Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Cited by 12
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

10 - Representing nature



If I want to speak on behalf of orange-bellied parrots whose habitat will be destroyed by a proposed development, in what sense can I act as their political representative? I have no basis upon which to claim I am their delegate because I have no mandate or authorisation from parrots to speak on their behalf and I cannot justify my arguments or actions to them. I have no expertise in ornithology and I do not (I hope) resemble a parrot or share or understand a parrot's view of the world to claim authority to speak on the basis of a common parrot identity. Nor can I claim to be their trustee in the Burkean sense, because Burke disingenuously supposed that the trustee's authority to represent his/her constituency was based upon common interests and sympathies that were reciprocal, not one-way. All I can claim is that I care about the fate of the parrots.

This chapter seeks to explore the idea of representing (non-human) nature as a democratic task that involves persuading others to care about not just parrots but non-human species in general in order to support measures for their protection. Michael Saward has called this discursive task ‘representative claim making’, but I shall call it ‘nature advocacy’ (Saward 2006). Like the legal advocate, the nature advocate seeks to speak for someone or something by putting their case in the best possible light.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Bowersox, J. (2002) ‘Legitimacy crises: Why environmental ethics and environmental political thought must work together’, in Minteer, B. and Taylor, B. Pepperman (eds.), Democracy and the claims of nature: Critical perspectives for a new century. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, pp. 71–90.
Callicott, J. B. (1985) ‘Intrinsic value, quantum theory and environmental ethics’, Environmental Ethics 7(3): 257–75.
Cheney, J. (1989) ‘Postmodern environmental ethics: Ethics as bioregional narrative’, Environmental Ethics 11(2): 117–34.
Cronon, W. (1996) ‘The trouble with wilderness, or, getting back to the wrong nature’, Environmental History 1(1): 7–55.
Dobson, A. (1996) ‘Representative democracy and the environment’, in Lafferty, W. M. and Meadowcroft, J. (eds.), Democracy and the environment: Problems and prospects. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, pp. 124–39.
Eckersley, R. (1995) ‘Liberal democracy and the environment: The rights discourse and the struggle for recognition’, Environmental Politics 4(4): 169–98.
Eckersley, R. (2004a) The Green state: Rethinking democracy and sovereignty. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Eckersley, R. (2004b) ‘Ecocentric discourses: Problems and future prospects for nature advocacy’, Tamkang Review 34(3–4): 155–86.
Ehrenfeld, D. (1981) The arrogance of humanism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Evernden, N. (1984) ‘The environmentalist's dilemma’, in The paradox of environmentalism. Downsview, Ontario: Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University.
Goodin, R. (1996) ‘Enfranchising the earth, and its alternatives’, Political Studies 44(4): 835–49.
Harraway, D. (1988) ‘Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective’, Feminist Studies 14(3): 575–99.
Harraway, D. (1991) Simians, cyborgs and women. New York: Routledge.
Hayward, T. (2005) Constitutional environmental rights. Oxford University Press.
Ivakhiv, A. (2002) ‘Toward a multicultural ecology’, Organization and Environment 15(4): 389–409.
Mellor, M. (1997) Feminism and ecology. New York University Press.
Minteer, B. and B. Taylor, Pepperman (eds.) (2002) Democracy and the claims of nature: Critical perspectives for a new century. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Nash, R. (1989) The rights of nature: A history of environmental ethics. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Norton, B. (1991) Toward unity among environmentalists. New York: Oxford University Press.
Norton, B. (2002) ‘Democracy and environmentalism: Foundations and justifications in environmental policy’, in Minteer, and Taylor, Pepperman (eds.), pp. 11–31.
O'Neill, J. (2001) ‘Representing people, representing nature, representing the world’, Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 19(4): 483–500.
Plumwood, V. (1993) Feminism and the mastery of nature. London: Routledge.
Plumwood, V. (2000) ‘Deep ecology, deep pockets and deep problems: A feminist, ecosocialist analysis’, in Katz, E., Light, A. and Rothenberg, D. (eds.) Beneath the surface: Critical essays in the philosophy of deep ecology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 59–84.
Plumwood, V. (2002) Environmental culture: The ecological crisis of reason. London: Routledge.
Regan, T. (1981) ‘The nature and possibility of an environmental ethic’, Environmental Ethics 3(1): 19–34.
Rodman, J. (1977) ‘The liberation of nature?Inquiry 20: 83–145.
Rorty, R. (1991) Objectivity, relativism, and truth: Philosophical papers. Cambridge University Press.
Saward, M. (2006) ‘Representation’, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R. (eds.), Political theory and the ecological challenge. Cambridge University Press, pp. 183–99.
Singer, P. (1975) Animal liberation: A new ethics for our treatment of animals. New York: The New Review.
Soulé, M. and Lease, G. (1995) Reinventing nature? Responses to postmodern deconstruction. Washington DC: Island Press.
Sterba, J. (1994) ‘Reconciling anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric environmental ethics’, Environmental Values 3(3): 229–44.
Stone, C. (1974) Should trees have standing? Toward legal rights for natural objects. Los Altos, CA: Kaufman.
Todorov, T. (1984) The conquest of America: The question of the other. New York: Harper and Row.
Vogel, S. (1995) Against nature: The concept of nature in critical theory. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Weston, A. (1996) ‘Before environmental ethics’, in Light, A. and Katz, E. (eds.) Environmental pragmatism. London: Routledge, pp. 139–60.