Ecological Immunity and Biopolitics in the Anthropocene
Environmentalist discourse has familiarized us with the idea that human beings are members of the “ecological community,” and that this membership comes with obligations that our species has sorely neglected. This popular understanding of “community,” however, frequently obscures what the term signifies in scientific ecology, where it is more or less synonymous with “food web”: being a member of an ecological community means, above all, to prey and to be preyed upon, and to be a host for other species. The life of every organism is a gift from the ecological community of which it is a part; but as long as it is alive, it will seek to defer the date of reciprocal donation for as long as it can.
Following the political philosopher Roberto Esposito, I argue that this situation can be understood in terms of a dialectical interplay between “community” and “immunity” – two terms which, Esposito argues, mutually imply each other. This suggests that, while many of our contemporary environmental problems are indeed the effect of our efforts to immunize ourselves against the demands of ecological community, the idea that we could resolve them by embracing this community fails to acknowledge the complex ambivalence of our relationship to other species – and to each other.
In two recent publications, I have proposed the concept of “ecological immunity” as way of tacking this issue. This is a work in progress, and I am looking forward to this opportunity to discuss this idea with fellow researchers.
Bergthaller, Hannes. “Ecological Immunity and Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.” Journal of Ecocriticism 8.1 (2018): 1-12. Forthcoming.
—. “Malthusian Biopolitics, Ecological Immunity, and the Anthropocene.” Under review for Tamkang Review.
Esposito, Roberto. “Community, Immunity, Biopolitics.” Angelaki 18.3 (2013): 83-90.
Sloterdijk, Peter. “The Immunological Transformation: On the Way to Thin-walled ‘Societies.’” The Biopolitics Reader, eds. Timothy Campbell and Adam Sitze. Durham: Duke UP, 2013.
Questions for discussion:
- How does Esposito’s primarily (bio-)political conception of immunity overlap, intersect, but also stand in tension with the notion of ecological immunity?
- Esposito suggests that the immunitary paradigm should be overturned and replaced by an orientation towards the “common.” What could the practical implications of this proposal be, in the context of global ecological change?
- What are the specific features of modern strategies of immunization which set them apart from the ways in which pre-modern societies (or non-human species) dealt with the problem of ecological interdependency?
- What difference might it make to conceptualize contemporary environmental problems in terms of ecological immunity? How does such a perspective complement or contradict, for example, new materialist, ecofeminist, Deep Ecological, or postcolonial approaches?
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