The Western thought has been primarily characterized by the divide between culture and nature since the beginning of the twentieth century. The Ecology of Others is a groundbreaking work where Philippe Descola seeks the annihilation of this divide. The thesis in his book is that the Western thought should depart from the rigid dualistic understanding of culture and nature as the most conspicuous phenomenon in the anthropocentric model. The book is well thought out and presented. It is not just enough that Philippe Descola identifies the problem in anthropocentric models of Western thought.
In the book, Descola goes further to propose a solution to the highlighted problems in the anthropocentric models. In his proposed solution, Descola argues that a whole new radical worldview is required. This entails viewing objects and beings, whether human or nonhuman through the multifaceted relationships that exist between these beings and objects. This paper argues that the proposed solution presents new models through which scholars not only in the field of ecology, but also in anthropology and environmental studies should look at the divided between nature and culture.
The solution adduced by Descola should not be viewed as a smooth transition from one conception of the Western thought to another. On the contrary, it is a persuasive challenge for scholars in various fields of study, including but also extending past environmental studies, anthropology and ecology. The challenge that Descola poses to scholars in these fields is to change the manner in which they think of objects, human beings and the environment. Ideally, the field of ecology studies the relationships between objects and living organisms and the surroundings. As the author argues, ‘anthropology must shed its essential dualism and become fully monistic’ – that it must rid itself of an ‘epistemological regime’ which has become ‘the foundation of the whole development of anthropology and legitimates its successes.’ This is part of the challenge that the author poses to other scholars (Descola, 2013).
The dualism to which Descola makes reference is the understanding of culture and nature in two distinct ways. In his conception, the insistence on universalizing the naturalism that is propagated by the Euro-American thought. The author also ridicules this thought and describes it as a product of the separation between cultural realms of the non-human aspects of nature and that of human beings. The author calls for the collapse of this distinction and the merger of the dualistic approaches to nature into one monistic perspective where both human beings and non-human objects are seen as one component with a complex relationship with the physical environment (Descola, 2014).
As identified at the beginning, Descola identifies the divided between nature and culture as a product of the Western thought. Throughout the book, Descola argues that this is the advent of the anthropological enterprise. Descola argues that the variety of cultures studies under the domain of anthropology is not only surprising, but also an implicit verification of the domain’s deviation from the truth. The author cites ethnocentrism in the some of the concepts of the anthropology domain. For instance, the anthropology enterprise advances the concepts that there exists one nature in which many cultures thrive. Additionally, the domain adduces that the non-human elements of nature exist in one ways, although they can be understood through many ways (Descola, 2013).
This argument can be linked back to the author’s stand on the influence of Western thought to the dualism that characterizes the understanding of culture and nature. This is because the nature that ranks behind the cultural element in the anthropological enterprise is the nature defined under the modern constitution. This is the science that reflects the truth under the Western culture. It is this ethnocentrism that the author argues fuels the divide in the understanding of culture and nature. As long as culture is seen as superior to both nature and the non-human elements of nature, scholars in the environmental studies and ecology domains will have the efforts to enhance the health of the environment galumphed by the human impact (Descola, 2013).
Initially, the paper pointed out the challenge that the author posed, and the fact that it was posed to three domains namely environmental studies, anthropology and ecology. The analysis above shows why the challenge was posed to anthropologists. It is their enterprise that fuels an ethnocentrism that contributes to the dualism in the understanding of nature and culture. The role of ecologists and environmental scientists in diluting the ethnocentrism of the anthropological enterprise is implied. Ideally, the scholar is asking of these two domains to counter the dualism fueled by the anthropological domain. It is by diluting the conception that there are things of culture and those of nature that the dualism can be quashed and monistic approaches embraced. Such approaches would hold the thoughts that the two aspects are entangled in a complexity of relationships (Descola, 2013).
The concepts argued in this book have very serious implications for many study domains. The predisposition of the author is revolutionary based on the actions that he demands. From the beginning of the book, the author identifies a problem in conception that forms his thesis. In arguing his thesis, the author discusses the dualism in conception between nature and culture. The author calls for the collapse of this dualism for his preferred monistic approach. The other conspicuous position held by the author is the ethnocentrism that sees nature trail culture in in the conception of Western thought.
However, he adduces the finding of science that culture only plays a residual fueled by the conceptions of human thought, and that nature is singular for both human and non-human elements. It is on this note that the author issues a challenge to various fields, including but also extending past the environmental scientists, ecologists and anthropologists to influence the departure from the rigid dualistic understanding of culture and nature as the most conspicuous phenomenon in the anthropocentric model. The paper concludes that the proposed solution presents new models through which scholars not only in the field of ecology, but also in anthropology and environmental studies should look at the divided between nature and culture.
Descola, P. (2014). Beyond nature and culture. Chicago. University Of Chicago Press.
Descola, P. (2013). The ecology of others. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.