The Shifting Topology of Environmentalism: Human-Environment Relationships and Conceptual Trends in Two North American Organizational Histories

in Nature and Culture
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This article approaches environmentalism as a way of positioning ourselves in relation to the world around us. It traces transformations in how two prominent North American environmental groups—the Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club—conceptualize environmentalism's objects, objectives, and ideal human-environment relationship. Historical narratives highlighting how and why these organizations have redrawn their conceptual maps demonstrate that while mainstream environmentalism's prevailing topology once placed humans apart from and above the environment, the contemporary movement appears to be approaching a more inclusive vision that admits humans as an integral part of the environment. Yet because including human activities and concerns within environmental agendas is neither free from pragmatic problems nor invulnerable to ideological challenges, the article also considers how the same broad conceptual trends that have facilitated the reconceptualization of human-environment relationships may also concurrently complicate it.