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Guattari's Three Ecologies


Three Ecologies. 2000

Guattari, Felix. New Brunswick, NJ: Athlone. Translated by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton. 174 pgs. (including index), $27.95, paperback. ISBN: 0485006081.

The Three Ecologies is a rather deceptive book. Guattari's essay, "The Three Ecologies," is only 42 pages long, the translators' notes and introduction take up 57 pages, and Gary Genosko's essay on Guattari's "transversality" another 54. As such, there is very little new from Guattari, and many readers may be inclined to xerox only "The Three Ecologies" -- but the collected material is potentially very useful for both Guattari scholars as well as those new to his work and the book as a whole should provide useful for those interested in many of Guattari's recurrent themes, the environment, psychology and anti-psychiatry, and human relationships.

Guattari's focus in "The Three Ecologies" is his conception of "ecosophy" -- the three related ecologies of environmental, mental and social worlds and their amalgamation into a methodological practice. Guattari's argument, and it is rather simple, is that we have an erroneous conception of ecology, of environmental struggle, and that only by broadening our views to include the three ecologies will we be able to affect any enduring changes in our social/cultural/natural environment. Taking the environment as self-evident, Guattari develops his theories of the mental and social ecologies after a lengthy exposition of the global ecological crisis. By building on his work with Gilles Deleuze, Guattari provides a viable theoretical model for implementing this schizoanalytic work in the study of society and culture, particularly ethnographic studies. If their work had previously suffered from a lack of direct methodological relevance to the social sciences, Guattari's dynamic conception of the three ecologies of human life should provide scholars with a model by which to implement future schizoanalytic studies of contemporary culture -- as well as historians with a vivid approach to earlier periods of human history: By examining the representations and lived realities of these three ecologies -- as Deleuze and Guattari did rather implicitly in A Thousand Plateaus -- thorough analyses of culture manifest. For those familiar with A Thousand Plateaus, "The Three Ecologies" should act as an interesting counterpoint; for those approaching A Thousand Plateaus for the first time, "The Three Ecologies" should prove a provocative introduction to the earlier text.

The translators' notes, for all their length, are more distracting than illuminating. For those readers who are well read in Deleuze and Guattari, most of the notes are rather redundant, pointing to places in Guattari's solo work and his work with Deleuze for refrains of similar themes and vocabulary. Rather than pointing to how connected Guattari is with the larger world of contemporary theory and aesthetics, Pindar and Sutton entrench him further in the insular world of Deleuze and Guattari's scholarship -- which, despite its potential, is stunted by such tactics. For a contribution from Guattari that has broad applicability and potential for use in a number of future studies, this is a bit of a disappointment. That being said, their introduction helps to situate "The Three Ecologies" in the broader field, both of Guattari's work and latter-day ecological struggle. Like much of Guattari's earlier work, without Deleuze, this work has overt political importance, and should provide many activists with ways of thinking about their action. While Guattari's language, even when discussing the most straightforward of political matters, can be rather obscure, the translators' introduction should prove useful for those with anxieties about approaching critical theory as it provides a number of ways in to "The Three Ecologies" and Guattari's work as a whole.

Genosko's contribution is a rather interesting, if not immediately applicable, study of Guattari's scholastic career through his shifting sense of "transversality" -- his re-theorizing of Freudian transference based upon his career in Le Borde, a progressive French asylum for schizophrenics. While Genosko's study does little to elucidate "The Three Ecologies," it does provide a wide-ranging, and engagingly written, introduction to Guattari's work. For new readers to Guattari's work, Genosko's essay should provide an excellent first step towards doing such and might be read before reading "The Three Ecologies." By examining Guattari's influences, from Sarte to Freud and Lacan, Genosko situates him in the field of psychoanalytic theory, usefully revitalizing many of Lacan's and Freud's ideas by coupling them with Sarte's existential sociology. For cultural thinkers that employ sociological and anthropological methodologies coupled with psychoanalytic theories, Genosko shows how applicable, and necessary, Guattari's thinking is. By doing so, his contribution to The Three Ecologies is much like Guattari's own, helping to insinuate Guattari in the larger field of cultural studies. While problematic, The Three Ecologies is a potentially useful collection of work by and about Guattari. It may, however, in its present format, prove difficult for many to use, but for educators and informed readers, this is an essential introduction to Guattari and the relevance of his thinking to cultural theory.

Matthew Wolf-Meyer