Bloomsbury, 2024

 ISBN: 978-1350263116

 Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
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Arran Stibbe is Professor of Ecological Linguistics at the University of Gloucestershire. In his description of his work there he says, “In my teaching and research I focus on how language makes us who we are as people, and the role of language in building the kind of society we live in”.

This was the topic of his previous book, published four years ago, entitled Ecolinguistics: Language, Ecology and the Stories We Live By. But in this latest one he focuses specifically on the function of narrative and the part it plays in our understanding of environmental issues, hence his coining of the term ‘econarrative,’

Narrative, he says, is “…a means of structuring the world, of ordering the complex flux of the world into a sequence of logically connected events involving a cast of characters and a location.” However, the language we use is also “…a force which creates worlds.” Fiction, for instance, creates people, places and situations that have no basis in reality.

So econarrative describes the way we structure our thinking about the natural world, and also the way in which the language we use to talk (and write) about the natural world can influence the way other people see it.

As we now know so well, the anthropocentric narrative which has shaped so much of Western society is now being revealed as the main cause of the environmental crisis in which we now find ourselves. So I believe, as this author does, that one of the ways we can tackle this problem is to gain a deeper understanding of the role played by language, and particularly of the way in which it has set us apart from all those other life forms with whom our own species is inextricably connected and interdependent.

Only by analysing the ways in which our narratives are constructed can we start to see the many ways in which they have subliminally reinforced our anthropocentric attitudes and then start rewriting them in new, more ecocentric language.

It behoves us, therefore, to study other people’s writing and to analyse it along these lines. To do this, Stibbe suggests that we first analyse our own value systems or rather, what Arne Naess called our ‘ecosophy’ – i.e. our own set of beliefs and ideas about the natural world of which we are a part – and then run whatever text we are studying through that particular filter.

The author’s aim, in writing this book, is to give us the skills to do two things: firstly to analyse what we read and to spot the many ways in which these narratives are potentially influencing our perception of the ecosystems in which we are embedded, and secondly to become skilful in constructing new econarratives that can help to re-green the attitudes of the society to which we belong.

My only fear is that because this is basically a very academic book, it may not reach the millions of people who could well benefit from its profound wisdom. Therefore I believe that our task, as readers, is to absorb this wisdom, develop our own skills in creating new econarratives and spread them widely, as part of our own work in re-greening our world.

(NB:A very useful resource for anyone interested in this author’s work is his completely free online course in ecolinguistics at the following website: https://www.storiesweliveby.org.uk/)