It’s that time of year again, when instructors craft their syllabi and reading lists in anticipation of a new semester ahead. In addition to Discard Studiesi syllabus collection, and our lists of articles, books, and films in the field, we also saw that Assistant Professor of anthropology at UC Santa Cruz Kristina Lyons was crowd sourcing a bibliography on critical readings on ecology. Since ecological metaphors, systems, and thinking are implicit to much of discard studies, we’re happy to share the bibliography here!
Anker, P. (2005). The ecological colonization of space. Environmental History, 10(2), 239-268.
Excerpt: This article investigates what ecologists sought to do on Mars and what the Martian perspective meant for their understanding of life on Earth. It is a history that originated in military research into constructive self-sufficient closed ecological systems within submarines and underground shelters. In the U.S. space program of the 1960s, this know-how was used by leading ecologists to suggest construction of closed ecological systems within space capsules, shops, and colonies. Their research into ecological ‘carrying capacity’ for a given number of astronauts within a spaceship subsequently as used to analyze carrying capacity onboard Spaceship Earth. In the 19907s, environmental ethics because an issues of trying to live like astronauts by adapting space technologies such as bio-toilets, solar cells, recycling, and energy-saving devices to general use. Technology, terminology, and methodology developed for ecological colonization of space became tools for solving environmental problems on Earth.
Anker, P. (2009). Imperial ecology: environmental order in the British Empire, 1895-1945. Harvard University Press.
From the publisher: From 1895 to the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the promising new science of ecology flourished in the British Empire. Peder Anker asks why ecology expanded so rapidly and how a handful of influential scientists and politicians established a tripartite ecology of nature, knowledge, and society.
Patrons in the northern and southern extremes of the Empire, he argues, urgently needed tools for understanding environmental history as well as human relations to nature and society in order to set policies for the management of natural resources and to effect social control of natives and white settlement. Holists such as Jan Christian Smuts and mechanists such as Arthur George Tansley vied for the right to control and carry out ecological research throughout the British Empire and to lay a foundation of economic and social policy that extended from Spitsbergen to Cape Town.
The enlargement of the field from botany to human ecology required a broader methodological base, and ecologists drew especially on psychology and economy. They incorporated those methodologies and created a new ecological order for environmental, economic, and social management of the Empire.
Drayton, R. (2005). Nature’s government. Orient Blackswan.
From the publisher: ‘Nature’s Government’ is a daring attempt to juxtapose the histories of Britain, western science, and imperialism. It shows how colonial expansion, from the age of Alexander the Great to the twentieth century, led to complex kinds of knowledge. Science, and botany in particular, was fed by information culled from the exploration of the globe. At the same time science was useful to imperialism: it guided the exploitation of exotic environments and made conquest seem necessary, legitimate, and beneficial. Drayton traces the history of this idea of ‘improvement’ from its Christian agrarian origins in the sixteenth century to its inclusion in theories of enlightened despotism. It was as providers of legitimacy, as much as of universal knowledge, aesthetic perfection, and agricultural plenty, he argues, that botanic gardens became instruments of government, first in Continental Europe, and by the late eighteenth century, in Britain and the British Empire. At the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the rise of which throughout the nineteenth century is a central theme of this book, a pioneering scientific institution was added to a spectacular ornamental garden. At Kew, ‘improving’ the world became a potent argument for both the patronage of science at home and Britain’s prerogatives abroad. ‘Nature’s Government’ provides a portrait of how the ambitions of the Enlightenment shaped the great age of British power, and how empire changed the British experience and the modern world. Richard Drayton was born in the Caribbean and educated at Harvard, Oxford, and Yale. A former Fellow of St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and Lincoln College, Oxford, he has also been Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia.
Golley, F. B. (1996). A history of the ecosystem concept in ecology: more than the sum of the parts. Yale University Press.
From the publisher: The ecosystem concept—the idea that flora and fauna interact with the environment to form an ecological complex—has long been central to the public perception of ecology and to increasing awareness of environmental degradation. In this book an eminent ecologist explains the ecosystem concept, tracing its evolution, describing how numerous American and European researchers contributed to its evolution, and discussing the explosive growth of ecosystem studies.
Golley surveys the development of the ecosystem concept in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and discusses the coining of the term ecosystem by the English ecologist Sir Arthur George Tansley in 1935. He then reviews how the American ecologist Raymond Lindeman applied the concept to a small lake in Minnesota and showed how the biota and the environment of the lake interacted through the exchange of energy. Golley describes how a seminal textbook on ecology written by Eugene P. Odum helped to popularize the ecosystem concept and how numerous other scientists investigated its principles and published their results. He relates how ecosystem studies dominated ecology in the 1960s and became a key element of the International Biological Program biome studies in the United States—a program aimed at “the betterment of mankind” specifically through conservation, human genetics, and improvements in the use of natural resources; how a study of watershed ecosystems in Hubbard Brook, New Hampshire, blazed new paths in ecosystem research by defining the limits of the system in a natural way; and how current research uses the ecosystem concept. Throughout Golley shows how the ecosystem concept has been shaped internationally by both developments in other disciplines and by personalities and politics.
Grove, R. H. (1996). Green imperialism: colonial expansion, tropical island Edens and the origins of environmentalism, 1600-1860. Cambridge University Press.
From the publisher: Green Imperialism is the first book to document the origins and early history of environmentalism, concentrating especially on its hitherto unexplained colonial and global aspects. It highlights the significance of Utopian, Physiocratic, and medical thinking in the history of environmentalist ideas. The book shows how the new critique of the colonial impact on the environment depended on the emergence of a coterie of professional scientists, and demonstrates both the importance of the oceanic island “Eden” as a vehicle for new conceptions of nature and the significance of colonial island environments in stimulating conservationist notions.
Follow up publication: Grove, R. H. (1997). Ecology, climate and empire: Colonialism and global environmental history, 1400-1940. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.
Hagen, J. B. (1992). An entangled bank: the origins of ecosystem ecology. Rutgers University Press.
From the publisher: “This book was a revelation. I was simply enthralled by Joel Hagen’s brilliance in reviewing the emergence of the discipline of ecosystem ecology (the study of biotic-abiotic interaction and nutrient flows in ecological systems). He does a magnificent job of introducing the personalities that midwived the new science. He explains their intellectual struggles, philosophical cross-currents, and different academic milieux. He also expertly illuminates sociopolitical context. Through his in-depth research he is able to dispel some misconceptions and truismsm, arriving at the heart of what made each scientist tick. Even when exploring some of the arcane figures and dead-end developments, he is so compelling that they become integral to the story, not sidetracks.”
Kingsland, S. E. (1995). Modeling nature. University of Chicago Press.
From the publisher: The first history of population ecology traces two generations of science and scientists from the opening of the twentieth century through 1970. Kingsland chronicles the careers of key figures and the field’s theoretical, empirical, and institutional development, with special attention to tensions between the descriptive studies of field biologists and later mathematical models. This second edition includes a new afterword that brings the book up to date, with special attention to the rise of “the new natural history” and debates about ecology’s future as a large-scale scientific enterprise.
Kingsland, S. E. (2005). The evolution of American ecology, 1890-2000. JHU Press.
From the publisher: In the 1890s, several initiatives in American botany converged. The creation of new institutions, such as the New York Botanical Garden, coincided with radical reforms in taxonomic practice and the emergence of an experimental program of research on evolutionary problems. Sharon Kingsland explores how these changes gave impetus to the new field of ecology that was defined at exactly this time. She argues that the creation of institutions and research laboratories, coupled with new intellectual directions in science, were crucial to the development of ecology as a discipline in the United States.
The main concern of ecology—the relationship between organisms and environment—was central to scientific studies aimed at understanding and controlling the evolutionary process. Kingsland considers the evolutionary context in which ecology arose, especially neo-Lamarckian ideas and the new mutation theory, and explores the relationship between scientific research and broader theories about social progress and the evolution of human civilization.
By midcentury, American ecologists were leading the rapid development of ecosystem ecology. At the same time, scientists articulated a sharp critique of modern science and society in the postwar context, foreshadowing the environmental critiques of the 1960s. As the ecosystem concept evolved, so too did debates about how human ecology should be incorporated into the biological sciences. Kingsland concludes with an examination of ecology in the modern urban environment, reflecting on how scientists are now being challenged to overcome disciplinary constraints and produce innovative responses to pressing problems.
Kwa, C. (2002). Romantic and baroque conceptions of complex wholes in the sciences. Complexities: social studies of knowledge practices, 23-52.
Excerpt: In the 1990s complexity came to mean something different from what it predominantly meant in the 1950s. The newer complexity is not simply an extension of, or a development from, the old complexity. From complexity comes in kinds. In this essay I distinguish between “romantic” complexity and “baroque” complexity. They have, i will argue, quite different conceptions of the structure of reality. I develop the argument in three stages. First, I characterize these two forms of complexity. Second, I expose the ways in which the term change din the twentieth century buy considering certain writings in the meteorology and evolution and so-called chases theory. And third, I return to the distinction between the morainic and the baroque and argue that both— tother with other commitments, including those to reductionism, are long-standing metaphors, tropes, or indeed metaphysical positions within the natural sciences.
Linton, J. (2010). What is water?: The history of a modern abstraction. UBC Press.
From the publisher: Every water issue is a social issue. And yet, in contrast to almost every other culture, we define water in the modern West as a substance entirely devoid of social content. How is it that we have come to think of water in this way, as an abstract compound of hydrogen and oxygen, and what are the consequences?
These questions underlie Jamie Linton’s What is Water?, a history of the particular way of conceptualizing water that predominated in the twentieth century. In this wide-ranging study, Linton shows how scientific practice, the modern state, technology, and politics produced an idea of water that helped permit its manipulation and control on a vast scale, with corresponding effects on human society. That much of the world is engulfed today in what many describe as a “water crisis” suggests the need to rethink the nature of water. By reinvesting water with social content — by considering water’s social nature — Linton suggests a fresh approach to a fundamental problem.
Taylor, P. J. (2010). Unruly complexity: Ecology, interpretation, engagement. University of Chicago Press.
From the publisher: identifying fresh issues in the study of complex systems, Peter J. Taylor, in a model of interdisciplinary exploration, makes these concerns accessible to scholars in the fields of ecology, environmental science, and science studies. Unruly Complexity explores concepts used to deal with complexity in three realms: ecology and socio-environmental change; the collective constitution of knowledge; and the interpretations of science as they influence subsequent research.
For each realm Taylor shows that unruly complexity-situations that lack definite boundaries, where what goes on “outside” continually restructures what is “inside,” and where diverse processes come together to produce change-should not be suppressed by partitioning complexity into well-bounded systems that can be studied or managed from an outside vantage point. Using case studies from Australia, North America, and Africa, he encourages readers to be troubled by conventional boundaries-especially between science and the interpretation of science-and to reflect more self-consciously on the conceptual and practical choices researchers make.
Robles-Anderson, E. and Liboiron, M. (2016). “Coupling Complexity: Ecological Cybernetics as a Resource for Nonrepresentational Moves to Action,” Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment. Eds. Nicole Starosielski & Janet Walker. Routledge: 248-263.
Excerpt: This essay revisits two of the most whole world of the whole world sciences: ecology and cybernetics. Both have imprinted the popular environmental imagination with ideas about holism, systems, feedback, balance, and equilibrium. Their legacies are deeply entangled in the development of global knowledge infrastructures. They are remembered as intellectual disciplines that helped gather, license, represent, and finally act upon global knowledge. What failed to endure was their more radical critique of representational, technocratic ecological knowledge as well as the alternative models they proposed. Whole world sciences reasoned that complex systems could never be completely described, documented, or understood. We follow a strand of ecological-cybernetic systems thinking in which the drive to address massively complex, dynamic, and contingent circumstances led practitioners away from the hallmarks of representational knowledge: translation, prediction, accuracy, resolution, and data accumulation. Instead, they explored a knowledge regime in which systems regulated each other directly. Children performed algorithms, ponds managed factories, and the mind played a constitutive role in ecology. The hope was that complex systems, coupled together in conversation, might regulate each other and therefore mutually sustain one another.
Sayre, N. F. (2008). Carrying Capacity: Genesis, History and Conceptual Flaws. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 98(1): 120–134.
The concept of carrying capacity is employed in a remarkably wide range of disciplines and debates, and it has been forcefully critiqued within numerous fields. Yet its historical origins remain obscure. I identify four major types of uses of carrying capacity: (1) as a mechanical or engineered attribute of manufactured objects or systems, beginning around 1840 in the context of international shipping; (2) as an attribute of living organisms and natural systems, beginning in the 1870s and most fully developed in range and game management early in the twentieth century; (3) as K, the intrinsic limit of population increase in organisms, used by population biologists since the mid-twentieth century; and (4) as the number of humans the earth can support, employed by neo-Malthusians, also since midcentury. All four uses persist to the present, although the first has been largely supplanted by other terms such as payload. In all cases, carrying capacity has been conceived as ideal, static, and numerical—characteristics that were appropriate in the first case but increasingly untenable as the concept was extended to systems of larger scale, greater variability, and lesser human control.
Worster, D. (1993). The wealth of nature: environmental history and the ecological imagination. Oxford University Press on Demand.
From the publisher: Worster ranges across such areas as agriculture, water development, and other questions, examining them as environmental issues, and showing how they have affected–and continue to affect–human settlement. He also examines urban life and history in the context of environmental history, and goes on to argue for a comprehensive approach to understanding our past as well as our present in environmental terms.
“Nostalgia runs all through this society,” Worster writes, “fortunately, for it may be our only hope of salvation.” These reflective and engaging essays capture the fascination of environmental history–and the beauty of nature lost or endangered–underscoring the importance of intelligent action in the present.
Worster, D. (1994). Nature’s economy: a history of ecological ideas. Cambridge University Press.
From the publisher: Nature’s Economy is a wide-ranging investigation of ecology’s past. It traces the origins of the concept, discusses the thinkers who have shaped it, and shows how it in turn has shaped the modern perception of our place in nature. The book includes portraits of Linnaeus, Gilbert White, Darwin, Thoreau, and such key twentieth-century ecologists as Rachel Carson, Frederic Clements, Aldo Leopold, James Lovelock, and Eugene Odum. It concludes with a new Part VI, which looks at the directions ecology has taken most recently.
Including portraits of Linnaeus, Gilbert White, Darwin, Thoreau and key twentieth-century ecologists, Worster shows how ecology’s past has shaped the modern perception of humans’ place in nature.
Worster, D. (2016). Shrinking the Earth: The Rise and Decline of American Abundance. Oxford University Press.
From the publisher: In this work, acclaimed environmental historian Donald Worster takes a global view in his examination of the ways in which complex issues of worldwide abundance and scarcity have shaped American society and behavior over three centuries. Looking at the limits nature imposes on human ambitions, he questions whether America today is in the midst of a shift from a culture of abundance to a culture of limits – and whether American consumption has become reliant on the global South. Worster engages with key political, economic, and environmental thinkers while presenting his own interpretation of the role of capitalism and government in issues of wealth, abundance, and scarcity. Acknowledging the earth’s agency throughout human history, Shrinking the Earth offers a compelling explanation of how we have arrived where we are and a hopeful way forward on a planet that is no longer as large as
it once was.