NATURE AND CULTURE
Dr G Davies
Unit Value: 0.5 Units Year: 2 Term 2
“Nature is not what it used to be” (Castree, 2003, p.82).
At a time when the ‘nature’ of nature is up for debate in fields as diverse as conservation, ecotourism and biotechnology, this course explores the ways in which meanings get attributed to the natural world. The course, based on extensive reading of the literature around nature and culture, suggests that much of what we understand as nature, the environment, our attitudes to animals, and ultimately our understanding of human ‘nature’ are shaped by a complex mix of cultural, economic and scientific practices. In other words, nature can be understood as a human construction.
This relationship between nature and culture is a key conversation for geographers, and there is a rich and growing body of work in cultural geography that we draw on to explore these issues. The first aim of the course is thus to develop your understanding of the range of conceptual work on the cultural geography of nature, using this to explore why the construction of nature matters to geographers.
Yet these are also issues you can see everywhere around you: in the way environmental disputes are debated in the media, the packaging and production of the food you eat, the nature we escape to on holiday, the politicisation of countryside issues or the ethical dilemmas over improving human nature. The second aim of the course is thus to connect your conceptual understanding to geographically relevant case studies, encouraging you to ask key questions, both as geographers and as citizens, around who is constructing what nature, and with what effects?
1. Ideas of Nature: The first part of the course introduces the history of nature in western societies, exploring how and why ideas of nature have changed, and with what effects for the ways people use and interact with nature. These histories are critical for understanding the diverse current uses to which the concept of nature applies.
2. Visions of Nature: The second part of the course explores the way visions of nature have become enmeshed in western ideas about landscape, property, countryside and empire. As one writer, David Pepper, suggests, “it is as if most of us in the west have been wearing similar pairs of glasses to look at nature – indeed everything outside us” (Pepper, 1999). We explore the reasons why this might be, the extent to which it is the case, and the implications of these visions of nature, exploring how nature is represented in media such as painting, photography, tourist brochures, food packets and TV programmes.
3. Networks of Nature: The final section of the course introduces new geographical vocabularies for understanding nature-society relations as hybrid forms. We explore the complex networks through which humans and non-human animals are increasingly mixed in developments such as GM food and xenotransplantation, which have the potential to create new relationships with and new understandings of nature.
Method of Teaching
The course is taught through one two-hour slot each week. This will combine a lecture and seminar, in which you work in groups to explore key readings set for class each week, develop skills in analysis and share ideas with presentations.
Form of Assessment
One two-hour exam (60%) and one coursework essay (40%). For the coursework you define your own question to develop your understanding and reflections on one topic in the course that interests you.
Start with the short essay by Noel Castree in Rogers, A and Viles, J. (eds) (2003) The Students companion to Geography (2nd edition) Blackwells, pp. 82-88. If the questions raised here intrigue, then this course may be for you. Then try the following
Castree, N. (2005) Nature Routledge
Castree, N. & Braun, B. (2001), Social Nature: Theory, practice and politics Blackwells, Oxford