Environmentalisms: How to Have a Politics?

Today we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation: as the words “neoliberalism” and “environment” have come to occupy the center of our political and cultural debates, the actual content of those concepts has become less and less clear.

Neoliberalism, it seems, is now a ubiquitous category for describing contemporary life; a kind of vague, gaseous element that permeates everything from macroeconomic discourse to domestic spending habits and lifestyle choices. Spanning across otherwise divergent political ideologies and geopolitical rivalries, everyone and everything is now apparently “neoliberal”—even if it's unclear exactly what that means. And what of the concept of environment? Does it refer to nature? Or to its opposite (the “built,” the “artificial,” the “interactive,” etc.)? Is the environment merely a residual afterimage of the formerly “natural” world, which has now been tamed or constructed by humans and their technological systems? Or has the environment always been, in some way, “anthropogenic?"

Against this background, the course will proceed along two paths (somewhat) simultaneously. On the one hand, we will build up a “minor” history of neoliberalism’s emergence. If historical-theoretical accounts have thus far overwhelmingly sought to articulate neoliberalism’s political and economic origins, we will work in this course towards the explication of a lesser-known, technical genealogy that (without discounting political economy) concentrates instead on a series of equally relevant histories—in order to trace, alongside and within our economic conditions, a series of technical and psychosocial transformations whose contours and consequences have only recently become apparent.

At the same time, the course will situate the idea of environment within a field of intelligibility comprised of specific kinds of environmental reasoning; ways of thinking that presume or posit a comprehension of the term, and which analyze or intervene in the world on that presumption. We will examine a series of themes—milieu, ecology, life, totality, control, regulation, interactivity, management, among others—that will provide a structure for analysis and reflection.
Topics covered include: orthodox accounts of neoliberalism; technics and technology; histories of environmental reasoning; the biopolitical foundations of metropolitan life; theories of industrial firm structure and location; Fordism, Taylorism and mechanization; Post-Fordism and the logic of flexible accumulation; individuation and the spatial atomization of neoliberalism; infrastructure, externalization and the technopolitics of environmental management; among others.

The course readings—drawn from media theory, economic geography, science and technology studies, political theory, anthropology, and the history and philosophy of technology—cover a period ranging from 1870 to the present. The course has no prerequisites, but some previous engagement with continental philosophy and critical theory is recommended.