Unnatural times? The social imaginary and the future of nature

  • Soper K
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These are highly charged times for thinking about the nature of ‘nature’ and its relations to the ‘social’. On the one hand, we are poised on the brink of bio- technological interventions that are opening up a whole new domain of human interactions with ‘nature’, indeed have the potential to go well beyond interac- tion, into unprecedented forms of creativity. Such developments are hugely exciting to many because of what they might promise for the elimination of disease and the enhancement of human health or well-being. On the other hand, we are also suffering unprecedented forms of unease precisely in virtue of our new found powers to control and even create ‘nature’, and caught up in new anxieties verging on panic about the ways in which environmental ‘nature’ is, or seems to be, spinning out of control because of climate change and its unpre- dictable character and consequences. To add to the confusion, there is the seeming incapacity of affluent Westerners to act in any but the most contradic- tory ways in response: huge anxieties about the impact of genetic programming on future personal autonomy go together with continuing disregard for the ways in which global economic relations deny millions of less privileged individuals the minimum of self-realization. Faced with the indisputable need to cut carbon emissions to the minimum, people continue to drive and fly as never before, and are currently encouraged to do so in the UK by a government that has given the green light to major airport expansion even as it issues advice to its citizens on energy-saving lightbulbs.

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  • Kate Soper

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