Zev Trachtenberg
Professor, Director

My research attempts to articulate an outlook for conceptualizing, and evaluating, human beings’ transformations of the physical environment. I seek to ground my views in a broadly interdisciplinary empirical approach, based on current research in natural and social science. I draw on work regarding human biological and cultural evolution; I am particularly influenced by the concept of niche construction. Informed by this research I am working toward an outlook which frames anthropogenic environmental transformation as the effort to construct a niche that can provide for human flourishing—which therefore can be normatively evaluated on its success at reaching that goal. But human niche construction has an essentially political character: humans survive in their environment by means of their social relationships, the stability and justice of which are deeply influenced by political institutions. I thus theorize politics (in the broadest sense) as the governance of the social process of niche construction. I hope this theoretical effort will contribute to interpretations of environmental conditions that express political ideals, most centrally, the just provision of the conditions for human flourishing.

I am pursuing this project by investigating main authors in the canon of western political theory. I came to my basic position by considering environmental ideas in the writings of Rousseau, who has been a subject of my research since my Ph.D. I have also worked on Locke and Adam Smith, and I am currently examining a painting by the Sienese artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti. I anticipate future efforts on Aristotle, Marx, and Nietzsche.

An important context for my research is an interdisciplinary blog I administer, Inhabiting the Anthropocene. The blog is the work of a community of scholars from across OU, and beyond, who write on a variety of topics relevant to the environment. I have used my own posts to try to develop the outlook on human environmental transformation I’ve described. I also work to support interdisciplinary work on the environment in my role as Director of OU’s Environmental Studies Program.

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