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Social Construction of Nature

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Lindsay Washam

on 13 September 2016

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Transcript of Social Construction of Nature

Conflict Theory
Institutions & Culture
- Are humans a part of nature or separate from it?
-If humans are, then "there is no need for us to follow it because we are already doing so." - Bell
-If humans are separate, "it is moved by different principles, it has no meaning for us."
Social Construction of Nature
"Nature is a loaded word." (Rolston)
Change cultural and institutional influences
Reflect a more universal definition of nature
Create a new language/discourse
new metaphors and categories
based on an objective view
Preserving nature
let nature "be" rather than "save" it (Kidner)
How do you view nature?
Elizabeth Donnelly
Jessica Prince
Lindsay Washam
Doug Charles
Nikki Evans
Kristen Garcia
Azriel Bailey
Mark Ramdorsingh

What is the Social Construction of Nature?
Google search: "nature"
Natural "Disasters"
-What really is a disaster??
-The word "disaster" is socially constructed to imply a tragedy

Central Park and the idea of "landscapes"
-Desirable areas vs. "wilderness"
Both institutions and culture directly relate to a persons perspective of nature
Social Construction:
-views nature through a social lens and as a trope
-The symbol of nature has been the basis of truth and science
i. the essential quality or character of something
ii. the inherent force which directs either the world or human beings or both
iii. the external, material world itself
-Raymond Williams
Manifest Destiny - God has given us this land to use
The construction metaphor serves as a way to create new worlds from old worlds.
Additional Theories
Structural Functionalist
"Nature is something we make, as much as it
makes us" - Bell

_how we see nature depends on our perpective on social life

Symbolic Interaction
-dangerous dualisms (weak/strong - nature/society)
-creation of cyborg

Ecological Marxists: "social nature"
-The problem of symbolic power
-Dominant worldviews
The construction of nature is related to:
the wilderness and conservation,
ecological conscience,
climate change,
scientific racism,
the symbol of landscapes
The material manifestation of the social structure - Busch
The world is inherently without meaning, the meanings we attach to things are a social creation - Greider & Garkovich
“what we regard as truth. . . is a product not of objective observation of the world, but of . . . social processes and interactions." - Burr
Construction as Refutation
Denatures and deconstructs making it socially constructed (Demeritt, 2002)

Construction as Philosophical Critique
Skeptic view of the existence of unobserved entities (Demeritt, 2002)
The Main Arguments
Equating the environment's conceptual value to that of our own
Nature/Society dualism once allowed for domination over nature as means to an end and Manifest Destiny
More Solutions
Overcome Dualisms
Cyborg Theory
Critical Realism
Based in the philosophy of a "pre-ordered reality"
Realists resent constructionism for its view of "empirical findings"
Social Constructionism
"Blurs any sharp distinction between the conceptual and material" - Demeritt
Highly relativist in its claims
Two types of construction "talk"
construction-as-philosophical (four types of critique)
1. Actor-Network Theory
2. Sociology of scientific knowledge
3. Phenomenological
-the spawn of the constructionism-realism debate; a compromise
-recognizes science as "fallible but critically important" -Proctor
-Denaturalizes disasters carefully
-Reification (Berger and Luckmann)
-admitting construction does not negate existence concepts
The Social Construction of Nature as a Social Problem
The "Constructionist-Realist" Debate
-coined by Donna Haraway
-acknowledges the hybrid structure of our society
- similar to the forming new languages solution
-major source of confusion
-empowers our conceptual resolve expands our thinking
how the mental, physical, and social processes interact (Gerber)
Is nature imagined as a separate construct from humanity?
Can nature be physically constructed by man?
Holmes Rolston III: Environmental Ethics Philosopher regarding the word “wilderness”.
“Non-Western peoples typically do not have the word (wilderness) in their vocabulary, and even some Western languages (like Spanish) do not have such a word. Such a state is not something humans have ever really known; 'wilderness' so imagined is a foil for their culture, a romanticized Garden of Eden. The word gets made up when there is very little of wild nature left, as in Europe, when explorers leave for exotic places, or in the United States, when the frontier is closed, and wild places are threatened by the success of civilization. Thereby hangs much of its fascination, for wilderness enthusiasts have a kind of archetypal longing for, or archaic vision of a world with no people in it.”
Natural vs. Synthetic
Many times there is a sense of superiority or goodness associated with what is considered “natural” in our society.
There are several implications to this viewpoint but one of the major ones is that humanity and all of its creations are separate from the imagined realm of “nature”.
-If a group of workers digs up a hole in the ground and connect it to a nearby river or fill it with water taken from somewhere else, is that still a lake? Or is it a man-made lake?
-How about if we clear out an area in a city and create an area that inhabits hundreds of trees and animals? Is this still nature? Or is it a park?
In these two examples, you can get an idea of where exactly we as a society draw the line between what is synthetic, or “man-made”, from what is “natural”.
Are Man made chemicals inherently bad?
1. Botulinum toxin A
2. Tetanus toxin A
3. Diphtheria toxin
4. Dioxin*
5. Muscarine
6. Bufotoxin
7. Sarin*
Problems from Constructionism
Looking Forward
Seeing is Believing
A "conceptual metaphor" - conduit to understand abstract concepts
The "Social Construction" of "Nature"
Questioning the degree to which our biophysical environment is a creation of the mind has serious implications:
-The value of scientific knowledge
- without us there are no "meaningful" entities
-the naturalization of Capitalism by Darwin
“Questions of epistemology are also questions of social order” – Latour
Because the perception of Nature is constructed, the Environment suffers
I. Approach to Preservation: Wildlife Preserve

II. Construction of Environmental Concern: Ebb and Flow

III. Ecological Modernization: "Green" Technology
Changes to our...
Perspective: Objectivity via Language and Interaction

Structure: Eco-friendly Lifestyle = Normal Lifestyle

Approach: Assessment of Production
"Truth is socially relative"-Bell
John Muirs - "nature's object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one"
Ex: Family, Friends, Church, Education, Social Interaction
How someone views nature is directly related to culture, and how someone was raised, and what they were raised to believe.
Institutions can be viewed as social capital

All in all, the idea of labeling things as natural and unnatural or synthetic comes from an idea of separation between humanity and its creations and the natural world’s. We draw a line where one realm ends and the other begins.

And so, as our society becomes more modern and detached from what we view as “nature”, we attach value to anything we feel isn’t tainted by the mechanical/synthetic structure we live in.

Whether or not those assumptions about synthetic vs. organic are myths or not, they are still present in our society and are a good way to examine what we consider nature and what value we attach to it.
7 most deadly toxic chemicals to living organisms:
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