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Winter 2018, 48.5, pages 459-478

Withdrawal without Retreat: Responsible Conservation in a Doomed Age

Abstract: Recent scholarship at the intersection of new materialism and environmental rhetoric advances our understanding of human/nonhuman rhetorics, but some of this work retreats from conservation efforts and environmental politics, driving a wedge between scholars of rhetoric and those laboring on conservation’s front lines. This essay critiques and builds on Thomas Rickert’s and Nathaniel A. Rivers’s uses of the notion of “withdrawal” and on Rivers’s concept of “deep ambivalence” to argue that rhetoricians should embrace forms of anthropocentrism and human control of the nonhuman. To illustrate how this viewpoint might interact with conservation efforts, this essay examines the work of mid-twentieth-century forester and wildlife researcher Aldo Leopold and further explores the current mission of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, a conservationist organization developing a pluralistic, productive land community. At stake in this essay is an environmental rhetoric that can be both theoretically invigorating and practically compatible with on-the-ground conservation.

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