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3. Rachel Carson and Silent Spring

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In this module, we think about the life and work of the American marine biologist and environmentalist Rachel Carson, focusing in particular on: (i) her background and training as a marine biologist and successful publishing career prior to the release of her most famous work Silent Spring (1962); (ii) the rapid growth of chemical pesticides during the Second World War, particularly the reasons for the popularity of DDT; (iii) how and why Cason came to be concerned about the impact of DDT on human and nonhuman health; (iv) Carson’s stylistic verve and efforts to write a book in equal parts readable and scientifically rigorous; (v) Carson’s suggested alternatives to chemical pesticides, including biological controls; and (vi) Carson’s legacy and enduring status in the ecological movement.


In this course, Professor Matthew Humphrey (University of Nottingham) thinks about ecologism as a political ideology by surveying five key thinkers to illustrate both the diversity of ecological thought, and its core unifying themes. We begin in the first module by developing a definition of ecologism and considering how to organise its various ideological strands, focusing in particular on the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess’s distinction between the ‘shallow’ and ‘deep’ ecology movements. We then begin our survey of key thinkers with the American conservationist Aldo Leopold, focusing in particular on his philosophy of the ‘land ethic’. Then, in the third module, we consider the life and work of Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring is widely considered to have catalysed the modern environmentalist movement. In the fourth module, we foreground the German economist Ernst Friedrich Schumacher and examine the impact of his book Small is Beautiful (1973) on the ecologism movement. Our fourth key thinker is Carolyn Merchant, whose ecofeminism argued that the domination of nature was intimately linked to unequal gender relations. We end with the anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin, who maintained that the root cause of environmental crises were the dual evils of hierarchy and domination within human societies, relations which he argued were then projected onto the natural world.


Matthew Humphrey is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Nottingham. He specialises in three areas of political theory in particular: (i) the theory of environmental politics; (ii) analytical political philosophy and theories of justice; and (iii) theories of ideology.

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APA style

Humphrey, M. (2019, September 29). Ecologism - Rachel Carson and Silent Spring [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Humphrey, M. "Ecologism – Rachel Carson and Silent Spring." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 29 Sep 2019,

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