Leopold panel at American Society for Envr. History

Just received confirmation for a panel on Aldo Leopold at the ASEH meeting in Toronto next April. I’m looking forward to it. Here is my title and abstract:

Leopold’s classification of things: ecology, nominalism and obligation(s)

Aldo Leopold argued for an extension of moral consideration to the entire community of things that comprise ecological systems: collectively, the land. Foregrounding the extension of ethics to this collectivity, however, was a shift that required reordering ethical obligations, and human participants to them, in ecological terms. This paper explores the re-ordering of humans as a different kind of thing—Leopold’s movement of humans from ‘masters’ to ‘plain members’ of ecological systems—which opens up ecological understandings of relationships among things more generally. It finds that Leopold anticipates critiques of modernity made by later social theorists, such as Bruno Latour, and the recent turn towards the ontology of things. But does Leopold offer an alternate path out of modernity? This is the key question of this paper. Investigating this question is taken along two paths. The first considers whether Leopold held to a version of nominalism regarding how things are classified. It queries whether he perhaps even held a type of dynamic nominalism where classification systems ‘loop-back’ to affect what are considered to be concrete possibilities for governing ecological systems at a given time and place. The second considers how Leopold grounds, in an interactive way, what kind of ethical and political duties are extended to what kinds of things. It concludes by considering how Leopold trades on collectivities of things—the land—and the notion of community through which he augurs for an extension of ethics.


  1. […] Society for Environmental History annual conference. The program is here. I’m presenting on Aldo Leopold and not a lot has changed since I wrote the abstract, except that I found another reference to […]

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