Denaturalizing Ecological Politics: Alienation from Nature from Rousseau to the Frankfurt School and Beyond


250 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-3794-1
DDC 403.2'01





Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


Andrew Biro’s project of denaturalizing ecological politics argues for
a relationship between human beings and their world that does not rely
on an autonomous, objective, and “anti-social” conception of nature,
with values antipathetic toward human interventions. “Nature” is a
social construct rather than a reality independent of any particular
social theory.

Biro’s strategy is to set up a contrast between recent,
“postmodern” conceptions of nature and what is called
“ecocentrism,” a description of nature with values deeply at odds
with human interests and activities. The former is explored further by a
consideration of the views of Rousseau, Marx, Adorno, and Marcuse. The
trouble with this extended discussion is that, according to Biro, for
the most part, these thinkers barely sketched the ecological
implications of their social theories.

On ecocentrism, the argument is cursory. There is a whole tradition of
environmental thinking, starting roughly with George Perkins Marsh’s
pioneering work on sustainability and the foundations of the science of
ecology in the late 19th century. Yet Biro devotes only a short chapter
to contemporary ecological theorists. Even worse, just when the reader
is expecting a framework for denaturalizing ecological politics in the
final chapter, we get a further critique of contemporary environmental

Biro’s book is learned, difficult, and provocative. To appreciate it
fully, the reader needs to be well acquainted with the history of
political science, ecology, social criticism, and philosophical
analysis. The author tacitly assumes that

the reader is familiar with the concepts of post-modernism,
essentialism, reification, anthropocentrism, ecocentrism, alienation,
and the theory of the social construction of reality. None of these
terms is defined or explained, making the close arguments and textual
analyses exceedingly hard to follow. Without prior familiarity with such
notions, the educated reader will be unable to judge whether Biro’s
project makes any sense, even less that it is convincing.


Biro, Andrew., “Denaturalizing Ecological Politics: Alienation from Nature from Rousseau to the Frankfurt School and Beyond,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,