I’m taking over for Rex this week, Chapter 4 “Nature Loving,” while he takes care of some planned Mergers and Acquisition business. As this is also 4th of July Weekend, things may be a bit slow. But what better way to celebrate the 4th than with a rousing discussion of the interpenetration of Nature and Nationalism. Huzzah!
This chapter is markedly different from the others, as I’m sure readers have noticed. My first instinct is to say, contra Rex and because I’m at the mic: here’s that ethnography, baby… but that’s only part of what makes this chapter interesting. Aside from being the most detailed in that classic descriptive mode of ethnography, it’s also quite conventional in the claims it makes: namely that “environmentalism” or environmental activism is tied to “nature loving” which is in turn constituted out of four strong currents that lead into it (National Anti-politics, middle class distinction, domestic adventure tourism, consumer culture p. 131). These claims are specific, and they form a conventional argument–unlike her “snapshot” theory in Chapter 2, as we discussed.
Each of these four currents encapsulate the kinds of “scale-making” she has explored in earlier chapters, and especially here the twin relations of local culture (in this case student nature lover [pencinta alam] groups) to indonesian nationalism and in turn to a cosmopolitanism represented in different ways in each of these currents.
The chapter also works especially well in that old “making the famliar strange” manner by implicitly drawing connections to, and distinctions from, US (especially) environmental roots in Hippie nature-loving culture. I liked contemplating the connections here, mostly because of the vast and powerful mainstreaming of that culture that has occured since i was an undergraduate at the University of California Summer Camp (Santa Cruz): Whole Foods and eco-tourism and alternative medicine and so on. The Indonesian case by contrast brings out a variety of interesting differences.
For instance I like the focus on the the identification with wild nature as such as opposed to a list of particular places
conquered visited. And though Tsing doesn’t make too much of it, the fact of the ever-present villagers; in the US context, the presense of other people can ruin your adventure in the desolate wilderness (especially when they pull out their mobile phones and ask “guess where I am?”), but in Indonesia (and my experience was similar in India), other people are always around, whether because they live there, or as in the stories at the end of the chapter, they are there for their own reasons. The fact of this density is, or should I think, also be a source of reflection on the location of “encounters across difference” that make up shared commitments to universals like nature. If the Indonesian Nature lover Sri can connect with a Javanese villager, sharing a sense of the romance and moral authority of nature, and then in turn connect with NGOs or environmental activists later (were that to happen, it doesn’t in this case), then that’s an excellent example of how people practically make Nature into a universal–something “we” all obviously care about.
I’m not much for the “Tsing doesn’t cite this/that” game that we’ve been having here, but I do think there is an interesting missed opportunity here, a link to be made with contemporary work in the history of science. In particular, the work of Lorraine Daston, who has shown how the recognition that scientific work (that universal of universals) is in fact enabled by certain forms of “moral economy” (e.g. “The Moral Economy of Nature” and the The Moral Authority of Nature).
It is in this work that historians of science have found ways of investigating how scientific work requires ways of feeling, as well as ways of seeing, saying, understanding etc. The term “nature lover” should have the emphasis on “lovers” — because it is about the ways in which affect is organized in a cultural system whereby invididuals can learn to experience nature as something capricious, spirtual, authoritative, threatened, shocking, etc. I raise this connection because I think it strengthens Tsing’s plan to do ethnography of universals: because this is what many historians and anthropologists of science are also seeking ways of doing.
Finally, the term “cosmopolitan” stands out here as an uninvestigated synonym for “global”– certainly it is or should not be this, but Tsing doesn’t quite specify how cosmopolitanism should be distinguished from Globali/sm/ization/ty/etc. The “cosmos” part should appeal to anthropologists–is this an attempt to reconstruct cosmology outside of the classic constraints of bounded society anthropology? Is it “cosmopolitics: thinking and feeling beyond the nation” and if so, do we need to specify the political economy within which it makes sense? Tsing’s student nature lovers seem to be pretty straightforwardly nationalist in her telling, and the cosmopolitanism is really more like its 19th century meaning of “not rural, peasant, uncivilized”–but is this really the case in the era of indiginized Marlboro Men and International Adventure Sport?
Oh (and I don’t know what to say about it, but) “Dark Rays” rocks. I wish it was more than just an impressionistic inter-section.