Exploitation and domination of nature : Adorno's reflections on the Marxian critique of the capitalist exploitation of nature

Agnès Grivaux
Agnès Grivaux
  ENS Paris/Goethe-Universität Francfort


It is now widely accepted that the Marxian approach to the exploitation of nature is by no means unilateral. Far from having neglected the deleterious consequences of the capitalistic exploitation of nature, Marx has developed, since his early writings, concepts aiming at seizing the complexity of this phenomenon and criticizing it. Consequently, even if the exact nature of this approach is still a matter of debate, it is no longer possible to argue that Marx has only a Promethean attitude towards nature.
This point seems to render impertinent the critique put forward by the Frankfurt School, and especially by Adorno, against the Marxian way of thinking the exploitation of nature. This critique consists in denouncing the non-critical manner in which Marxism thinks the exploitation of nature. It seems that this critique of Marxism suffers, if not from bias, at least from superficiality.
However, we would like to show that this critique is indeed pertinent, especially for our present conjuncture, provided that we understand that Adorno is aware of the fact that the exploitation of nature is indeed criticized in the Marxian approach, but that for him this critique is not entirely satisfactory.
According to Adorno, domination of nature (Naturbeherrschung) and exploitation of nature (Naturausbeutung) do not signify the same thing; however, they are often used as synonyms, in an unthought and confused manner, and this in turn affects the Marxian reflections on nature. This unthought element is related to the fact that in Marxism, the capitalist exploitation of nature is often thought in merely economical sense, whereas in fact there are certain ideological aspects of this capitalist exploitation of nature which are not reducible to its economical logic. For Adorno, it would be equally necessary to reconstruct the ideological substructure of the exploitation of nature as domination.
We would therefore try to show that with the help of psychoanalysis, Adorno has managed to develop a conceptual framework capable of problematizing those aspects of the capitalist exploitation of nature which are often overlooked within the Marxian approach, and how taking these into account may improve our understanding of capitalism.

Nature - Adorno - Critical theory - Environmental Crisis  
This article is part of Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres (Wildcat series) - Book launch (A booklaunch on 'Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres (Wildcat series) - Book launch')