Tracing a Discursive Term: An Ecological Explication of the More-than-Human Construct
For this trans-disciplinary concept explication (Chaffee, 1991), I trace the definitions, connotations, and discursive functions of the focal concept more-than-human (Abram, 1997). From its roots in philosophy and cultural ecology, the more-than-human construct has found its way into many disciplines including communication, geography, philosophy, literature, and techno-science. Through scholarly use, it has become a far-reaching concept with many discursive functions. I take an ecological approach to this analytic literature review, tracing uses and functions of the more-than-human construct as one might trace a river from its source, following its splits and convergences in order to better understand its overall path. Building on Chaffee’s (1991) method of explication, I interrogate a focal concept as it is used across disciplines, mapping its role in many academic fields and communication writ large. I first review the inception of the more-than-human construct and its use as a substitute for terms that have come under contemporary critique for reaffirming and perpetuating dominant ideological orientations of human-nature separation. Next, I follow uses of the more-than-human construct as it has flowed across disciplinary boundaries in order to analyze its discursive functions. The more-than-human construct discursively functions to dismantle dominant dualistic ideologies, particularly that of the human-nature divide. Additionally, it decenters the human, discursively reducing anthropocentric power and redistributing value. Finally, it creates new imaginings for humanity itself. As a form of discursive rupture, the term illuminates ‘new’ imaginings for members of our planetary ecosystem—humans included. This essay concludes with a critical discussion on available, productive terminology.