which they form a part.
The implications of an ecocentric approach are profound. Ecocentrism challenges the organising principles of social,
political and economic life as well as the value systems which sustain them in many societies. It also challenges deeply entrenched
cultural/religious understandings concerning what it means to be a human being; a member of a superior species, at the pinnacle
of the evolutionary process and answerable only to other humans, or perhaps the gods. Thus, to repudiate notions of human
superiority necessitates a fundamental reassessment of the nature of the self, of the internal and external referents of one's
own identity. Despite its ecocentrism, deep ecology is centrally concerned with human consciousness and human identity, and
its prescriptions are entirely consistent with notions of identity politics in which a dominant identification is appealed
to and acted upon. The words of Theodore Roszak (quoted in Eckersley, 1992, p.19) illustrate this very clearly.
My purpose is to suggest that the environmental anguish of the Earth has entered our lives as a radical transformation
of human identity. The needs of the planet and the needs of the person have become one, and together they have begun to act
upon the central institutions of society with a force that is profoundly subversive...
An ecocentric approach to identity invites individuals to perceive themselves not simply as members of various human
social groupings but as an integral part of a much larger whole, as components of a fundamentally interlinked, and interdependent,
"web of nature" (Merchant, 1992, p.86). This holistic relationship between the self and the cosmos may appear to imply loss
of individuality, autonomy and self esteem. In practice, however, seeing the self as part of the cosmos would entail a widening
of the sense of self, and an expansion in the scope of identity. This would be similar to but much greater than that experienced
through identification with a people or nation. Moreover, by ending the fundamental alienation of human beings from their
true selves and promoting "an ineffable sense of at-homeness in Nature, and a disposition to live in harmony with it", an
eco-identity brings freedom from the "tyranny of personal desires" and opportunities to experience a deep sense of peace and
joy (Mathews, 1991, p.150).
In terms of the current understandings of many human societies, the principles of deep ecology resemble those of
a religion. Thus, in contrast with the material benefits typically sought by ethnic groups or nations, an ecocentric identification
offers contentment and spiritual fulfilment. Ecocentrism is nevertheless regarded by many of its proponents as truly emancipatory,
both spiritually and socially - in the sense that it would end both alienation and domination in human societies. This reflects
the basis of an ecocentric identity as identification with. There is neither requirement nor space for alien others, nor can
there be claims of superiority over others. Acceptance of the equal worth of all life forms (and the essential interrelatedness
and interdependence of the ecosystems of which they form a part) would inevitably involve, in human society, rejection of
all forms of domination and exploitation. This reflects the central belief that both environmental crisis and social malaise
are a result of humans' alienation from the natural world.
Inevitably, perhaps, this conclusion has been contested, both from outside and within the deep ecology movement,
on the grounds that it is based upon inadequate understanding of the principles of social organisation. From those outside
deep ecology, criticism has focused upon the failure to appreciate the strength and endurance of social institutions. This
is seen to reflect a naive romanticism which is ultimately socially conservative. Thus for social ecologist Murray Bookchin
(1982) the central shortcoming of deep ecology is the failure to analyse and address the principles of hierarchy and associated
patterns of injustice which afflict human societies. A similar point, at the level of practical politics, is made by the environmental
justice movement in the USA which has focused upon the disproportionate extent to which toxic waste and other environmental
hazards affect low status neighbourhoods. It is interesting to note the opening sentence of a recent work entitled Justice
and the Environment: "One of the principal curiosities of modern environmentalism is how little it has had to say on the issue
of distributive justice" (Dobson, 1998, p.12).
Criticisms of the failure to adequately take account of social structure
and organisation can also be found within the deep ecology movement itself. Thus, ecofeminist perspectives offer both an explicit
critique and an alternative analysis which emphasises the gendered structures of power and inequality underlying and legitimising
disjunctures between human social organisation and ecosystemic needs. An alternative approach, which examines the relationship
between socio-cultural factors and local ecosystems, is provided by bioregionalists. The focus of this perspective is upon
the cultural norms and values which shape social behaviour and upon adaptation and reconciliation to enable human societies
to "reinhabit" local places (Aberley, 1999, p.23). These two perspectives focus upon relationships between socio-cultural
and ecological systems, offering potentially important sources of ecocentric identity.
Ecofeminists emphasise the significant differences in nature/culture
relationships between and within societies. Humans, it is argued, are not equally alienated from, and exploitative of, the
natural world. Moreover, structures of social inequality are both prior to and a source of domination over nature. These structures
are deeply embedded and will not simply dissolve as a consequence of changing human attitudes toward the natural world. Indeed,
there is a need to direct considerable effort toward dismantling unequal social structures in order to bring about the changes
in human values and behaviour necessary for the development of an ecocentric identity.
Ecofeminists share many of the premises of deep ecology in that they reject rationalist/materialist assumptions in
favour of a holistic, ecocentric worldview. However, their analysis of the causes of and solutions to the environmental crisis
differs considerably from that of deep ecology. For ecofeminists it is a central contention that gendered structures of power,
reflected in men's almost universal domination over women spring from the same roots as domination and exploitation of the
natural world. Thus, for ecofeminist. The primary manifestation of the relationship between humans and nature is the way a
society sees men and women. Most cultures associate women with nature..and men with humanness, which is seen as a condition
permitting transcendence - superiority over, freedom from, control of nature (French, 1985, p.xvi).
From this perspective the domination and exploitation of women and of nature derives from gendered (masculine) values
which emphasise individual instrumental rationality. However, an ecofeminist reconceptualisation of rationality would reflect
values associated with women's lives, in particular their experience of vulnerability and interdependence. Such a reconceptualisation
would emphasise mutually supportive, cooperative behaviour, expressed through the idea of communal rationality. This concept
has considerable importance for the creation of an ethic of care for the environment and for the development of an ecocentric
identity which reflects women's lived experience. This contrasts with the masculine notion of rationality employed in Hardin's
(1968) apocalyptic metaphor of the "tragedy of the commons", in which the profit-maximising behaviour attributed to Hardin's
metaphorical herdsmen inevitably led to the destruction of the medieval commons. In this context traditional definitions of
rationality seem perverse. Had the communal values of herdswomen prevailed the "global commons" would not now be so imperilled
(Bretherton, 1996, p.108). A practical example is provided by Vandana Shiva (1988) who discusses, in the context of India,
the designation of commons as "wasteland" available for development and the important efforts, led by women, to preserve the
traditional commons and their indigenous ecosystems.
Communal rationality, involving a set of values derived from women's
lived experience, provides only the starting point for development of an ecocentric identity. Of particular significance for
ecofeminists is women's experience, shared with the natural world, of exploitation and oppression by men (or, rather, by structures
of power and production infused with norms and values socially designated as masculine). This shared experience is believed
to be the source of a special affinity, even a certain equivalence, between women and the natural world.
For many ecofeminists, this view is associated with a maternalist perspective in which women and the earth are equated,
and revered, as givers and nurturers of life. While aspects of maternalist thinking persist in most societies, the perception
of the earth as a living being, a mother, has been almost completely lost in Western developed societies. Historian of science
Carolyn Merchant (1982) has documented changing European attitudes towards the natural world, and towards women, from the
16th Century onwards. She illustrates the gradual rejection of a holistic worldview in favour of a dualistic system of thought
in which (female) nature became divorced from (male) culture. In some non-western cultures, however, maternalist perceptions
of the earth continue to influence the behaviour of humans, both women and men. Examples are provided by Marglin and Mishra
(1993) who document, again in the context of India, vibrant maternalist cultures whose practices directly reflect an ethic
of care for the Earth as mother. And for ecofeminists, recovery of a spiritual relationship with the Earth is essential to
an ecocentric worldview, and to the future wellbeing of the planet for "one does not readily slay a mother, dig into her entrails
for gold or mutilate her body" (Merchant, 1982, p.3).
The implications of ecofeminist ideas for human identity are numerous. For women, particularly those (primarily Western)
women who have become alienated from the natural world, there is a need to rediscover their "natural" ecocentric/ecofeminine
identification. Ecofeminism thus posits, for women, an essentialist ecocentric identity. This would involve not a loss or
negation of the self but an opportunity to experience the fulfilment of recovering one's true maternal nature and to embrace
the responsibilities associated with identification as a saviour of the planet.
To some extent women have appeared to take up these responsibilities. In many parts of the world they have undoubtedly
contributed significantly to environmental activism. Moreover, a number of women's environmental organisations have espoused
overtly ecofeminist principles (Bretherton 1996). Indeed, Mies and Shiva (1993, p.3) claim, from their conversations with
women's groups in many parts of the world, "women, worldwide, felt the same anger and anxiety, and the same sense of responsibility
to preserve the bases of life, and to end its destruction." However, this raises the danger that women, who are everywhere
the least powerful members of society, might be expected to assume disproportionate responsibility for cleaning up men's messes.
Rather, an ecocentric identification demands that the "feminine" qualities of cooperation and nurturance be valued and embraced
by all members of societies. It demands, too, that the "masculine" qualities of competition and dominance be devalued and
rejected. Consequently, it must be concluded that, in many societies, the adoption of an ecocentric identity would involve,
for men, a change of consciousness very much more fundamental than that required of women. While the major focus of an ecofeminine
identity is positive identification with the natural world, there are implicitly elements of an identity defined negatively
against the alien other of unreconstructed "masculine" man.
Because of its implied exclusivity, which reflects a tendency
towards maternalist essentialism, ecofeminism is unlikely to provide the basis for a universal ecocentric identity. Ecofeminism
is important, nevertheless. It provides a trenchant critique of those cultural norms and values which support the power structures
of contemporary societies and which have facilitated the development of a dangerously dysfunctional relationship between human
collectivities and the ecosystems of which they are a part. In focusing very specifically upon this latter issue, bioregionalists
would be well advised to incorporate feminist insights concerning the origin, and persistence, of gendered structures of power
(Plumwood 1994; Bretherton 1998).
While sharing the general principles of deep ecology, the central
concern of bioregionalists is with praxis. They aim to develop a strong ecological consciousness and identification based
upon a specific sense of place - of belonging to and forming part of the local ecosystems associated with a bioregion. Thus,
while all ecocentric approaches place emphasis upon the importance of local communities and their relationships with local
ecosystems, bioregionalism is alone in its attempt to delineate specific regions and closely examine related patterns of human
behaviour. There is, however, no narrow specification of criteria for defining a bioregion; rather its boundaries can be expected
to emerge through the understandings and practices of human collectivities as they become attuned to the needs of local ecosystems
(Aberley, 1999, p.23). In practice, bioregions tend to be defined both geographically (in terms, for example, of watershed
or vegetation type) and culturally (in terms of the human value systems and practices associated with the region).
emphasis placed by bioregionalists upon the social and cultural dimensions of human interaction is a further departure from
deep ecology. There has been a tendency in deep ecological thought to regard culture negatively, in terms of ideas and values
which set human beings above nature and, hence, legitimise its domination and exploitation. This is particularly evident among
ecofeminists who regard the separation of (female) nature from male (culture) as fundamental to the post-Enlightenment, dualist
systems of thought which underlie patriarchy. For bioregionalists, however, culture is a central aspect of human experience
which mediates between social and natural systems. It is argued that "...bioregionalism originates in culture, is contingent
on context and history, and on people's connections to place and the natural world...." (McGinnis, 1999, p.5). The key issue
is therefore to strengthen, or revive, those cultural norms and values which are conducive to a harmonious relationship between
human societies and local ecosystems.
A central contention of bioregionalists is that, in the past, cultural values were
well adapted to the needs of local places; and that, today, such cultural adaptation is revealed in the value systems and
practices of indigenous peoples. In much of the contemporary world, however, the values and practices associated with modernisation,
and in particular the development of industrial capitalism, have caused a damaging estrangement of culture from nature. Nevertheless,
our understanding of how to live in, rather than with, nature is not completely lost, rather it is deeply buried in cultural
memory, so that "Knowledge of place, within us, needs to be uncovered and revered" (McGinnis, 1999, p.9).
priority for bioregionalists is the cultural and social adaptation of human communities to accord with the needs and characteristics
of the bioregion. This is to be achieved through a process of "reinhabitation", which involves "becoming native to a place
through becoming aware of the particular ecological relationships that operate within and around it" (Berg & Dasmann quoted
in Eckersley, 1992, p.167). This involves "a kind of ecological citizenship, in which individuals learn to become respectful
citizens of an ecological place, rather than transforming the place to suit themselves" (Dryzek, 1997, p.160). Through this
learning process, the norms and values of human collectivities will gradually adapt to the needs of local ecosystems. This,
it is believed, will inevitably lead to increased cultural homogeneity among the communities which inhabit a particular bioregion.
Given the diversity of the earth's regions, however, the cultural homogenisation said to occur within a bioregion would tend
to be associated with increased differentiation between regions.
Bioregionalism can be seen both as a way of thinking
and a way of living. While many of the ideas expressed by bioregionalists might be characterised as naive "anarchic primitivism"
(Aberley, 1999, p.27), there is also a pragmatic acceptance of the need to adapt to present circumstances - not least because
it is through experience that learning will occur. Consequently bioregionalists have not formally contested existing political
boundaries, despite the fact that these frequently traverse or dissect bioregions. Rather, sets of "bioregional overlays"
have been proposed, for the guidance of local community action. Comprising ecological/cultural boundaries of bioregions, it
is hoped that these might be suggestive of "alternative political boundaries" in the future, as new ways of living become
established (Klyza, 1999, p.92).
In describing bioregionalist experiments in Vermont, USA, Klyza (1999) paints an optimistic
picture, although he admits that successes in Vermont reflect the post-industrial context in which they have occurred. Since
living standards have remained high, ecological restoration in Vermont has been achieved at the expense of increased exploitation
elsewhere. This raises a key question, "What is our responsibility for problems caused beyond our bioregion by our consumption
and production?" (Klyza, 1999, p.94).
It is evident that considerable cooperation would be required between bioregions
in the interest of safeguarding larger ecosystems and in order to address distributional issues flowing from unequal access,
among bioregions, to life sustaining natural resources such as water. Bioregionalists answer this problem with the hope that
"The experience of collective action on behalf of the local environment can serve to instill an ethic that will apply outside
of that locality" (Lipschutz, 1999, p.111).
Despite this, there is a danger that the bioregionalist appeal to a local
ecocentric identity resonates too closely with the primordialist emphasis upon affective identification with the known or
familiar, which has as its corollary exclusion of the unknown and unfamiliar. It is stressed by bioregionalists that their
concern is with the development of a sense of rootedness that is "biotic, not merely ethnic" (Morris Bergman, quoted in Eckersley,
1992, p.168). Nevertheless, there remains a potential, in many parts of the world, for politicisation of a sense of place
along ethnic lines. In the early 1990s, for example, anti-Soviet movements in the Baltic Republics consciously linked concerns
over environmental degradation with a heightened sense of place and extreme nationalism in a manner reminiscent of the "blood
and soil" movement of Nazi Germany (Tickle and Welsh, 1998, p.158).
Undoubtedly it remains possible for an exclusionary
ethnic dimension to develop alongside, and coexist with, an ecological identity, with the further potential for politicisation
of this aspect of identity should conflicts of interest arise between bioregions. An example, given the inevitability of unequal
resource availability between regions, might be drought migration. There is a need to question the extent to which an influx
of "outsiders" can be tolerated by communities which have become culturally homogenous through adaptation to local ecosystems.
Ethnic closure against outsiders is clearly a possibility, not least because it would serve to defend the local bioregion.
Indeed this is implied by the emphasis upon reverence only for indigenous life forms, underscored by the slightly chilling
assertion that "plans to remove 'non-native' plants or animals...are widespread" (McGinnis, House & Jordan III, 1999,
p.214). Alternatively, unchecked migration might lead to dilution of the locally based ethic of care for the bioregion. Evidence
of problems arising from migration into Central American communities is worthy of note:
...this effort at community-based
natural resource management is confounded by several factors that are predicates for bioregional management. The influx of
new residents to the region has diluted the community cohesiveness that would appear to be a requisite for community management.
These communities lack the degree of cultural identity and intergenerational commitment typically found in indigenous communities
(Ankersen, 1999, p.181).
As in the case of ecofeminism, bioregionalism displays both strengths and weaknesses. At grassroots level, bioregionalism
has strong advantages in that it provides a framework for experiments in "living in nature" which could prove an important
focus for social learning and for replication. Even more than ecofeminism, bioregionalism implies an exclusionary identification
whose explicitly local focus raises important questions about the ability to address transregional or global issues. The bioregionalist
emphasis upon cultural factors, while celebrating an important aspect of human experience, tends to divert attention from
the structures of power in society. Bioregionalists tend to be middle class, white men who have little to say about the social
divisions of race, class and gender. Their focus upon localised ecocentric identification emphasises the position of humans
within the broader ecosystem, and there is a clear prioritisation of ecological imperatives over social justice. While the
power relations which underpin the operation of inequitable social systems remain unquestioned and unaddressed, an ecocentric
identification is unlikely to be widely attainable. The social divisions within the broader environmental movement are graphically
illustrated by Lois Gibbs, spokeswoman for the environmenal justice movement in the USA, "Environmentalists are people who
eat yoghurt, while my people drink Budweiser and smoke" (Quoted in Dryzek, 1997, p.178).
Ecocentrism and Politicisation
Identity politics, it has been argued, involves the prioritisation of one particular facet of identity over others in
a manner that influences political choices and potentially provides a basis for political action. Discussion of the potential
for a politicised ecocentric identity began with the assumption that the contemporary environmental crisis demands a transformatory
project, involving changes to the way in which individuals (primarily) in industrialised countries perceive, and act upon,
their position in/relationship with the natural world. Such a change in consciousness would demand a reorientation and politicisation
of identity in order to prioritise ecologically functional ways of being and to construct societies whose shared norms and
values are conducive to a harmonious relationship between nature and culture.
The political programmes advocated by proponents of ecocentrism focus primarily upon the lifestyle of individuals
and communities, in terms of "authenticity" (simplicity, "naturalness") for the self, and example to others. For deep ecologists,
"politics is not about devising strategies to achieve tangible goals; rather it is an arena in which different kinds of experiences
can be sought and developed" (Dryzek 1997, p.155). An ecocentric identity and associated ways of living become not simply
the means, but also the desired end, of deep green politics. From this perspective, the future of the planet is a matter of
strong personal commitment, so that the capacity of this "politics of identity" to extend its influence becomes crucial.
A politics of identity reflecting ecocentric principles is likely to encounter numerous obstacles. Many of these
are inherent in ecocentrism as a system of ideas which is intimately connected to the political prescriptions of ecocentrism
as practice. The ideas underlying ecocentrism are essentially romantic; that is, they reflect the belief that "nature and
humanity belong in an organic relationship best understood and developed through feeling and insight" (Dryzek, 1997, p.155).
Thus, ecocentrism, in its various guises, expresses both a preference for emotion over reason and an essentialist view of
human nature. It is at odds with rationalist/modernist and post-modern conceptions of identities as relatively fluid and processual.
Ecocentrism's rejection of contemporary cultural values also seriously underestimates their attractiveness. In many societies
self realisation through an ecocentric identification would involve rejection of the central components of existing identities
including, inter alia, works of art and the architecture of great cities which might be regarded as among the major achievements
of human culture. For many individuals this radical change of values and of consciousness would undoubtedly be perceived in
terms of sacrifice and loss; indeed, it is arguable that "human beings everywhere rank their own cultural products above the
realm of the physical world" (Yuval-Davis, 1997, p.6).
A romantic rejection of cultural achievements, and in particular
the scientific values of modern societies, is evident in both ecofeminist and bioregionalist thinking. These perspectives
share a desire to recreate the values of a past age when, variously, maternal thinking or the instinctive knowledge of indigenous
peoples enabled human societies to live in harmony with the natural world. For bioregionalists, this focus has tended to obscure
the need to identify the causes of contemporary social malaise and to develop a critique of the structures of domination and
inequality characteristic of ecologically dysfunctional modern societies. In contrast, ecofeminists emphasise the mechanisms
through which patterns of gender differentiation determine the power structures and value systems responsible for the contemporary
separation of human societies from the natural world. In short, for ecofeminists, econcentrism and social justice are inextricably
This difference between ecofeminist and bioregionalist perspectives has implications for practice, in that bioregionalist
experiments in "living in nature" are relatively untroubled by concerns over distributive justice. Such experiments are also
facilitated by their localized nature. A further distinction is evident between the two perspectives. While ecofeminism would
exclude men (and women) unsympathetic to its values, bioregionalism raises the unhappy prospect of a localised identification
degenerating into a reactionary and defensive politics of ethnic enclosure.
Such negative outcomes are not inevitable. Ecocentrism, in common with many religious sources of identification,
appeals to an identity politics based on love, inescapable duty and potential sacrifice. For the human individual, the rewards
offered by religious identification are significant. They include not only a sense of membership in a wider community but
also of continuity with the past, and hope for the future, which serves to assuage the knowledge of human mortality. In this
respect, ecocentrism offers comparable, potentially even greater rewards, since an ecocentric identification would be deeply
satisfying to these human needs. The apparent eclipsing or immersion of the self within the greater whole (whether this involves
taking one's place in the ecosystems of the bioregion or the biosphere) is not experienced as a loss; rather it involves self-realisation,
becoming fully alive. For Freya Mathews (1991, p.150), ecological identification involves more than spiritual experience and
...this love of Nature is no pale intellectual shadow of love, but the real thing...This loving of the world is a
blissful state which warms and animates everything around us...It bursts the bars of the personal heart, and vastly expands
our sense of self.
Despite such protestations, appeals to an ecocentric identification do not fit neatly into romantic/rationalist
or Hegelian/cosmopolitan categorisations. Bioregionalism, and to a lesser extent ecofeminism, move towards reconciling the
romantic and the rational by permitting the inclusion of socio-cultural dimensions of identity. Bioregionalism, in particular,
evokes notions of Gemeinschaft as an alternative to the competing options of Hegelianism and cosmopolitanism as foci for human
identity. In consequence, bioregionalism differs from deep ecology in ways that enable it to "straddle green romanticism and
green rationalism" (Dryzek, 1997, p.160).
Ultimately romantic (ecocentric) attachments and rational self-interest can and must be reconciled. Indeed, in the
most fundamental sense, they are already compatible. Affective identification with, and an associated ethic of care for, the
natural world are crucial to human survival. This is clearly expressed in the words of (the late) Czech activist Josef Vavrou_ek
(Quoted in Welsh and Tickle, 1998, p.11):
It is in the basic interest of all human beings to have clean air and water, unspoiled soils, healthy forests and
conserved natural resources, biological diversity, the beauty of harmonious land-scape and many other gifts of nature. And
this is also our responsibility, not only for future generations of humanity, but for all living beings as well as non-living
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