Hillary Oppelmayer

Research project: The End of the Concept of Nature in the Anthropocene


The research departs from the Anthropocene debates (Crutzen) and after-nature claims (Marris) and scrutinizes the concept of nature used in ecological debate. This will show that the concept of nature is already extremely problematic in this literature and studies what is taking its place. The research examines leading American ecologists, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and Howard Odum. The specificity of their research and inventions seems to have made the reliant, general concept of nature obsolete. This project shows how they displace the concept of nature towards a topographic land ethic (Leopold), a geo-planetary formation (Carson) and an energetic system (Odum). When starting to research Leopold, even though most of Leopold's secondary sources believe that he is the nature writer of the twentieth century, it became evident that he rarely uses the concept. Interestingly, in the place of an absent concept of nature, there can be found other concepts, like the cynegetics or the land, intended not as a global but a local emphasis, not in a constitutive manner but rather from a place with a more practical and specific relationship with the environment. Leopold studied and worked most of his adult life in the U.S. Forestry Service, which gives him a completely different orientation already and an internally specified approach toward the environment. There is a specificity in his thinking about the forest, game species, the land, and the mountain that would seem to make redundant any general concepts of nature. The preliminary works on Carson and Odum also point to a reluctant use of the concept of nature. This raises the research questions: Why is the concept of nature so underdeveloped in ecological literature, given that it is so important in philosophical discourse? What takes the place of the concept of nature in ecological literature? Could these ecological, replaced concepts be useful for a philosophical discourse?


In 2019/2020, I obtained my BA in Art History from the University of Vienna. Then I completed my MA at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) in 2021. Since March of 2022, I am pleased to be a PhD student at the CRMEP under the supervision of Howard Caygill and Stella Sanford. 

Areas of research interest

  • Contemporary Continental Philosophy
  • Critical Theory
  • Ecology
  • Thermodynamics


  • MA in Philosophy & Contemporary Critical Theory, Kingston University
  • BA in Art History, University of Vienna