Rights of nature and posthumanist possibilities

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Pelizzon, A & Schillmoller AL 2011, 'Rights of nature and posthumanist possibilities', paper presented to Natural law and legal obligation: the Australian Society for Legal Philosophy annual conference, Brisbane, Qld., 29-31 July.


Earth jurisprudence is an emerging area of law in which the integrity and health of ecosystems become a central concern of human legal and political institutions. In recent years, several countries have proposed constitutional reforms which mandate legal recognition of ecosystems’ ‘right to exist’. As one of the architects of this new legal framework observed, Ecuador has taken a step into the ‘legal unknown’ and ‘a lot of people will be watching what happens’. At this stage in its development, both the practice and theory of this emergent jurisprudence occupy indeterminate terrain, but one already inscribed by humanist precepts of what ‘rights’ and ‘nature’ might consist of. Mindful that nature and rights are contested concepts with negotiable meanings, this paper identifies and investigates central epistemological and ontological thresholds with a view to contributing to the development of conceptual terrain for earth jurisprudence which avoid the hazards of human exceptionalism. This exploration is informed by emergent scholarship in the fields of ecological realism, speculative realism and object oriented ontology. What these movements offer are conceptual frameworks which seek to uphold the ‘autonomy of reality against the depredations of anthropocentrism,’ ones within which humans have no particularly privileged place. While recognising a tension between the pragmatic imperatives of normative systems of human governance and the conceptual terrain of metaphysical realism, this paper enters a ‘realm of creative uncertainty’ with a view to the identification of possibilities for dialogue between emergent speculative fields; one which may inform the development of a hybrid philosophical and juridical framework capable of responding to urgent ecological crises.