Nature Cultures Group

Project Convenor: Assoc Prof Gay Hawkins


Since 2005 CRN members Gay Hawkins, Stephen Muecke, Zoe Sofoulis and ECR Emily Potter, have been working to conceptualise and extend the reach of this project. They were later joined by Kay Anderson and Mick Broderick. Chris Healy and Christy Collis have expressed an interest. Borrowing the term ‘naturecultures’ from Bruno Latour, the group aims to harness the immense interest and concern with ecological matters, as the numbers of studies and linkage opportunities proliferate. At the same time it seeks to focus once again on some fundamental concepts and narratives:

The global ecological crisis implies a revolution in thought and practice. Nature, in the history of western thought, has been constructed as that singular resource whose secret laws only Science can access. Science studies, in breaking down that singularity, have identified all sorts of naturalcultural assemblages in which material things have constitutive agency. In the process, humans would relinquish their moralising narratives of mastery, and listen to the arguments put by non-human things (with whom they have always been partners anyway). Already, the responses to the ecological crisis are bringing about the transformation of both macro structures and micro modes of behaviour; this implies a different kind of democratic participation with a view to sustainability.

To date, cultural studies has ignored questions of sustainability and ecology, yet has the potential to carry out very interesting studies in conjunction with political ecology, cultural geography, history, philosophy and sociology. Cultural studies will necessarily move beyond the critique of (textual) representation of ‘the world’, to a negotiated ranking of real problems enmeshed in ‘radical’ empirical relationships (William James). Here scientific approaches have the potential to reinvest in the study of cultures.

Finally, in an aesthetic and performative dimension, we writers and speakers attend to our meaningful and forceful engagement with things, as the way they ‘speak’ interrupts the purely human voice which has dominated the social contract. Our speech will thus move away from our past responses to ‘nature’—too often masterful, moral-redemptive or sentimental-nostalgic. In remembering that we always speak with shared responsibility, we find that our democratic procedures now perform a more practical ethics.

These conceptual shifts are feeding into a number of panel presentations (CSAA, Sydney 2005. Shanghai, 2007) and conferences (In the Pipeline, UWS, 2007). Two further workshops are planned, ‘Naturecultures: An Experiment in Knowledge’ (Sydney 8-9 Nov 2006) and a further master-class and public lecture with Sarah Whatmore (Oxford) in 2007.

Project Activities

More-than-Human Modes of Inquiry: A Workshop with Professor Sarah Whatmore
UNSW, Sydney, 17 - 18 November, 2008

In the Pipeline: New Directions in Cultural Research on Water
Symposium, Sydney, 19 - 20 July, 2007