The articles in this section were written by social scientists from different parts of the world doing research on the complex relationship between human beings and the natural environment, and on the role of cultural ideals in shaping environmental history. The interdisciplinary character of the papers generates original insights about the socio-cultural dimensions of the environmental problematic, which have been neglected when compared with economic and political dimensions. This introduction reviews the contents of the proposed special symposium and situates the articles in relation to discussions about the social role of utopias, imagined and real.
Constanza Parra and Casey Walsh
A Review of Organic Certification
Shaila Seshia Galvin
As organic food becomes more widely available, great faith is placed on the seal or logo that certifies organic status. This article treats the mark of certification as a starting rather than an end point, critically reviewing literature from diverse national and regional contexts. Exploring questions concerning the extent to which organic certification assists or undermines the goal of ecological sustainability, abets the advance of large-scale agricultural capital, and supports the livelihood of smallholder farmers, the article considers the theoretical foundations, methodologies and modes of inquiry that have guided studies of organic agriculture and certification. It brings this research into conversation with literatures on audit cultures, quality, and with ongoing nature-culture debates. Through critical review of the literature and the author's extensive fieldwork with organic smallholders in northern India, the article suggests possible directions in which the literature may be expanded and advanced.
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.
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.
There has recently been growing interest in the role of metaphors in environmentalism and nature conservation. Metaphors not only structure how we perceive and think but also how we should act. The metaphor of nature as a book provokes a different attitude and kind of nature management than the metaphor of nature as a machine, an organism, or a network. This article explores four clusters of metaphors that are frequently used in framing ecological restoration: metaphors from the domains of engineering and cybernetics; art and aesthetics; medicine and health care; and geography. The article argues that these metaphors, like all metaphors, are restricted in range and relevance, and that we should adopt a multiple vision on metaphor. The adoption and development of such a multiple vision will facilitate communication and cooperation across the boundaries that separate different kinds of nature management and groups of experts and other stakeholders.
Sanne van der Hout and Martin Drenthen
Scientists need narrative structures, metaphors, and images to explain and legitimize research practices that are usually described in abstract and technical terms. Yet, sometimes they do not take proper account of the complexity and multilayered character of their narrative self-presentations. This also applies to the narratives of ecotechnology explored in this article: the treasure quest narrative used in the field of metagenomics, and the tutorial narrative proposed by the learning-from-nature movement biomimicry. Researchers from both fields tend to underestimate the general public’s understanding of the inherent ambivalence of the narratives suggested by them; the treasure quest and tutorial narratives build upon larger master narratives that can be found throughout our culture, for instance, in literature, art, and film. We will show how these genres reveal the moral ambivalence of both narratives, using two well-known movies as illustrations: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1940).
Björn E. Berglund
Urban Emanuelsson. The Rural Landscapes of Europe: How Man has Shaped European Nature. Stockholm, Sweden: The Swedish Research Council Formas, 2009, www.formas.se.
Wapner, Paul. 2010. Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Zehner, Ozzie. 2012. Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
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.
This paper analyzes public understanding and moral reasoning with regard to regulating nature, specifically, societal efforts to control an insect population. It presents a study of a Swedish case in which a biological insecticide has been used to fight mosquitoes to reduce the nuisance to the local population. This case involves conflicting values regarding environmental protection. People's right to outdoor life is placed in opposition to long-term risks to biodiversity. Through interviews with local residents, their deliberations on the spraying are analyzed, particularly concerning to what extent and how they describe the situation in moral terms, but also how they acknowledge and use scientific findings in their argumentation.