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Environmental Care Ethics: Notes toward a New Materialist Critique

Johns-Putra, A (2013) Environmental Care Ethics: Notes toward a New Materialist Critique Symplokē, 21 (1-2). pp. 125-135.

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To scan the now ubiquitous definition put forward by the Brundtland Commission is to realize that our construction of “sustainability” is driven by a notion of care—care for the nonhuman environment enfolded with a concern for our human descendants. The rhetoric around our ideal response to climate change structures it as an ethical response. This essay proposes that, while so much of the ontology of the global ecological crisis called climate change has been closely interrogated, the ethics of care demanded in the name of that crisis has not been scrutinized in the same way. By “care,” I mean a feeling of concern for the wellbeing and needs of others; by “care ethics,” I mean an ethical position that takes this affective concern as its basis for action.1 Given that environmental ethics—the question of human conduct and its effect on the human and nonhuman environment—is a profoundly ontological project, accounting as it must for the perceived ontological difference between the human and nonhuman, this lack of ontological scrutiny is conspicuous, to say the least. This essay thus offers a theorization of the care ethics of climate change and sustainability. It considers this through the ontological project of new materialism, paying attention to the new materialist tendency to discuss ontology as agency, and being in terms of becoming. I propose that care too has to be discerned as always becoming, that it is to be considered—to invoke Heidegger—not as ontic but as ontological. And yet, pace Heidegger, I suggest that, in an environmental ethics of care, care is more fruitfully thought of not as a condition for ontology (as in Heidegger’s Sorge) but as itself deserving of ontological query. Care is not the means by which agency occurs; it is itself agential.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Literature and Languages > English
Authors :
Johns-Putra, A
Date : 2013
Related URLs :
Additional Information : This is an electronic version of an article published as “Johns-Putra, A.G. (2013). Environmental Care Ethics: Notes toward a New Materialist Critique. Symplokē 21(1-2):129-139”. Posted with permission from the publisher. Available at:
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 15 Jan 2014 11:04
Last Modified : 09 Jun 2014 13:44

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