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Eco-Marxism and the critical theory of nature: two perspectives on ecology and dialectics

Journal article
Authors Carl Cassegård
Published in Distinktion : Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory
Volume 18
Issue 3
Pages 314-332
ISSN 1600-910X
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Pages 314-332
Language en
Keywords Nature, dialectics, materialism, eco-Marxism, critical theory, John Bellamy Foster, Alfred Schmidt, T. W. Adorno
Subject categories Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


As John Bellamy Foster points out in numerous publications, we need Marx to make sense of our current ecological predicament in the Anthropocene, the age in which humankind affects the earth in the manner of a geological force. The article focuses on the relation between eco-Marxism and the critical theory of nature, two currents both focusing on how to understand nature from a broadly Marxian perspective. I assess the criticism eco-Marxists like Burkett and Foster have directed at Alfred Schmidt and the early Frankfurt School and argue that the friction between the two currents to a large extent stems from different conceptions of dialectics and materialism. Next I turn to, and criticize, Foster’s attempt to use an Epicurean-inspired model of dialectics to ensure unity of method in the study of nature and society. Finally, turning to the critical theory of nature as exemplified by Theodor Adorno, I argue that the critical theory of nature offers theoretical tools for grasping the relation between nature and capitalism that are far more useful for grasping the present ecological crisis than Foster and Burkett appear to think. The contributions offered by critical theory include its dialectical approach to the categories of nature and society, a thoroughgoing anti-idealism based on the notion of the ‘preponderance of the object’, the use of constellations to accommodate natural science and a heightened sensitivity to the entwinement of ideological and utopian aspects in the notion of nature.

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