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Ecological Consciousness and the Decline of 'Civilisations': The Ontology, Cosmology and Ideology of Non-equilibrium Living Systems

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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

This article is a discussion of the cosmological and ontological bases of ecological thinking in cross-cultural terms. It is argued that there are two different sources for much of modem ecological thinking. One has its origins in the various developments in systems theory and cybernetics and is rooted in a hard 'engineering' framework. The other, which is the basic focus of this discussion, is based on constructions of 'nature' (not necessarily an explicit category in all societies) as temporally variable, and on the transformation of 'nature' in conditions of crisis. Newer approaches in ecological anthropology have rightly emphasised an understanding of the way nature is socially constructed, as, for example, an autonomous entity, or as totally integrated within other social and personal relations. It is suggested here that ecological thinking is related to the inversion of cosmological relations that occurs in many societies in crisis. Examples of the transformation of expansionist chiefdoms into ecologically more stable yet crisis-ridden egalitarian societies are used to argue that ecological thinking is not a product of a particular kind of society but of a particular condition that develops within societies that enter into crises after an earlier phase of growth and expansion. Modem ecological consciousness is argued to be the same kind of phenomenon, even if it develops in a very different kind of social system - one that reconstructs the 'primitive' societies of the Western periphery as the ecologically moral and balanced world that we have lost rather than the backward world of a previous modernist evolutionism.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Social Anthropology University of Lund Box 114 221 00, Lund, Sweden

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