UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Naturally right : a Western understanding of why the rights of nature are salient in Ecuador, Bolivia, and New Zealand FitzGerald, Luke


Rights of nature is a discourse which proposes that, like humans, the natural world should be afforded a set of legal rights; rights which, being nominally inviolable, temper our worst excesses. Although not as ubiquitous as the conceptual framework of global capitalism, this idea enjoys salience in select areas, notably Ecuador, Bolivia, and New Zealand. The reason that alternative paradigms like rights of nature are select, however, is because the monolithic conceptual framework that is the contemporary political economy – that is to say, neoliberalism – tends to absorb or neutralizes such challenging ideas. Such instances are in abundance, for example, in the commodification of environmental sentiments such as ‘sustainability.’ I argue that despite this, rights of nature has survived challenges to its existence in the form of indigenous cosmologies and social philosophies of these countries. This thesis seeks to explain why this is so, arguing that common cultural denominators across all account for this salience. These commonalities include indigenous cosmologies and cultures that express a reverence for nature; histories of exogenous colonial exploitation of land and people; strong feminist traditions at the individual level; and robust legal protections of nature at the state level. In the broader context of global environmental politics, these factors are important because they provide an alternative paradigm which is otherwise obfuscated by the monochromatism of the contemporary world order, which equates the commodification of nature and material wealth with success. Unveiling it may allow social, economic, and natural relations to be wholly reconceived.

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