A place of life: On bioregionalism in East Price Hill, Cincinnati

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2015-05

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The Ohio State University

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Abstract

Bioregionalism has been an important theoretical framework within popular environmentalist literature for over two decades. According to this philosophy, reinhabitation of “bioregions” will commit human beings to a natural and universal knowledge of where they are, thereby holistically reconnecting them with the earth, life, and each other. Troubling, though, is the meaning of “bioregion:” from the early environmentally determinist conception of Kirkpatrick Sale to the synthesis of landscape and consciousness espoused by Peter Berg, framing a bioregion has been murky even for its most strident apologists. Even further, from its very beginnings in early Western philosophy, the more general concept of place has been discussed with no less ambiguity. Through a philosophical inquiry dating back to Aristotle, I argue that bioregions have been so difficult to define precisely because the underlying metaphysical assumption of place—as something that is unitary, clearly demarcated, and differentiated from other places—is erroneous. The texts from these philosophers, along with the bioregional practices that I investigate in East Price Hill, Cincinnati, force a coming to terms with a conception of place that is better understood as space qua difference. Place, in other words, is the process by which space is intuited, differentiated, and represented by the living human subject. But these representation that we eventually describe as “places” are not simply open to anyone's interpretation: they are the spatial manipulation of hegemony, of power settled geographically. To invoke place as such—as space qua difference—is to necessarily invoke a matrix of power that is tasked with concretizing and making universal the arrangement of different places. Hence, what I show in the case of East Price Hill is that the politics of place-based resistance, e.g. an ecovillage, always already invokes a dynamics of power—that is, Capital-Nation-State—precisely by assuming a certain metaphysics of place. To upend the geography of the modern social formation would require a new interpretation of the relation between place and space, one not based on difference but on singularity.

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bioregionalism, philosophy of place, Heidegger, Kant, Agamben

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