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Zev Trachtenberg

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Zev Trachtenberg


Ph.D., Columbia
Research areas: Social and Political Philosophy, Environmental Political Theory, Rousseau

Phone: (405) 325-6324

My research attempts to articulate an outlook for conceptualizing, and evaluating, human beings’ transformations of the physical environment.

I seek to ground my views in a broadly interdisciplinary empirical approach, based on current research in natural and social science. I draw on work regarding human biological and cultural evolution; I am particularly influenced by the concept of niche construction. Informed by this research I am working toward an outlook which frames anthropogenic environmental transformation as the effort to construct a niche that can provide for human flourishing—which therefore can be normatively evaluated on its success at reaching that goal. But human niche construction has an essentially political character: humans survive in their environment by means of their social relationships, the stability and justice of which are deeply influenced by political institutions. I thus theorize politics (in the broadest sense) as the governance of the social process of niche construction. I hope this theoretical effort will contribute to interpretations of environmental conditions that express political ideals, most centrally, the just provision of the conditions for human flourishing.

I am pursuing this project by investigating main authors in the canon of western political theory. I came to my basic position by considering environmental ideas in the writings of Rousseau, who has been a subject of my research since my Ph.D. I have also worked on Locke and Adam Smith, and I am currently examining a painting by the Sienese artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti. I anticipate future efforts on Aristotle, Marx, and Nietzsche.

An important context for my research is an interdisciplinary blog I administer, Inhabiting the Anthropocene. The blog is the work of a community of scholars from across OU, and beyond, who write on a variety of topics relevant to the environment. I have used my own posts to try to develop the outlook on human environmental transformation I’ve described.

I also work to support interdisciplinary work on the environment in my role as Director of OU’s Environmental Studies Program.

Recent Courses

  • PHIL 3293 Environmental Ethics
  • PHIL 3613 Philosophy of Biology
  • PHIL 3713 History of Social and Political Philosophy
  • PHIL 4713/5713 Survey of Social and Political Philosophy
  • PHIL 6793 Seminar in Social and Political Philosophy


Selected Articles

  • 'The necessity of convenience: Adam Smith’s conjectural history of the human niche,’ in Adam Smith Review, vol. 12, ed. Fonna Forman, London: Routledge, 2021.
  • ‘The ecological circumstances of politics,’ in Rethinking the Environment for the Anthropocene: Political Theory and Socionatural Relations in the New Geological Age, ed. Manuel Arias-Maldonado and Zev Trachtenberg, London: Routledge, 2019. 
  • ‘Rousseau and environmentalism,’ in The Rousseauian Mind, ed. Eve Grace and Christopher Kelly, London: Routledge, 2019.
  • ‘The anthropocene biosphere: Supporting ‘open interdisciplinarity’ through blogging.’ 2017. Lead author with 12 co-authors, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 1-3, DOI:
  • ‘(Inter)facing the Anthropocene: How to represent an interdisciplinary interaction.’ 2017. Lead author with 7 co-authors, Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 18-38,
  • ‘The Anthropocene, ethics, and the nature of nature.’ 2015. Telos, no. 172, pp. 38-58.
  • ‘Anticipating the Anthropocene.’ 2015. Earth’s Future, vol. 3, no. 9, pp. 313-316, DOI:
  • ‘Which Anthropocene is it to be? Beyond geology to a moral and public discourse.’ 2014. With Michael A. Ellis, Earth’s Future, vol. 2. DOI:
  • ‘“This habitable earth of ours:” Locke on humanity in the environment.’ 2014. In Engaging Nature, ed. Peter Cannavo and Joseph Lane, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 
  • ‘Complex green citizenship and the necessity of judgment’, Environmental Politics vol. 19, no. 3 (2010), pp. 339-355 (refereed).
  • ‘Civic fanaticism and the dynamics of pity.‘ 2009. In Rousseau and l’Infame: Religion, Toleration, and Fanaticism in the Age of Enlightenment, ed. Ourida Mostefai and John T. Scott, Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  • ‘Legitimacy and watershed collaborations: The role of public participation.‘ 2005. Primary author, with William Focht, in Swimming Upstream: Collaborative Approachs to Watershed Management, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.