Study Guide

Ecocriticism Buzzwords

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A rose can be a symbol for love. A rose is also a woody perennial that's part of the genus Rosa. A rose is also a royal flower. Get it?

A rose can be studied from the perspectives of philosophy, botany, and history. And more. And that's the heart of interdisciplinarity: bringing knowledge from different scholarly arenas to bear on your analysis of the same person, place, or thing.

Now go do. You've got a lot of disciplines to read up on.


Why in the world would we need a definition of the word nature, you ask? It's obvious, isn't it? Nature, is, like, everything in the world that isn't man-made: grass, the sun, wolves (that aren't specifically bred by humans to be scary super-wolves/werewolves-who-howl-at-the-moon-and-are-played-in-movies-by-Taylor-Lautner), right?

Hold your proverbial horses, Shmoopers. Ecocritics get into some pretty heated arguments about what does and doesn't qualify as nature. Why? Well, they're looking to problematize (scholars sure do lurv to problematize things) humans self-centered views of the natural world.

So, they pit (at least) two possible definitions of nature against each other:
Nature = A place where humans are not—both physically and metaphorically speaking.
Nature = Everything everywhere. All nature, all the time.


Environmentalism is basically a political movement that strives to make people care equally about all creatures that live in any single environment. As in: get over yourselves, humans. Other stuff lives on this planet, too. Sound familiar?

Ask your Resident Hippie for more information.


People tend to see themselves everywhere, in everything. Man, that leaf sure looks like my lover's hand. And that pig in Animal Farm was *totes* my high school gym teacher.

When anthropocentrism enters the scene, nothing can be analyzed without being compared to or informed by human perception, affinities, desires, and all that jazz. Ecocriticsm pushes back against this navel-gazing tendency of ours, and asks us to consider nature on its own terms.

It also asks us to consider how we consider nature, at different historical moments. I know, we just meta-ed you so hard it hurts. Maybe you should seek a natural remedy. Har har.


Eco, from the Greek oikos, means "home," while ology, "the study of." Ecology: The study of home.

Okay, okay, we'll stop messing around with language and break it down for you. This is essentially the study of how living things interact with each other and their environments. Take, for example, how mice and frogs sometimes befriend each other in India. And the results are positively adorable.

Er, we mean fascinating. We're serious scientists who are seriously serious about our science. We promise.

New Materialism

You know how some Great Thinkers like to talk about how humans can't be reduced to their physical properties, because people are really, really special? And they reference all that ooey-gooey, esoteric stuff, like the soul? Well, the New Materialists say: nonsense.

They say: People are made up of their biological bits. Which means that even human thought and human creativity—those lofty qualities we often like to believe elevate us above other animals—are just part and parcel to human physiology.

You can see how this idea might get some folks really riled up. But riddle us this, Shmoopers: is a frat guy really a frat guy without his frat house and his beer pong? Or is there something about The Dude, something in his person or his essence, that's essentially frat-y?

We're not sure either.


Oh, c'mon, you know this one. Science is that rigorous, empirical business that people like you get into when they observe something about the world, then make a hypothesis about how that thing works, and then test their hypothesis. Rinse. Revise or trash original hypothesis. Repeat.
Cure cancer and HIV. (We hope.)


That magical land that's far, far away from human cities, cars, annoying appliances, and repetitive office work.

Or: Go beyond the reaches of your wifi router. Then go further. Look around you. You just may be in the wilderness.


Conservation is all about preserving this super-sweet world we inhabit for future generations of humans. Conservationists, then, spend a lot of time thinking up ways to reduce people's negative impact on the environment (which is home to many, many species of squirrel, mind you), while also promoting "the natural order of things."

"Reduce, reuse, recycle." Captain Planet. "Only you can prevent forest fires." "Just say no." Okay, maybe not that last one. But you get what we're driving at. (A greener world, duh.)

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