EcoTypes includes a dizzying array of axes—15 total—for which the three EcoTypes themes may offer you and your students some clarity. But another way to approach EcoTypes axes is to view their poles as evidencing a tendency toward classic vs. contemporary environmental thought.
What is classic vs. contemporary environmental thought? One recent reference on environmental studies organizes many of its over 150 contributions via these two categories (Castree, Hulme, and Proctor 2018), and defines them as follows:
We differentiate here between classic instances, corresponding to early developments of environmental studies from the mid-20th century on (though some are even older), and contemporary instances, which have arisen in the last few decades in response both to intellectual developments and the ever-changing world. It is important to keep in mind that the contemporary field of environmental studies includes both classic and contemporary influences – thus, rather than wholly replacing classic notions, contemporary notions often further diversify the field (p. 3).
Differences between classic and contemporary environmental thought amount to more than chronology, though—as the continued popularity today of classic thought suggests. Ultimately, they may reflect differing approaches to environmental issues characteristic of eras of solid (classic) vs. liquid (contemporary) modernity (Bauman 2000).
How do classic and contemporary environmental thought apply to the fifteen EcoTypes axes? It’s a trick question, as classic and contemporary thought are by no means monolithic—especially contemporary thought, for which many variants exist. Here are a few initial thoughts, none fully complete:
- For certain axes, the left pole tends to reflect classic thought, and the right pole contemporary thought. This may be especially worth considering for the following:
- For certain axes, classic and contemporary thought may be evidenced in different approaches to either pole. Here are selected examples:
- Change, Social Scale, Spatial Scale: These all are part of the small/big Action theme. One might interpret the general mood of environmental action to have gotten smaller over time, as proposed large-scale, structural actions in the 1970s may have yielded to more pragmatic, incremental approaches. But an equally valid interpretation is that incremental approaches, also popular during the heyday of classic environmentalism, have been critiqued by contemporary scholars as limited, thus leading to calls for more institutional-scale change. So, small and big action seem possible in both bodies of thought, albeit framed quite differently.
- Domain, Science, Spirituality: These are all part of the old/new Knowledge theme. Here too, there are classic and contemporary variants, though in general the old Knowledge axis poles—ideal Domain, alternative Science, and sacred Spirituality—tend to lean back in time, toward a more solid modernity. Yet the material Domain, orthodox Science, and secular Spirituality are found in classic as well as contemporary environmental thought. Perhaps the difference lies in the claims of each, with classic thought making more settled, universal claims and contemporary thought making more contingent, particular claims.
Given that classic and contemporary environmental concepts are alive and well today, it may not be surprising that there are many ways to think about environmental issues—thus the poles of these EcoTypes axes! But the poles themselves may or may not parse out cleanly along classic and contemporary lines—understandable, given the level of generality of most of these axes.