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Symbolic Constructions of Nature - Cox Chapters 2 & 3


Andy Opel

on 28 August 2015

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Transcript of Symbolic Constructions of Nature - Cox Chapters 2 & 3

Social/Symbolic Constructions of Nature
Cox Chapters 2 &3

Wilderness - "freighted with meaning - resists easy definition
Julia Butterfly Hill - Tree sitter
William Bradford - 1620, "Hideous and desolate wilderness"
5 Areas of Emphasis in this chapter:
Brief history of US environmental movement
Romanticism, Nationalism, Transcendentalism
Preservation vs. Conservation
Rise of Ecological Sensibility
Discourse of Environmental Justice
Sustainability and Climate Justice

The Environmental Movement
Concept of "Antagomisms" - central to understanding challenges to established ideologies or power structures
Antagonisms represent the recognition of a limit to a given system - a site of weakness or failure that needs redress.
Four Major Antagonisms Define the history of the US environmental movement
1) Preservation of nature vs. human exploitation of nature
2) Human health vs. unregulated business
3) Environmental justice vs. nature as "wild" places/concerns
4) Health of global commons (climate) vs. growth
1) 18th and 19th century artists and poets explored the Romantic ideals of pristine nature.
"The sublime" became celebrated concept - equating "God's influence with the feeling of awe" when confronting wild spaces.
This was a resistance to the "repugnance" toward nature that dominated the time - encouraging the expansion across the US continent
and underpinning "manifest destiny."

Nationalism became a source of natural celebration - the great expanses of the US wilderness.

Transcendentalism was a third perspective that elevated the importance of wilderness
Thoreau described the "magantism" of nature that if followed will "direct us right." - the belief that natural objects reflected univeral truths.
Late 1800s - the rise of preservationism - protecting natural areas from commercial development
John Muir initiated the preservation of the Yosemite Valley, resulting in the establishment of the first US National Park.
Muir's efforts clashed with a utilitarian view of nature - "the greatest good for the greatest number" - clearly talking about people not species!
Gifford Pinchot - T. Roosevelt's Head of Forestry believed in conservation - a utilitarian view.
Results was the Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite - delivered water to San Fran.
Tensions between Pres. and Cons. continue today
2) Public Health and Urban Pollution
1960s saw rise of attention to antagonism of pollution
Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" - 1962
Said to have launched the modern Environmental Movement
1970 - The Clean Air Act and The Clean Water Act Passed
1970 - Nixon signs the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) - cornerstone of environmental law.
April 22, 1970 - First Earth Day
1980 - Superfund law passed - allows EPA to clean up toxic sites and take action against polluters.
3) Environmental Justice
Challenging conceptions of The Environment to include urban spaces - where we live, work, play, learn.
1982 - Key moment - Warren County NC
Civil rights groups try to block 6000 trucks w/ PCB contaminated soil - 500 arrests.
First time Af. Am. linked environmental issues to civil rights movement
Emergence of the term ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM - - dispproportionate burden of toxic wastes put on communities of color, low income areas.
Def. of Environmental Justice - basic right of all people to be free of poisons and other hazards.
1991 - First People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit
16 principles of EJ
1994 - Clinton ex. order directing Fed. Agencies to include EJ in their mission
In addition the issues of toxics, EJ also looks to expand democratic processes and include minority/low income voices in decison making processes.
4) Defending the Global Commons
Fundamental recognition of the limit or inadequacy in societies economic systems
Health fo global climate is threatened by "business as usual."
That the earth is warming is no longer in doubt
The source of that warming is "very likely" anthropgenic (human caused) emissions of CO2
Effects of Climate Change has prompted a global "climate justice" group to emerge.
Among all 4 of these antagonisms, langauge and rhetoric, persuasion and discourse are central
Social Symbolic Approaches to the Environment
There is no objective environment, no environment separate from the words we use to represent it.
A Rhetorical perspective focuses on the "purposeful and consequential efforts to influence society's attitudes and behaviors.
Concept developed by Isocrates and Arsitotle in ancient Greece (~350 BCE)
Relies of "Tropes" - turn meaning from original in a new direction, ie: metaphors, irony or synecdoche (or the part standing in for the whole).
Mother Nature
Spaceship Earth
Rhetorical Genres
Apocalyptic Narratives
Jeremiad - denoucing behavior of a society/people and warning of
future consequences for not changing
Melodrama - create stark polarizing distinctions btwn social actors and infuse those
differences with moral gravity.
Rhetoric as Constituitive Force - when we speak we constitute our world
Discourse - recurring pattern of speaking or writing that circulates a coherent set of meanings about an important issue.
Dominant Discourse - taken for granted
Dominant social paradigm/discourse (DSP) - affirms belief in abundance, faith in science, and free markets.
Critical discourse - challenge society's taken for granted discourses. New Environmental paradigm (NEP) - balance, rejection of anthropocentrism.
Legitmacy - the right to exercise authority - derived from rhetorcial process.
Role of common sense in claiming legitimacy.
Visual Rhetoric
Images Function to persuade
1) By influencing perceptions
2) by constructing an environmental problem
Alaska wildlife refuge example
Metaphor of the terministic screen from Kenneth Burke"
"If any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality, and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality."
Related to the naming function of language - orients our interactions with the world.
Example of change from sewage sludge to biosolids
Problems are "not given, out there in the world waiting for smart analysts to come along and define them correctly, they are created in the minds of citizens by other citizens, leaders, organizations, and gov. agencies."
Call for Ecosee - study of image based media
Polar bears have come to stand in for climate change
The become "condensation symbol" - stirs vivid impressions of most basic values
BP Oil Spill example
Desire to control visibility - dispersants used to sink the oil, putting it out of view
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