Eco-Technics: Notes on the Thought of Jean-Luc Nancy

by | 28 Feb 2013


Nancy coins the term eco-technics to describe the current global politico-economic conjuncture. Hillis Miller explains: ‘“Eco” comes from the Greek word oikos, the house or home. The prefix “eco-” is used more broadly now to refer to the total environment within which one or another “living” creature “dwells”’ (Hillis Miller 2012, 66). Thus, at stake in the term is the manner in which the ‘eco’ is technologically determined and enframed.

For Nancy, ecotechnics is closely associated with globalization, which he suggests should be analysed as a double phenomenon: that is as the ecotechnological enframing of the world in global capitalism, and the mondialisation or world-formation that ‘maintains the reference to the world’s horizon, as a space of human relations, as a space of meaning held in common’ (Raffoul and Pettigrew 2007, 2). In this sense, ecotechnics is an aspect of the critique of globalization. It implies a triple division of the world: ‘the division of the rich from the poor; the division of the integrated from the excluded; and the division of North from the South’ (Nancy 2000, 135). It is a ‘political-economic’ constellation that can be distinguished from sovereignty: ecotechnics ‘damages, weakens and upsets the functioning of all sovereignties, except for those that in reality coincide with ecotechnical power’ (Nancy 2000, 135-6).

A point of comparison can be made with ‘biopolitics’. Where biopolitics emphasises the association between life (bios/zoe) and politics, ecotechnics puts its emphasis on the manner in which the world is technologically enframed. Instead of the politics of life with its originary fracture (zoe/bios), Nancy suggests that ‘it is… a destinal figure (‘race’ or ‘the human worker’) that comes to substitute for the classical figures of sovereignty’ (Nancy 2007, 94). The destinal figures of ‘race’ or ‘the human worker’ become realigned as ‘natural life,’ yet they no longer coincide with some form of simple ‘life’. Rather, it is clear that so-called ‘natural life’, from its production to its conservation, its needs, and its representations, whether human, animal, vegetal or viral, is henceforth inseparable from a set of conditions that are referred to as ‘technological,’ and which constitute what must rather be named ecotechnology where any kind of ‘nature’ develops for us (and by us). (Nancy 2007, 94)

Most importantly for Nancy, biopolitics forms a world which is becoming un-world (immonde). ‘A world is precisely that in which there is room for everyone: but a genuine place, one in which things can genuinely take place’ (Nancy 2007, 42). Biopolitics names the process of the management of life, wherein it is reduced to ‘bare life’ and denied a genuine ‘taking place’. The space of the camp very clearly demonstrates this attempt to negate ‘world-forming’ (see Agamben 1998, 1999, 2005). Nancy suggests that the ‘‘world’ in these conditions, or ‘world-forming,’ is only the precise form of [biopolitics]’ (Nancy 2007, 95). In this sense, he redirects the analysis of biopolitics to the question of ‘world-forming’ and more specifically, ecotechnics.


—Agamben, G (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press)
—Agamben, G (1999) Remnants of Auschwitz (New York: Zone Books)
—Agamben, G (2005) State of Exception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)
—Hillis Miller, J (2012) ‘Ecotechnics’, in Cohen, T Telemorphosis: Theory in the Era of Climate Change Vol 1, (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press)
—James, I (2005) ‘On Interrupted Myth,’ 9.4 Journal for Cultural Research, p331
—Nancy, J-L (1991) The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)
—Nancy, J-L (1993) The Experience of Freedom (Stanford: Stanford University Press)
—Nancy, J-L (2000) Being Singular Plural, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)
—Nancy, J-L (2007) The Creation of the World, (New York: State University of New York Press)
—Nancy, J-L (2008) Philosophical Chronicles, (New York: Fordham University Press)
—Nancy, J-L (2012) ‘From the imperative to law’ in Hutchens, B, Jean Luc Nancy, Justice, Legality and World, (London: Continuum)
—Nancy, J-L and Lacoue-Labarthes, P (1997) Retreating the political, (Abingdon: Routledge)
—Raffoul, F and Pettigrew, D (2007) ‘Translator’s Introduction’, in Nancy, J-L, The Creation of the World (New York: State University of New York Press)


  1. I appreciate the use of the term “Ecotechnics” to define a new paradigm of a biological-technical interface, or the description of a new wastewater company. But the truth be told, it was first articulated by Joseph Needham, the renouned Sinologist. Cambridge University has an entire library named after the erudite author of the thirty-three volume set titled, “Science and Civilization in China’.
    Mr. Needham coined the term to describe the range of Chinese sciences which relied on direct observation of the natural world. As alchemy is to chemistry, as astrology is to astronomy, so ecotechnics was an essential stepping stone to, and at times ahead of, modern science.

    • Thanks Craig. I’m pretty sure this was not what Nancy is talking about when he coined his iteration of the term. Illan


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