Rights of Nature

Picture of a river

“Trans-species Listening and the Rights of Nature: Legal Persons beyond the Human”
Special Cluster in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (Summer 2020)
Edited by Jeffrey Nicolaisen, Ambika Aiyadurai, Prasenjit Duara

The legal traditions of liberal democracy and human rights relied on the exceptionalism of the human whether derived from rationality, the soul, or the “dignity of man.” These notions originated in the entanglement of Christian notions of the human with the formation of the secular sphere in Europe and spread across the world to define a global political configuration often termed “modernity.” Rapid and unprecedented ecological changes, however, shone light on the insufficiency of a regime of rights restricted to humans. Simultaneously, the recognition of the devastating impact of colonization on indigenous peoples sparked a global movement to grant rights to these communities and drew attention to the diverse ways indigenous communities related with non-humans. While the first non-humans to receive recognition as legal persons may have been corporations, the “rights of nature” extend the recognition of legal persons to rivers, mountains, and non-human animals. This special issue aims to think about the global rights of nature movement by transcending the assumptions of modernity and listening not only across human cultures but also across species.

Legal concepts of “nature” and “rights” are both non-native to many indigenous cultures and certainly to non-humans. However, the global “rights of nature” movement aims to recognize subaltern cosmologies and non-humans using state legal frameworks. While some legal scholars and indigenous communities have embraced the concept of “rights of nature,” others have intentionally acted outside of formal state governance as illustrated by such global agreements among non-state actors as the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth. These movements provide formal ways to unite otherwise diverse and distinct nature-cultures. How do these universalizing frameworks harmonize differing concepts of life? Do they truly represent the interests of nonhumans or are they proxies for human rights? Which forms of life are included and which are excluded? In a special issue on Trans-species Listening and Rights of Nature, we aim to approach these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective including contribution from eco-criticism, indigenous studies, anthropology, political science, and religious studies.

People of the Water: El Río, The Shape of Water, and the Rights of Nature
​​Joni Adamson, Arizona State University 

The Implications of Legal Personhood to Nonhumans: Insights from India’s Tiger Conservation
Ambika Aiyadurai, Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, India and SSRC Transnational Junior Research Fellow

The Rights of Nature in New Zealand: Conversations with Kirsti Luke and Christopher Finlayson
Hal Crimmel, Weber State University 

Managing People for the Benefit of the Land: Practicing Earth Jurisprudence in Te Urewera, New Zealand
Craig Kauffman, University of Oregon

Protecting Life in Taiwan: Can the Rights of Nature Protect All Sentient Beings?
Jeffrey Nicolaisen, Duke University