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Environment and History

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Environment and History

The Cunning of Unreason and Nature's Revolt: Max Horkheimer and William Leiss on the Domination of Nature

Helen Denham

Environment and History 3(1997): 149-175

The domination of nature is a concept now fraught with negative connotations; however, it was not always thus. In this article I explore the positive, neutral, and negative meanings attached to the idea of mastery and domination of nature as it was used by Max Horkheimer, director of the Institute of Social Research from 1931-1959, and by a second generation of the Frankfurt School, William Leiss. At issue are two questions. First, what were the social conditions considered by Horkheimer and Leiss that turned human interaction with and control of non-human nature into an exploitative relationship? And second, what did it mean for them to conceive of non-human nature as an active agent in its own right?

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