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6 J. Hum. Rts. & Env't. 1 (2015)

handle is hein.journals/jhre6 and id is 1 raw text is: 

Journal of Human Rights and the Environment, Vol. 6 No. 1, March 2015, pp. 1-6


The   discourse of 'biocultural' rights and the search for new
epistemic parameters: moving beyond essentialisms and old
certainties   in an  age   of Anthropocene complexity?

There can be  little doubt of the multiple complexities facing law in the twenty-first
century. Climate change alone presents a challenge of unprecedented global complexity
for legal systems - a complexity arising, moreover, directly from the 'complexity of
the climate system [itself:] its myriad of parts, interactions, feedbacks and unsolved
mysteries'. In the face of such complexities, law's traditional institutional silos and
path-dependent responses (such as the institutional and doctrinal separation between,
for example, human   rights law and climate change law) seem  increasingly exposed
as inadequate.
   Law's path-dependent  institutional and doctrinal structures relate to deeper concep-
tual tendencies. While law itself is a complex, multi-layered phenomenon, it famously
trades in binaries, taxonomies and other conceptual reductionisms. This - it is increas-
ingly clear - is a deep-seated orientation ill suited to the complexity of rapidly mutating,
polycontextural, densely interwoven contemporary  predicaments.
   The urgency  of climate change - and the deep challenge it presents - in particular
to the settled categories of traditional juridical subject-object relations - in part
explains the growing contemporary  interest among  legal scholars in new materialist
and posthumanist  onto-epistemologies.2
   Such approaches - with their insistence on the deconstruction of traditional subject-
object relations - emphasize the ultimate impossibility of separating the 'natural' and
the 'cultural'. And while this is not because of the Anthropocene discourse that locates
'humanity' as the geological force behind the climate crisis, the challenge presented by
new  materialist ontologies is certainly an enriching philosophical one to bear in mind
when  thinking about biocultural rights discourse - as is the emergent construct of the
Anthropocene  species-subject.
   Among   other things, at the heart of Anthropocene discourse is an important tension
that also emerges in biocultural rights discourse. This is the tension between a universa-
lized conception of 'humanity' (or of any of its sub-groups) and the related risks of
freighting all such 'identities' (universal and localized) with essentialisms. Essentialisms,

1.   J Rial et al, 'Nonlinearities, Feedbacks and Critical Thresholds within the Earth's Climate
System' (2004) 65 Climate Change 11-38 at 33.
2.   A turn towards the work of Karen Barad, Donna Haraway, Manuel De Landa, Jane Bennett
and others. What such accounts have in common is a sense of the lively agency of matter itself
and the refusal of traditional subject-object relations that place a human epistemic agent at the
'centre' of the 'world'. For a brief and inspiring application of a broadly new materialist onto-
epistemology to human rights, drawing directly on the work of Barad, see A Neimanis, 'Along-
side the Right to Water, a Posthumanist Feminist Imaginary' (2014) 1 Journal of Human Rights
and the Environment 5-24.

0 2015 The Author                          Journal compilation 0 2015 Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd
                                   The Lypiatts, 15 Lansdown Road, Cheltenham, Glos GL50 2JA, UK
                         and The William Pratt House, 9 Dewey Court, Northampton MA 01060-3815, USA

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