Nature & Society

Theme Leader: Professor Jacklyn Cock


The focus of this cluster is the current crisis in the society –nature relationship. We have reached the limits of using nature as a sink for our waste products or a safe source of raw materials for economic activity. Extensive pollution as part of the degradation of nature – most obviously in the case of the carbon emissions which cause climate change – is increasing, with devastating impacts. Much of this degradation takes the form of a ‘slow violence’ that extends over time, that is insidious, instrumental, undramatic, accretive and relatively invisible. Even the extensive impacts (and the official recognition) of the dramatic, ecological catastrophes of Bhopal and Chernobyl were slow to develop.


The people affected in this way are mainly poor, working class people. Their poverty is behind the proliferation of indigenous environmental movements across the global South, what Martinez Allier has called the “resurgent environmentalism of the poor’. This takes very different forms from the authoritarian conservation of the North which often focuses on threatened plants, animals and wilderness areas to the neglect of social needs. The ‘environmentalism of the poor’ means access to essential natural resources such as unpolluted land, clean air and water. It calls for a very different conceptualization as part of ‘Southern Theory’, a conceptualization that should go beyond the binary of ‘Full-stomach’ and ‘empty-belly environmentalism’.

In both the global North and South there are particular difficulties in the social recognition of environmental risks such as toxic pollutants and climate change. For this reason scholarly research needs to be linked to an engagement with the people worst affected.

© 2016 by SWOP

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