Carl G. Herndl, Stuart C. Brown, eds. Green Culture: Environmental Rhetoric in Contemporary America. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996. xii + 315 pp. $21.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-299-14994-9; $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-299-14990-1.
Reviewed by Mark Meister (University of Nebraska, Lincoln)
Published on H-PCAACA (November, 1996)
The Greening of America--Rhetoric, Not Reich
From national environmental policies to campus-wide recycling programs, the "greening" of America is certainly an active drama played out on the American cultural landscape. Public discourse about the environment and environmentalism's status as a social movement are extremely popular areas of study in a diverse range of academic disciplines. Contributing its rhetorical perspective as a means for understanding American environmentalism is this collection of eleven essays written by academics housed in English and Communication Studies departments.
Green Culture is an excellent resource for those interested in the social construction of nature, and how nature functions symbolically in American society. The essays in this edited volume predominately address questions concerning the language, or rhetoric, of environmentalism, and in this way, all the essays provide fine examples of "green" rhetorical criticism. Three of the edition's essays address the rhetorical strategies involved in American nature writing (Jimmie Killingsworth and Jacqueline Palmer, Lewis Ulman, and Scott Slovic); four other essays focus on risk communication and environmental education at the local level (Steven Katz and Carolyn Miller, Craig Waddell, and James G. Cantrill); and the remaining four essays address other aspects of American environmentalism (Robert Brown and Carl Herndl, Martha Cooper, Gregory Clark, Michael Halloran and Allison Woodford, and Charles Bergman).
Missing from this collection, however, is a series of essays addressing environmentalism and popular culture. In the editors' introduction, Herndl and Brown formulate a model for the study of environmental rhetoric predominantly influenced by the writings of Kenneth Burke. The model, loosely adapted from Ogden and Richard's rhetorical triangle, describes three types of environmental discourse. At the triangle's apex is the category of "nature as resource" (ethnocentric), while the categories of "nature as spirit" (ecocentric) and "nature as object" (anthropocentric) make up the remaining points of the triangle. The essays contained in Green Culture address the categories of this model for environmental discourse in a very "academic" way, neglecting to point out that popular culture contributes much to our understanding of environmentalism. Certainly the environmental themes apparant in popular culture can "fit" into the categories of Herndl and Brown's model, and it is certainly true that popular culture is the most "ordinary" means that many of us have in experiencing environmentalism. Unfortunately, no essay is devoted to the study of environmentalism and popular culture in Green Culture. The absence of such an essay is striking, particularly if one believes--as I do--that we experience a plethora of environmental themes in popular culture. We experience environmentalism on television (commericals for sport utility vehicles come to mind) on the radio (country music is often full of environmental themes), and in magazines (print advertisements often use nature as a scene for promoting and selling products). I do not think that editors of and contributors to Green Culture would contend that the environmental themes in popular culture are not rhetorical, but an analysis of its influence is missing in the book--particularly in considering its focus on "Environmental Rhetoric in Contemporary America."
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Mark Meister. Review of Herndl, Carl G.; Brown, Stuart C., eds., Green Culture: Environmental Rhetoric in Contemporary America.
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