In The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities, ed. Ursula Heise, Jon Christensen, and Michelle Niemann, 138-143. Routledge, 2017.
Abstract: Humans see distinctions between artifacts, which are constructed by human hands with human ingenuity, and nature, which we tend to think of as somehow not made by humans even if we acknowledge that little nature is left untouched by humans. An artifact at its core is related to the word artificial, meaning made by human hands through art or craft. The word has a long history going back to the classical Latin artificialis and is most often used to represent the opposite of natural, a word which then implies not manmade. These distinctions play into how scholars in the humanities approach environmental topics, which tend to position artifact as something that modifies (often negatively) nature. However, in this article I propose that, for nonhumans, artifacts are part of their habitat. While artifacts may not be natural, they are part of nature.
I used this article as the basis of a talk “Making a user turn in the environmental humanities” given during a graduate school in Tallinn, Estonia, in January 2017. You can watch the talk online.