An Academic Theory of Rewilding (?)

In my final paper, I attempt to construct an academic theory of rewilding. Rewilding in the academy exists almost exclusively as scientific ponderings on ecosystem health, and almost never as a humanity – which is how it nearly exclusively exists outside of the academy. While it would be typical academic fashion to claim only to be constructing the beginnings of an academic theory (as it is framed by any interjection into an established field – material queer theory, Marxist decoloniality, post-structuralist ecology, etc), I prefer to conceptualize of this project as a one-off. I do not desire to bring rewilding into the Academy (ala queer theory, decolonization, etc) but instead to bring the Academy into radical environmentalism. The Academy has become, in my perception, a useful tool for the analysis of social realities in a very specific way, but typically this happens after the fact of any action, as description and not as creation. While various texts do produce useful changes in left advocacy, the Academy as a whole has become somewhat of a memorial society, figuring out the intricacies of movements after they have expired.

It must be recognized that the Academy is an institution, and thus that realms of theory within the Academy become institutionalized. More concretely, it is fairly easy to say that a structure existing within Western, cisheteropatriarchal, settler capitalism and existing as not only a supposed site of dissent but also the explicit training ground for many of the order’s ruling class and foot soldiers might exhibit some reactionary tendencies. These tendencies are made obvious by the overwhelming whiteness of the academy, its undiverse class background, or, as in Silvia Rivera’s analysis of subaltern studies in Chi’xinakax utxiwa: una reflexión sobre prácticas y discursos descolonizadores, the flow of theory and thought from indigenous sources to North American and European centers of academic power, where “postcolonial studies” is given “an academicist and culturalist stamp devoid of the sense of political urgency that characterized the intellectual endeavors of their colleagues in India” (97). Rivera continues by furthermore arguing that

without altering anything of the relations of force in the ‘palaces’ of empire, the cultural studies departments of North American universities have adopted the ideas of subaltern studies and launched debates in Latin America, thus creating a jargon, a conceptual apparatus, and forms of reference and counterreference that have isolated academic treatises from any obligation to or dialogue with insurgent social forces.

When we contemplate Fanon, father of decolonization, as a political writer, the modern academic field appears even more bizarre. In Wretched of the Earth, Fanon advises his readers concisely to “waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe” (186 ???). And yet the Academy claims Fanon as some member of their own ranks.

Why, then, attempt to write an academic theory of rewilding? Partially, I must reluctantly admit that I am accepting some form of respectability politics. By rewriting the theses of radical environmentalists in the language of theory, I hope to give weight to these ideas amongst those who read eco-criticism, cultural studies, or studies in the humanities in general. It is also, however, a possibly futile attempt at what has been attempted many times: the crafting of live theory.


  1. I love this! I agree that the Academy frequently has a sterilizing and distancing effect, and I think that the attempt to connect the academic to the radical is a noble goal. I think that you are correct that the Academy can be used to legitimize ideas to those who would otherwise not be reached, and whether that is a good thing or not (I don’t believe it is), we have to work with what we have, and I think you are in an excellent position to make ideas heard when they are often ignored. Best of luck!

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