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ECPR Futures Lab 2020

From Rewilding to Mutualism: A Philosophical and Political Project

Contentious Politics
Environmental Policy
Green Politics
Political Theory
Normative Theory
Mihnea Tanasescu
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Mihnea Tanasescu
Vrije Universiteit Brussel

This paper is a first attempt to sketch, in some detail, a project of political philosophy based in rewilding practice. The project is based in practice in the sense that it takes as its point of departure empirical projects of rewilding and uses them to design both an ontological argument (the philosophical part) and a normative one (the political part). The argument therefore develops a theoretical framework, termed mutualism, inspired by some kinds of rewilding practice, and within which rewilding can become one among a set of tools.

Mutualism is an idea with roots in ecology and biology, where it signifies a relationship beneficial to all parties involved. I borrow this idea for social science, where it signifies the creation of relationships (such as, potentially, rewilding) that are beneficial to all subjects involved (humans, animals, trees, and so on). I argue that a mutualist framework is needed in order to develop rewilding as a fundamentally political idea, and not just as an ecological management one. The framework also offers a justification for why rewilding is, in some cases, the appropriate political action. The bulk of the argument details four elements of mutualism, two ontological and two normative, that together manage to spell out the contours of the framework and justify its importance for theory and practice.

On the ontological side, the paper presents the ideas of vulnerability and relationality, using Cora Diamond’s ethics and work in eco-phenomenology and hermeneutics (Toadvine and Drenthen in particular). These two ontological categories are presented as cutting across different subjective embodiments and therefore able to ground an inter-species politics. On the normative side, the argument develops the ideas of responsibility and reciprocity, using my own work together with the work of Hans Jonas as well as Maori philosophies. In short, I argue that responsibility and reciprocity are two practices that need to be worked into the rewilding concept if it is to become a political concept. Rewilding becomes a case of mutualism inasmuch as it is committed to a plurality of beneficial relationships. Mutualism is presented as the framework that explains the necessarily political nature of rewilding, allows for its subsequent expression in practice, and brings the experience of rewilding to bear on the wider project of inter-species politics.

There are many problems and pitfalls with the above, and the paper will develop each step of the argument in the detail that the format allows. Not least among the problems, and something that the paper will spend some time on, is the relationship between the ontological and the normative, a problem that should be of no surprise to philosophers. However, the paper is not defensive and therefore does not focus on refuting any and every possible objection. Instead, it takes the risk of presenting the framework of mutualism as incomplete, while simply acknowledging some of the potential problems, to be dealt with in future work and in the workshop itself.
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