New chapter. Michel Serres: From Restricted to General Ecology

My project to write a critical introduction to the thought of Michel Serres continues to advance, and one small piece of the extensive Serresian jig-saw puzzle is of course the distinctive way in which he approaches ecological questions. A couple of years ago I was delighted to be approached by Daniel Finch-Race and Stephanie Posthumus to write a chapter on Serres for their edited volume French Ecocriticism From the Early Modern Period to the Twenty-First Century. The volume has just been published by Peter Lang. For anyone interested to read an early draft of my chapter, I have uploaded a version to and If you prefer to download it directly from my own site, you can do so here (don’t be fooled by the “cart”, it’s completely free).



Michel Serres’s relation to ecocriticism is complex. On the one hand he is a pioneer in the area, anticipating the current fashion for ecological thought by over a decade. On the other hand, however, ‘ecology’ and, a fortiori, ‘eco-criticism’, are singularly infelicitous terms to describe Serres’s thinking if they are taken to indicate that attention should be paid to particular ‘environmental’ concerns. Such local, circumscribed ideas as ‘ecology’ or ‘eco-philosophy’ are, for Serres, in fact one of the causes of our ecological crisis, and as far as he is concerned no progress can be made while such narrow concerns govern our thinking. This chapter intervenes in the ongoing discussion about the relation of Serres to ecology by drawing on some of Serres’s more recent texts on pollution and dwelling, and this fresh material leads us both to affirm and challenge the existing treatments of Serres and ecology. We affirm the insistence on the inextricability in Serres’s approach of two senses of ecology: a broader meaning which refers to the interconnectedness and inextricability of all entities (both natural and cultural, material and ideal) and a narrower sense which evokes classically ‘environmental’ concerns. However, Serres’s recent work leads us to challenge some of the vectors and assumptions of the debate by radicalising the continuity between ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ phenomena, questioning some of the commonplaces that structure almost all ecological thinking, and arguing that the entire paradigm of ecology as ‘conservation’ and ‘protection’ is bankrupt and self-undermining. After outlining the shape of Serres’s ‘general ecology’ and its opposition to ecology as conservation, this chapter asks what sorts of practises and values a Serresian general ecology can engender when it considers birdsong, advertising, industrial pollution and money to be manifestations of the same drive for appropriation through pollution. A response is given to this question in terms of three key Serresian motifs: the world as fetish, parasitic symbiosis, and global cosmocracy.