Alienated Nature, Reified Culture: Understanding the Limits to Climate Change Responses under Existing Socio-ecological Formations

Trish Morgan


This article explores the limits to climate change responses under the current socio-economic paradigm. It takes an interdisciplinary approach from critical cultural studies and geography, to suggest that these limits are, in part, attributable to a double process of alienation and reification in two key areas - those of culture and nature. The societal relationship with nature influences the available prescriptions for mitigating climate change. However, how those prescriptions are framed, articulated and interpreted, depend on mediated communication and culture. Therefore, alienation and reification processes need to be explored at a systemic level in the societal relationship with nature, and in regard to how that relationship is articulated through culture. However, such cultural communication is itself reified by industrialisation processes, and also plays a role in alienation processes. In the case of the society/nature relationship, current economic arrangements both alienate society from nature and reify the societal relationship with nature. Understanding the double processes of alienation and reification can significantly influence what can be known to society about the socio-ecological relationship. This, in turn, affects how praxis is mobilised in such conditions. The article therefore suggests that while radical praxis is not precluded under existing socio-ecological conditions, those with an interest in radical climate action need to take account of alienation and reification, as well as the concept of social praxis itself. This will avoid over-estimating the potential of the media and culture to effect change and foreground the socio-economic and socio-ecological situatedness of peoples affected by climate change.

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