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Nathalie Blanc and Agnès Sander

Speculative fiction as a literary genre is a test of the renewed relation to nature presented as possible reality. The vision of nature presented by some science fiction and fantasy authors varies along these lines. The hypothesis underlying the present article is that these "speculative fiction–proposed natures" force us to rethink the rapport between time and space. Therefore, we need to examine to what extent science fiction and fantasy, focused on the preparation of an uncertain future, play on the links between time and nature and reconfigure both the agencies and the aesthetic situations that serve as experiments.

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Steve Yearley

Despite significant increases in social scientific studies of the environment, there has recently been a narrowing of focus. Increasingly, sociologists have looked at claims and counterclaims about specific environmental problems while missing the broader question of the cultural and social character of environmental concern itself. Only social anthropologists and some social theorists have continued to investigate this issue. In this paper it is argued that McKibben's work offers a useful starting point for examining the meaning of environmental worries since his writings offer a form of "phenomenology" of our concerns for nature. In this paper, this "phenomenology" is subject to a critical review and assessment.

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Sabine Hofmeister

This article is based on the thesis that wilderness as a cultural value emerges where it has been lost as a geographical and material phenomenon. In Europe the idea of wilderness experienced a surprising upswing at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, with wilderness tours, wilderness education, and self-experience trips into “wilderness” becoming widely established. Also, protection of “wilderness areas” which refers to such different phenomena as large forests, wild gardens, and urban wild is very much in demand. Against this background, the article looks into the material-ecological and symbolic-cultural senses of “wilderness” in the context of changing social relations to nature. Three forms of wilderness are distinguished. Adopting a socio-ecological perspective, the article builds on contemporary risk discourse.

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Sabine Weiland

The bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis challenged one of the basis principles of modernity: the divide between nature and society. In a case study on the German agricultural sector, I analyze how the societal actors responded in order to cope with the crisis. In their attempt to re-establish the division between nature and society, they employed the ambivalences of this relationship for strategic purposes. The actors sought to relocate or to newly define the boundary in line with their own ideas and interests. It can be seen how "nature" was frequently used as legitimizing ground in the narratives. The analysis of the politics of nature aims to add a process dimension to Latourian diagnosis of the eroding nature-society divide.

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The Relocation of Transcendence

Using Schutz to Conceptualize the Nature Experiences of Secular People

David Thurfjell, Cecilie Rubow, Atko Remmel and Henrik Ohlsson

Denmark, Estonia, and Sweden are, if measured by certain sociological criteria, considered to be three of the world’s most secular countries. Nature—forests, pristine beaches, and the countryside—plays a specific role in the allegedly secular discourse of the mainstream populations of these nations. Not only is it almost without exception deemed as a positive asset worthy of protection, it is also thought of as holding certain existential qualities. Based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviews, this article suggests that Alfred Schutz’s conceptualization of transcendence—further developed by Thomas Luckmann—can be used to describe the existential experiences in nature of contemporary secular people. The article results in a suggestion for an operational definition of transcendence.

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Satoshi Abe

In addressing mounting environmental problems in recent years, many Iranian environmentalists have increasingly adapted discourses and implemented programs that are modeled on scientific ecology. Does this mean the verbatim transfer of Western scientific modernity in Iran? My analyses suggest otherwise. This article explores the unique ways in which a burgeoning environmental awareness unfolds in Iranian contexts by investigating how conceptions of "nature" shape the environmentalists' discourses and practices. It appears that an ecological scientific conception of nature is becoming an important frame of reference among such environmentalists. However, another conception of nature-one framed in relation to Iranian nationhood-makes a key contribution to environmentalism in Iran. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in 2009-2011 in Tehran, this study demonstrates how "Iranian nature" is delineated and practiced through the environmentalists' (re)engagements with certain objects-maps, posters, and photographs-in relation to which local ways of conceptualizing nature are elaborated.

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Paul H. Gobster

Ecological restoration is becoming an increasingly popular means of managing urban natural areas for human and environmental values. But although urban ecological restorations can foster unique, positive relationships between people and nature, the scope of these interactions is often restricted to particular activities and experiences, especially in city park settings. Drawing on personal experiences and research on urban park restorations in Chicago and San Francisco, I explore the phenomenon of this "museumification" in terms of its revision of landscape and land use history, how it presents nature through restoration design and implementation, and its potential impacts on the nature experiences of park users, particularly children. I conclude that although museum-type restorations might be necessary in some cases, alternative models for the management of urban natural areas may provide a better balance between goals of achieving authenticity in ecological restorations and authenticity of nature experiences.

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Jari Lyytimäki

How can humor illustrate critical trends related to social, economic, and ecological sustainability? This article is based on a case study that focused on the film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) and two related short films—Rare Exports Inc. (2003) and Rare Exports: Official Safety Instructions (2005). These fantasy films employ irony and dark humor that reverse the popular impressions related to Santa Claus and his elves and, more generally, exotic northern nature and culture. By representing the gentle Santa Claus as a savage hybrid creature brutally punishing those not adhering to certain social norms, these films break several conventional dichotomies between good and evil, human and animal, and society and nature. The use of dark humor and irony may compromise attempts to create public understanding based on best available scientific knowledge, but it also opens up complementary and potentially fruitful ways to discuss sustainability issues. Irony provides opportunities to identify and criticize unsustainable trends and to challenge and disclose dichotomies that may otherwise remain unnoticed.

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Andrew McCumber

This article analyzes the tension between the built and intrinsic elements that constitute Santa Barbara, California, as a place, by investigating two related questions: How is Santa Barbarans’ sense of place impacted by citywide cultural preferences for a specific plant aesthetic? and How have recent drought conditions affected that plant aesthetic, and its population’s cultural relationship to nature and the environment? The analysis focuses primarily on two key informant interviews, with Madeline Ward, the city’s water conservation coordinator, and Timothy Downey, the city arborist, and is further supported by ethnographic field notes. I argue that the California drought has brought parallel changes to both the city’s physical appearance and its residents’ aesthetic preferences regarding plants. This has further prompted changes to popular conceptions of Santa Barbara as a place, stemming from residents’ desire for an aesthetic that is better in tune with the ecological conditions of the area.

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Jennifer Foster

This paper considers the transformation of two decommissioned rail lines, in Paris and New York City, into ecologically-oriented green space. Situating the restoration of these rail lines within dominant trajectories of urbanization helps to understand how ecological restoration projects may function as financial instruments that intensify experiences of social injustice. This paper considers how the design and aesthetics of New York's High Line and Paris' Sentier Nature construct ecologies that also produce environmental subjectivities, and how these spaces reflect uneven investment in nature across urban landscapes. While the two case studies are aesthetically distinct, they are both woven into existing global patterns of urban transformation, and their evolution from disused industrial space to public park shares an emotional attachment to safety that demands removal of threatening inhabitants.