CALL FOR PAPERS – Nature Strikes Back! Thinking the Asymmetry of the Human Relationship to Planet Earth

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (JAGE) Special Issue: Nature Strikes Back!
Edited by  Vincent Blok (Wageningen University), Guido Ruivenkamp (Wageningen University), and Pieter Lemmens (Radboud University).

Paper deadline: 15 June 2017
Workshop deadline: 15 February 2017

Context and Aims

Over the years, many versions of stewardship have emerged in agricultural and environmental ethics, ranging from the acknowledgement that both the earth’s ecosystems and human agents are ‘stakeholders’ of planet earth (Waddock, 2002), to fundamental reflections on a non-anthropocentric concept of human agency (cf. Plumwood, 2002). At the same time, earth sciences make increasingly clear that the earth systems themselves are inherently unstable and characterized by transformation, change, and volatility. Environmental scientists like Nigel Clark argue: “Whatever ‘we’ do, ice cores and other proxies of past climate profess to us, our planet is capable of taking us by surprise. With or without the destabilizing surcharge of human activities, the conditions most of us take for granted could be taken away, quite suddenly, and with very little warning” (Clark, 2011:xi). Deep geological time points at a fundamental asymmetry of the human relationship to planet earth. Contemporary philosophers like Question Meillassoux acknowledge the earth as being and going beyond human agency (Meillassoux, 2008; Morton, 2013; Thacker, 2011), or as Ray Brassier argues: “We are surrounded by processes going on quite independently of any relationship we may happen to have with them” (Brassier, 2007: 59). In fact, planet earth can be seen as the unstable condition for the emergence of human agency (Blok, 2016). For some, this even implies that that planet earth is the condition for the emergence of the environmental crisis we face today (Blok, 2015).

This asymmetry of the human relationship to planet earth challenges current conceptualizations of human stewardship in general, and in agricultural and environmental ethics in particular. How can we think human stewardship of nature in order to ensure the sustainability of earth as our life support system, if we have to acknowledge that the earth itself has agency and that we are entirely dependent on it? At the same time, the asymmetry of the human relationship to planet earth may also provide a fundamentally different starting point for our conceptualization of human agency beyond stewardship, care, etc. Contemporary philosophers like Jean-Luc Nancy acknowledge the fundamental role of asymmetry – which he calls a ‘void’ or ‘nothing’ – as possibility for the creation of the world (Nancy, 2007). The confrontation with asymmetry urges us to reconsider and reinvent the human relationship to nature, to give up the idea of one ideal world and to acknowledge a multiplicity of different worlds. Furthermore, it questions the dominancy of reciprocity-based economic exchanges in the current conceptualizations of the human relationship to nature, and may inspire a non reciprocal concept of nature (cf. Bataille, 1991), exchange (cf. Derrida, 1992; 1995), ethics (cf. Levinas, 1969) and politics (Hardt & Negri, 2004).

This special issue of Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics aims to explore the question how agricultural and environmental ethics should respond to the asymmetry of the human relationship to planet earth. We look for both fundamental reflections on the nature of human agency and its ethos in relation to planet earth and for contributions that discuss these issues in the context of agricultural and environmental ethics. Possible questions to be addressed may include:

  • What are the fundamental presuppositions of a symmetric conceptualization of the human relationship to planet earth, and what are the consequences for agricultural and environmental ethics?
  • Does the experience of an asymmetric human relationship to planet earth enable us to criticize the dominancy of reciprocity-based ‘capitalist’ practices, for instance the double internality as double movement of how capitalism works through nature and how nature works through capitalism (Moore, 2015)?
  • To what extent do concepts like ‘multiplicity of worlds’ (Nancy), ‘moral economies of commons’ (Federici) and ‘differential cosmo-poiesis of localities’ (Sloterdijk) help to conceptualize an asymmetric human relationship to planet earth, for instance as being-in-common with the different other?
  • How can an asymmetric earth be conceptualized in the context of agricultural and environmental ethics, and what is the role of nature as agent?
  • How can, given the asymmetric human relationship to planet earth, ethics be conceptualized in agricultural and environmental practices?
  • Is asymmetric stewardship possible in practice, or dependent on a conceptualization of planet earth as stakeholder?

Contributions are invited to reflect on these and other issues from various perspectives (e.g. empirical research, critical-theoretical approach, ontology, epistemology, ethics, applied ethics) and in particular to ponder the question of what the asymmetry of the human relation to planet earth means for agricultural and environmental ethics. The original Call for Papers, including references, can be found here.

Submission Process and Deadlines

Papers will be reviewed following the JAGE double-blind review process. Papers should be submitted by June 15th, 2017 to JAGE’s online submission system with clear reference to the special issue, ‘Nature Strikes Back! Thinking the Asymmetry of the Human Relationship to Planet Earth.’ Papers should be prepared using the JAGE Guidelines. As soon as the papers are accepted for publication, they will be published and accessible online. The publication of the complete special volume is scheduled for March 2018. The editors welcome informal enquiries related to proposed topics. For this, please contact Vincent Blok.

Special Issue Workshop

To help authors advance their manuscripts, a Special Issue Workshop will be held in March 2017 in Wageningen, The Netherlands. Authors of manuscripts are invited to submit their working papers. The editorial team will assign a referee among the guest editors for each paper presented, with the intention of strengthening the papers prior to official submission for peer review for potential inclusion in the special issue. The deadline to submit working papers for the workshop in Wageningen is February 15th, 2017 to Vincent Blok. Participation in the workshop is encouraged but is not a precondition for submissions to the special issue.