Recovering a future
: a critical inquiry into social ecology

  • Robert Spivey

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Globally, an increasing number of people are confronting accelerating ecological threats, including the unprecedented spectre of climate catastrophe, one of the widely predicted manifestations of which is an increasing incidence of viral pandemics. At the same time, broad social movements have recently emerged to combat increasing social inequality, gender-based oppression, police violence and systemic racism, and ongoing abrogation of the treaty rights and resources of indigenous peoples.

    A comprehensive effort to address ecological and social issues such as these—and the links between them—is the social ecology of Murray Bookchin. Bookchin formulated the philosophical basis of social ecology in the mid- to latter part of the previous century., emphasising that efforts fo dominate nature have arisen from a long and tragic history of the domination of humans by other humans.

    This thesis inquires whether the theoretical formulation of social ecology is adequate to current challenges, especially those arising from anti-racist and anti-colonial theory and activism. In particular, can a dialectical naturalism that seeks to derive an ethics and a politics of confederated directly-democratic municipalities and communities from concepts of nature be justified, given the prevailing postmodern scepticism toward naturalising theory and toward the dialectic?

    My research looks at the theoretical bases of social ecology in non-reductive scientific investigation, and in a reading of natural evolution that attempts to ‘ecologise’ the Hegelian dialectic. However, I draw primarily upon theoretical resources from an unexpected source in contemporary Continental philosophy rather than in the revolutionary tradition—the ‘new materialism’ of Catherine Malabou. Ultimately, I argue that Malabou’s work—supplemented by that of key anti-racist and anti-colonial writers—offers ways to think through lacunae in social ecology theory so that Bookchin’s project may be relaunched (to borrow Malabou’s terminology) in a form more adequate to the challenges of our historical moment.
    Date of Award10 Nov 2021
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorMichael Patrick Cullinane (Director of Studies), Carrie Hamilton (Co-Supervisor) & Jenny Bunker (Co-Supervisor)


    • social ecology
    • Murray Bookchin
    • Catherine Malabou
    • plasticity
    • dialectic
    • creolization

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