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No Place like Home: Ecological Destruction and Loss of Knowing in Late Modernity

Jaceglav, Megan (2015) No Place like Home: Ecological Destruction and Loss of Knowing in Late Modernity. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis argues that our culture is grounded in fundamental ontological error. This error posits human being as a form of being that is separate from the other-than-human world, its mortal and fleshy confines. Drawing on the insight of Gregory Bateson, I propose that insofar as ontology and epistemology are inextricably entwined, error in one implies error in the other. Thus the consequence of our faulty ontology is that epistemological error is built into the system.

The danger of systemic epistemological error is that, as a culture, we rely on our ways of knowing to find solutions to cultural/social/ecological problems. Yet where our ways of knowing are themselves erroneous, recourse to these, simply further perpetuates problems and at the same time deepens error. This is particularly the case where recourse to systemic correctives to such error have been lost – where ethical knowing (at the level of culture) and a perspective giving and defining relationship with nature and the sacred are not available to the system. Where these correctives are not available, the dominant knowing multiplies, a spreading pandemic across the landscape, suppressing and eradicating other ways of knowing and thus, other ways of being. A key result of this is the diminishing capacity, at the level of culture, to detect this epistemological (and ontological) error. The norm quickly overwrites difference, removing alternative knowing from the system. This has resulted in a condition in late modernity whereby the separation of ways of knowing and being from embededness in place are all but undetected in our cultural psyche.

Ecological and epistemological destruction thus continue fundamentally unchecked. This thesis traces the loss of awareness of loss through shifts in, what I term, the epistemological baseline. An overlooked dimension of this ecological and epistemological change is the impact that loss of knowing has on the self. This loss, has, I propose, produced a collective and heightened existential anxiety, a loss of the sense that the self in any meaningful way exists. As a result, the late-modern self is caught in the endless search for proof – looking for evidence of existence through the given cultural form - material reflections, particularly images, of the self. Such evidence, however, merely reproduces the search for, and the dominance of, ‘objective’ knowledge and the reign of the object, ultimately producing the impermeable self.

This process of self-referencing has over the last thirty to forty years been a matter of some theoretical scrutiny. Yet this conversation is one that has, primarily, been separated from conversations surrounding ecological destruction and diminished relationship with the other-than-human world. The making and mapping of the self is seen to bear no inherent relation to the destruction of species and of place. Where a connection is made it is material. Further, this is a materiality that is stripped bare of all subjectivity and presence. Hence we find most of the mainstream discourse and much environmental and cultural theory linking our habits of consumption to ideas of unsustainability but not to the effects this has on ways of being or knowing oneself as human. In this, the other-than-human world as the core constituent of our human being, (and our potential to know of this being) is absent, forgotten, lost.

In revealing the limitations of cultural and environmental theory and protest, due to their historical locatedness in (and thus tendency to reproduce) epistemological error, I draw attention to the way in which ecological destruction and the loss of subjectivity are caught in a self-reinforcing, positive feedback loop which is taking us towards epistemological crisis. In this crisis we are trapped in a systemic failure to know of error and thus a failure to know otherwise, and as a system, we are heading not towards recovery but death.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Hobson, Julia and Harris, Patricia
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