What If There Were Different Ecologies? Guattari’s Ethico-Political Project

By Filippo Greggi.

Despite shallow arguments and inadequate space reserved in dealing with these issues by the media - which nowadays are our principal, if not the only, source of information - the emergence of thoughts and reflections about the risks of human activities for the environment has deep roots, such that the current weak treatment may no longer be stood. The genealogy is complex, and it does not deserve to be summed up here roughly. However, it seems helpful to choose an essay that, for its striking content and the moment in which it was written, could place itself either as an answer for the present or as a reminder for a problem risen for a long time but still unsolved.

The text in question is Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, written in 1989. The original, global, approach to the matter replays, in a certain sense, the activism of the French author in different realms - psychoanalysis, philosophy, politics - always undertaken to make them work together, or, using his words, transversally [1]. As everyone could correctly intuit, the first claim of the book concerns a rethinking of our concept of ecology, here considered under a broader extension and in all its urgency for the possible tragic dead-ends of climate change. By trespassing a dichotomic and anthropocentric vision of nature and culture, which cannot be sustained anymore, Guattari proposes a tripartition between mental, social and environmental ecology. These are the “three ecological registers” of ecosophy, an “ethico-political articulation” intended to overcome, in answering to environmental questions, the impasse of a “purely technocratic perspective” [2] which tends to analyze nature abstracting it from its material conditions and relations.

Besides Arne Næss, the main reference of ecosophy is Gregory Bateson, who is quoted in the incipit of this essay. Nevertheless, this discipline is pushed further by Guattari in all its political implications for a radical reconfiguration of life, society and human role in nature:

The only true response to the ecological crisis is on a global scale, provided that it brings about an authentic political, social and cultural revolution, reshaping the objectives of the production of both material and immaterial asset. [3]

An equal importance needs thus to be reserved to our collective imagery, sensibility and desire as they are forged not only by social conditions but also by fluxes of information surrounding us. Using Bateson’s words: “There is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds.” [4]

Starting from a brief and general analysis of his contemporary situation, Guattari stresses the paradox of the techno-scientific development which draws solutions to ecological issues and, at the same time, is followed by “the inability of organized social forces and constituted subjective formations to take hold of these resources in order to make them work.” [5] We begin to see the close interdependence of the three ecologies: a right utilization of the resources, e. g., is not conceivable within capitalistic subjectivities, whether they be individual or collective. Every component cannot be thought and developed without involving the others. There is no hierarchical or chronological order between them, there are modes of subjectification (the subject is nothing but the terminal, “the crossroads of multiple components”[6]) and collective assemblages that cross and populate nature which is at the same time the place where they can unfold their potentialities. Regarding the usage of techno-scientific progress, as long as social labor will be finalized by capitalism it will be impossible to devise a non-profit application of human work, activities and products in order to provide the world of a livable configuration for every being. The common principle of the three ecologies, indeed, is to achieve a praxis of disclosing the existential Territories to virtuous construction that allow them “to be made ‘habitable’ by a human project”. Existential Territories are “finite, familiar, constrained world” [7] where the virtual has become real and, so long as we consider ecosophy as a practice, an ethic and an art of being within the world, this work of opening-out human/non-human cooperation can be considered as “the essence of ‘eco’-art” [8].

Although it is a relative short essay, the suggestions for new paths and reflections are several (the recent works of Franco Bifo Berardi and Mark Fisher, for instance, about mental health and neoliberal ideology) and this little effort of sketching out a brief account of its main proposals does not do justice to the complexity and the richness of the work itself, which should be deepened in respect of Guattari’s wide and nuanced production and, why not, his intense life. As I mentioned, a relevant aspect highlighted here is the weight and the hegemony of mass media, for as much they give us the contents for the formation of our collective imagery, which plays an essential role in the way we act every day - right now characterized by a “pervasive atmosphere of dullness and passivity” [9]. At this purpose he emphasises, as a central point for social ecology, “the transition from the mass-media era to a post-media age[10], where the media will be handled by multiple groups in a creative and constructive way, with an interactive participation of the users and the deployment of new meanings, ideas and words to span the real and assemble the future.


[1] Félix Guattari, Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955-1971 (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2015)

[2] Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies (London and New Brunswick, New Jersey: The Athlone Press, 2000), 28

[3] Guattari, The Three Ecologies, 28

[4] Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972), 484, in Guattari, The Three Ecologies, 27

[5] Guattari, The Three Ecologies, 31

[6] Guattari, The Three Ecologies, 36

[7] Gary Genosko, Félix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction (London and New York: Continuum, 2002), 58

[8] Guattari, The Three Ecologies, 53

[9] Guattari, The Three Ecologies, 69

[10] Guattari, The Three Ecologies, 61