Restoration as world-making and repair: A pragmatist agenda

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The UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration commenced in June 2021, with the expectation that ecological restoration will be vastly scaled-up internationally. Millions of hectares of the earth’s surface is projected to be restored, from forests and peatland to rivers, reefs and grasslands. This will transform restoration from a predominantly localized, community-driven field to a highly capitalized, professional activity. As the renowned biologist E. O. Wilson proposed, the twenty-first century certainly does look likely to be characterized by restoration. And yet, thus far, the still emerging field of ecological restoration has been dominated by the natural sciences, in both theory and practice, neglecting broader questions of how to live in and with restored landscapes. This paper contends that if restoration is to be significantly expanded over the next decade, the social sciences and humanities must be involved to ensure its purpose is given adequate scrutiny, by engaging wider publics of interest in scheme planning, design and implementation. This is crucial given the dominance of natural capital accounting in restoration, which privileges economic reasoning over alternative, more radical forms. Pragmatism, which has a substantive philosophical interest in the relationship between humans and their environment, can offer a distinctive orientation to inquiry conducive to collaboration between the natural and social disciplines. Focusing on waterway restoration in the United Kingdom, and drawing on social and natural science literature, this paper outlines a pragmatist research agenda that recognizes multiplicity in nature, advocates experimentation in human-environment relations, and foregrounds community in democratic renewal. The paper considers not only ways that pragmatism can inform restoration but how restoration can advance a pragmatist agenda for invigorating public life. This encourages scholars to think with not only against restoration, attending to composition as well as critique, as part of a political urban ecology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Issue number0
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2022


  • Water
  • Infrastructure
  • Restoration
  • Pragmatism
  • Urban political ecology


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