Empathetic ecocultural positionality and the forest other in Tasmanian forestry conflicts
Banham, RT, Empathetic ecocultural positionality and the forest other in Tasmanian forestry conflicts, Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity, Routledge, Milstein T, Castro-Sotomayor J (ed), United Kingdom, pp. 522. ISBN 9781138478411 (2020) [Research Book Chapter]
Tasmania’s forests have been the site of a decades-long conflict. Popularly, politically, and provocatively termed the ‘forestry wars,’ the question of competing sides – jobs versus the environment – often dominates this dispute. Tasmanians, and others engaged in similar conflicts throughout the world, require a new language of conflict – one that takes seriously the transformative nature of human–nonhuman relationships. Drawing on Ezzy’s (2004) response to Emmanuel Levinas’s concept of ‘the face,’ in Chapter 28 of the Routledge Handbook of Ecocultural Identity, Banham argues for recognition of a form of ecocultural identity the author terms empathetic positionality. Empathetic positionality refers to ways an individual’s position in the Tasmanian forest conflict is informed by their perception of forestry practices as violent acts committed against the forest other – an other to whom one has an ethical obligation. The chapter offers an alternative view of the conflict, arguing that concerns about forestry often are predicated upon relationally informed perceptions of violent practices rather than political opposition to the existence of a forestry industry per se. Empathetic positionality is an articulation of identity complexities beyond opposing sides or incompatibilities, and instead envisages new ways forward that propose a reimagining of conflicts. Banham explores the interaction between power dynamics and emotional responses (such as grief) to forestry practices, advocating for respect of the forest as a participant in discussions of its own fate. Through a recognition of empathetic positionality, the author calls for a reshaping of dominant conversations underpinning conflicts over extractive industries, not only in Tasmania but internationally.
This chapter argues that concerns about forestry often are predicated upon relationally informed perceptions of violent practices rather than political opposition to the existence of a forestry industry per se. It opens with a description of empathetic positionality – a form of ecocultural identity in which, the author argues, empathetic response shapes one’s position in an environmental conflict. She then discusses the theoretical literature informing this argument about jobs versus trees, or Greens versus loggers, including Ezzy’s response to Levinas’s concept of ‘the face.’ She begins a conversation of new ways forward – in Tasmania, if not globally – that take into account the ethical and emotional aspects of human–forest engagements without necessarily advocating for an end to forestry industries. To recap, empathetic positionality is an aspect of ecocultural identity, in which one’s position in an environmental conflict stems from that individual’s recognition of the involved nonhuman as the other to whom one has ethical obligations.