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John M. Meyer

John M. Meyer is Professor in the Department of Politics and a Faculty Member in Environmental Studies and the Environment and Community Graduate Program at Humboldt State University. He is the author of Political Nature: Environmentalism and the Interpretation of Western Thought and the coeditor of The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice (both published by the MIT Press).

Titles by This Author

Environmental Social Criticism and the Resonance Dilemma

Far-reaching efforts to address environmental issues rarely seem to resonate with citizens of the United States or other wealthy postindustrial societies. In Engaging the Everyday, John Meyer considers this impediment to action on environmental problems—which he terms “the resonance dilemma”—and argues that an environmental agenda that emerges from everyday concerns would resonate more deeply with ordinary citizens. Meyer explores the contours of this alternative, theorizing both obstacles and opportunities and then considering it in terms of three everyday areas of material practice: land use, transportation by automobile, and home dwelling.

Adopting the stance of an “inside critic” (neither detached theorist nor narrow policy advocate), and taking an approach that he calls “contested materiality,” Meyer draws on a variety of theoretical perspectives to construct a framework for understanding material practices. He reimagines each of the three material practices in terms of a political idea: for land, property; for automobiles, freedom; and for homes, citizenship. His innovative analysis offers a grounded basis for reshaping our talk about political concepts and values.

Environmentalism and the Interpretation of Western Thought

Concern over environmental problems is prompting us to reexamine established thinking about society and politics. The challenge is to find a way for the public's concern for the environment to become more integral to social, economic, and political decision making. Two interpretations have dominated Western portrayals of the nature-politics relationship, what John Meyer calls the dualist and the derivative. The dualist account holds that politics—and human culture in general—is completely separate from nature. The derivative account views Western political thought as derived from conceptions of nature, whether Aristotelian teleology, the clocklike mechanism of early modern science, or Darwinian selection. Meyer examines the nature-politics relationship in the writings of two of its most pivotal theorists, Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes, and of contemporary environmentalist thinkers. He concludes that we must overcome the limitations of both the dualist and the derivative interpretations if we are to understand the relationship between nature and politics.

Human thought and action, says Meyer, should be considered neither superior nor subservient to the nonhuman natural world, but interdependent with it. In the final chapter, he shows how struggles over toxic waste dumps in poor neighborhoods, land use in the American West, and rainforest protection in the Amazon illustrate this relationship and point toward an environmental politics that recognizes the experience of place as central.

Titles by This Editor

The idea of sacrifice is the unspoken issue of environmental politics. Politicians, the media, and many environmentalists assume that well-off populations won’t make sacrifices now for future environmental benefits and won’t change their patterns and perceptions of consumption to make ecological room for the world’s three billion or so poor eager to improve their standard of living. The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice challenges these assumptions, arguing that they limit our policy options, weaken our ability to imagine bold action for change, and blind us to the ways sacrifice already figures in everyday life. The concept of sacrifice has been curiously unexamined in both activist and academic conversations about environmental politics, and this book is the first to confront it directly. The chapters bring a variety of disciplinary perspectives to the topic. Contributors offer alternatives to the conventional wisdom on sacrifice; identify connections between sacrifice and human fulfillment in everyday life, finding such concrete examples as parents’ sacrifices in raising children, religious practice, artists’ pursuit of their art, and soldiers and policemen who risk their lives to do their jobs; and examine particular policies and practices that shape our understanding of environmental problems, including the carbon tax, incentives for cyclists, and the perils of green consumption. The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice puts “sacrifice” firmly into the conversation about effective environmental politics and policies, insisting that activists and scholars do more than change the subject when the idea is introduced.

Contributors: Peter Cannavò, Shane Gunster, Cheryl Hall, Karen Litfin, Michael Maniates, John M. Meyer, Simon Nicholson, Anna Peterson, Thomas Princen, Sudhir Chella Rajan, Paul Wapner, Justin Williams