Politics of nature ecosocial ontology

I have argued that the concept of the common realm of God, nature and humanity provides a useful way of tackling the two problems with which a political theology of nature must engage: the overcoming of the double alienation of God from the world and humanity from nature. The concept of the common realm insists on the reality of nature and yet also insists on its interaction with humanity. Nature is neither entirely cultured nor simply given. Indeed, the conception of the world as totality and as difference generated by philosophical theology affirms, in theological perspective, such a claim: the otherness and the proximity ofnature must be respected. Inquiry by transcendentals is also imperative in the search for a conceptuality directed towards the fundamental features of the world. In this section, I wish to develop further the conceptuality which supports this claim to the liberative potential of these transcendentals towards the concept ofthe common realm ofGod, nature and humanity.

At this point, the argument moves from the generality of transcendental argument. Now a further level of inquiry emerges: an ontology of the ecosocial. This ontology is an attempt to draw down the transcendentals: to offer 'categories of existence' dedicated to the exploration of that which exists.51 The addition of the term, eco, stresses that interaction occurs between humanity and nature. Of course, such an ontology cannot breach the transcendental protocols set out in the previous section.

What are the key concepts of this ecosocial ontology.? Sociality, spatial-ity and temporality of nature affirm the reality, otherness and proximity of nature in relation to un/natural humanity.52 These concepts are derivable from the revelation of God: temporality, sociality and spatiality can be traced in the life, death and resurrection ofJesus Christ. What is more, these three concepts are also present in the adventure in philosophical theology we followed above (pp. 43-52). That section stressed the transcendental features of the world. The concepts of sociality, temporality

51. Allan A. Gare, Postmodernism and the Environmental Crisis (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 119.

52. The theme, but not the concept, of contingency also runs through these remarks: as authored in the activity of God, creation is contingent.

and spatiality seek to capture in more detail such a theological description. How do they do this.?

Sociality offers the pledge of a theological theory that stresses the interrelation of humanity and nature. Indeed, strictly, the concepts of temporality and spatiality are complementary ways of setting out the basic insight of the social character of all reality. Sociality spotlights the transactions between humanity and non-human nature. How in our social life are the natural conditions of human life grasped in the exchanges between human and non-human nature? How does the social freedom of humanity oppose oppressive and restrictive accounts of nature, in which the contingency of nature is denied? These questions can be answered only by reference to sociality.

The theological commitment to interpreting sociality as the key feature of an ontology of the ecosocial requires further elucidation. For sociality is not a concept which explicates itself. What does it mean to say that all reality is social? For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose important and creative innovation it was to foreground the concept of sociality, the central social relation is I-Thou; the central interaction is thereby between persons.53 On these grounds Colin Gunton rejects the notion of sociality as transcendental: for, Gunton asks, how can the notion of sociality, which turns upon the interaction of persons, apply to all of reality? For non-human nature is not personal and thereby not social. Hence sociality is not a transcendental.54 However such a claim is only true if the basic social relation is I-Thou, if the basic social category is person.

What if the basic social relation was to be interpreted differently? What if the basic social relation is itself best understood as work, labour, reproduction? A social ontology thereby specifies exchanges, transactions, interdependencies and interactions. This may be set out in various ways: personal communication, technological appropriation, economic and communal interaction and reproductive processes. Although work may function as the basic social relation, this is no foundationalist category. We must acknowledge different zones of interaction: ecoproduction, reproduction, communication and political authority - with nature as a fundamental condition of all these.55 And we must acknowledge different

53. Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio, passim.

54. Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, pp. 219-23.

55. Here I am drawing on Len Doyal and Ian Gough, 'Human Needs and Social Change', in

Carolyn Merchant (ed.), Ecology: Key Concepts in Critical Theory (New Jersey: Humanities Press,

sorts of work: interpersonal, political, economic, voluntary and cultural actions - all with natural conditions. Nature is in nobis; we are in nature.

We can, of course, make some important distinctions: the sociality of non-human nature is a condition for the sociality of humanity. Yet we must also note that nature's sociality is genuinely its own sociality; it is not imputed to it by the actions of humanity. Hence there remain important discontinuities as well as continuities between the social nature of humanity and the social nature of nature. Given these continuities and discontinuities, can any further points be made regarding this social ontology.? I think that they can. I offer two further concepts.

Spatiality refers both to the reality of nature (including humanity) and its givenness by God. In the politics of nature, it refers both to the circumstance in which humanity finds itself to be placed - the social field of exercisable freedom - and the non-necessary character of humanity's place in its environment. The natural conditions of human life are part of the givenness of the blessing of God to un/natural humanity. This circumstance is always in dialectical relationship to God. Spatial nature is thereby not necessary nature. No claims can be made that God validates, at the social or political level, certain configurations of humanity or nature as 'natural'. The world could be other than what it is. Yet nature, as contingent, remains God's blessing: it is ordered towards the preservation ofthe creatures ofGod and is itselfthat ordering. Thus, as the social character oflife makes clear, the contingency of God's order has elements of continuity and stability. In this stability and continuity - in its spatiality - the unity of the created order is prefigured and anticipated. Hence, humanity is placed by God into a real, natural context; the natural conditions of human life are real (however much they may be ignored in practice). The stability of nature is extra nos.

Temporality insists on the historicity of nature at all levels: cosmolog-ical, biological, social. In a limited sense, therefore, I am holding to the Jewish-Christian notion of temporal unfolding.56 (The sense is limited in that the stress on sociality and spatiality are reminders of the syn-chronic character of the world, as is the stress on unity as a transcendental; straightforward linearity is not warranted theologically.) Nature cannot, at the political level, be understood without reference to the history of humanity-in-nature. Although non-human nature is an important part of God's blessing of continuity and stability, interruptions, expansions

56. Dupre, Passage to Modernity, pp. 145-52.

and contractions are nevertheless possible. Temporality indicates that specific differentiations and determinations can emerge and disappear within God's ordering of the world. Of course, no appeal can be made to specific determinations or orderings as validated by God. Yet there are such relations. In such fashion, humanity may transform its context into a habitat; it may also poison or destroy its habitat. The temporality of nature is pro nobis; it is a condition of human freedom (and, contingently, sin).

How is this position related to the gracing of nature and humanity in the perspective of the triune God.? All three, as we have seen from the argument of the previous sections, are theological. Each of the concepts emerges as the result of theological argument. All specify important aspects of the gracing of nature. Sociality stresses the continuities between humanity and non-human nature. Spatiality indicates that nature is 'given': real and present. The temporality of nature acts as a protocol against those who wish to stress the space ofnature over time.

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