Critical Naturalism from the Margins
Mariana Teixeira
Krisis 2023, 43 (1): 159-163.
The prior issue of Krisis (42:1) published Critical Naturalism: A Manifesto, with the aim to
instigate a debate of the issues raised in this manifesto the necessary re-thinking of the role
(and the concept) of nature in critical theory in relation to questions of ecology, health, and
inequality. Since Krisis considers itself a place for philosophical debates that take contempo-
rary struggles as starting point, it issued an open call and solicited responses to the manifesto.
This is one of the sixteen selected responses, which augment, specify, or question the assump-
tions and arguments of the manifesto.
Apocalyptic capitalism, Critical naturalism, Neoliberalism, Neo-extractivism,
World periphery
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC
BY 4.0). © 2023 The author(s).
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
Critical Naturalism from the Margins
Mariana Teixeira
The manifesto as form. In a historical moment when scholars of all research fields are contin-
uously expected to comply with performance measurements which are ever more focused on
quantifiable, individualized productivity metrics, a tendency proliferates in academic philoso-
phy to play it safe. After all, at stake is more than the prospect of a distinctive career path
towards international recognition and its perks, as it were, but the very possibility of guaran-
teeing one’s livelihood as a professional researcher. In this context, investing time and energy
to produce a collectively authored piece that, while well researched and skilful, does not fit
the traditional standards for evaluating academic production and overtly champions a conten-
tious theoretical position, seems as risky as it is necessary.
Traditional and Critical Naturalism. The chief statements of the manifesto for Critical Natu-
ralism published in the previous issue of Krisis (Gregoratto et al. 2022) are spelled out in its
Section One by way of eleven theses. Among its (in my view very compelling) claims, it urges
us to recognize the inextricable connection between the projects of independence from, and
domination of, nature (theses 4 and 5), and argues that although a utopian drive, it is necessary
to reimagine the relationship between nature and society (thesis 11), otherwise the repression
of nature will continue to return in the form of symptoms that are at the same time unbearable
and subject to be perpetuated via management techniques (theses 1 and 2).
Echoing Marx’s notorious eleventh thesis ad Feuerbach “Philosophers have hitherto only
interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” (Marx 1978 [1845], 7) ,
perhaps the sixth thesis for Critical Naturalism encapsulates the crux of the proposal: “Most
Critical Theory has hitherto only denaturalized the social in various ways, the point is also to
renaturalize it. Relations of domination in society are embodied materially, biologically, tech-
nologically, habitually, and institutionally, and so is the resistance to them” (Gregoratto et al.
2022, 108). By introducing the word “also” in their formulation, the authors of the Critical
Naturalism manifesto avoid the long discussion present in historical materialism about whether
Marx was advocating for revolutionary praxis to replace theory, or rather for both to be con-
sciously articulated in their dialectical unity. Since here the point is to renaturalize the social
as well as to denaturalize it, the manifesto clearly intends to avoid an either/or stance. It
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
recognizes the emancipatory drive behind Critical Theory’s challenging of the natural charac-
ter of deeply social categories humanity, gender, race, freedom, and so many others and
its liberating pressure against relations of domination; at the same time, it insists that nature
exists and should not be subsumed under the social: natural determinations are mutable and
variable, but they not only cannot be manipulated ad infinitum, they can also harbour a reser-
voir of emancipatory impulses (thesis 8). Critical Naturalism proposes, however, in yet another
contrast to “traditional naturalism”, an expanded and processual concept of nature, one that
moves between stability and precariousness (thesis 9) and is the fabric of plural forms of sci-
entific and aesthetic experiences (thesis 10).
I am very much receptive to the theses proposed by Gregoratto, Ikäheimo, Renault, Särkelä,
and Testa in Section One of their manifesto, as my own work on the ambiguity and dilaceration
between nature and society, or spirit, can attest (Teixeira 2022 and 2023). In my view some
issues arise, however, in the next sections. Here I will focus on one aspect of the historical
diagnoses intended to demonstrate the need for Critical Naturalism.
Whose welfare? The three interconnected challenges singled out in the manifesto as eminently
pressing for contemporary social critique are the dismantlement of the welfare state, the envi-
ronmental catastrophe, and the healthcare crisis. My intention here is not to dispute that these
are in fact pressing issues of the present time, but rather to situate the first one in its geopolitical
location in the capitalist world system, and argue that the need for Critical Naturalism might
be even more pronounced if we consider the challenges posed by capitalism beyond the bor-
ders of the hegemonic countries of the North Atlantic.
In the first historical diagnosis, the manifesto clearly refers to the current stage of capitalist
development, commonly termed neoliberalism, and its assault on the reproduction of social
life on the planet. Less clear is the reason why this phenomenon is formulated in terms of the
dismantlement of the welfare state, since the authors acknowledge that “this attack is indeed
experienced everywhere on our planet, and not only in countries where welfare institutions
have regulated social reproduction” (Gregoratto et al. 2022, 110). By framing the calamitous
sharpening of social-economic inequalities and the precarization of life in this way, one risks
not only treating the specific shapes neoliberal capitalism takes in the peripheries of the world
as secondary or derivative as theories of dependency and world-systems have questioned
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
(e.g., Gunder Frank 1966) , but also rendering invisible the fact that the welfare of European
workers was also achieved at the expense of populations and their environments outside Eu-
Neoliberal and apocalyptic capitalism. Taking the experience of capitalism in the peripheries
as a reference point illuminates phenomena that would render the first diagnosis even bleaker
than the dismantling of the welfare state. Neo-extractivist (Acosta 2013) enterprises sponsored
by international corporations and enforced in the Global South by local elites and governments,
for instance, have genocidal and ecocidal consequences that allow us to speak with Rita Laura
Segato (2018, 11) of an apocalyptic phase of capitalism. The humanitarian crisis of the
Yanomami peoples in the Amazon region that recently hit the headlines of the international
press (e.g. Al Jazeera 2023; Boadle and Nomiyama 2023; Gozzi 2023; John and Pedroso 2023;
2023; and Philips 2023) laid bare the intricate entwinement of the overexploitation of natural
resources through illegal mining, the international financial system and the laundering of crim-
inal activities, government neglect, corruption, and downright sabotage, leading to the devas-
tation of the natural, material, social, and cultural conditions of life in the region, culminating
in mass deaths among the indigenous populations (particularly children) caused by famine and
severe malnourishment, mercury poisoning, rapes, diseases ranging from pneumonia and
worm infestations to malaria and flu epidemics, pure violence, and suicides. This tragedy pro-
vides a painfully exemplary entry point for grasping the constitutive entanglement between
the challenges facing social critique today, and which Critical Naturalism wants to tackle.
Critical Naturalism from the margins. The issue discussed here hints at the need to strive for
an openness to the realities of the peripheries of the world, as well as to their theoretical con-
tributions to this debate. When Yanomami Shaman and activist Davi Kopenawa says, for in-
stance, that “What the white people call ‘nature’s protection’ is actually us, the forest people,
those who have lived under the cover of its trees since the beginning of time” (Kopenawa and
Albert 2013 [2010], 398), he urges us to a renewed, eminently non-dualistic practical under-
standing of the nature-society relation.
Considering that theory as well as praxis are both individual and collective, the intention of
this brief commentary is to accept the invitation spelled out in the manifesto to broaden it by
experimenting with inputs from other standpoints. Labelled as “natural” par excellence, the
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
margins outside the “civilized”, de-naturalized center have a vital role in the reimagination
and re-naturalization of the social beyond the reification of nature as the site of exploitable
resources inhabited by populations often either villainized as barbaric or romanticized as un-
Acosta, Alberto. 2013. “Extractivism and Neo-Extractivism: Two Sides of the Same Curse”. In Beyond Devel-
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Al Jazeera. 2023. “Calls for Action as Brazil Yanomami Indigenous People Face Crisis”. January 24, 2023.
Boadle, Anthony, and Chizu Nomiyama. 2023. “Brazil Declares Emergency Over Deaths of Yanomami Children
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Gozzi, Laura. 2023. “Brazil Airlifts Starving Yanomami Tribal People From Jungle.” BBC, January 22, 2023.
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ralism: A Manifesto.” Krisis | Journal for Contemporary Philosophy 42 (1): 10824.
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John, Tara, and Rodrigo Pedroso. 2023. “The Yanomami People Lived in Harmony with Nature. Invaders Turned
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Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
Mariana Teixeira works as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. She is also
Associate Researcher at the Brazilian Centre for Analysis and Planning in São Paulo, Brazil, and Adjunct Editor
of Dissonancia: Critical Theory Journal. She is co-editor, with Arthur Bueno and David Strecker, of De-Cen-
tering Global Sociology: The Peripheral Turn in Social Theory and Research (Routledge, 2022).