Changing Human Relationships With Nature: Making and Remaking Wilderness Science

by Jill M. Belsky

Jan 1, 2000
The paper identifies and discusses two major themes in wilderness social science. First, that wilderness studies (and its advocates) have been limited by an ontological tension between those who mainly approach the relationship between humans and nature on the basis of material factors and constraints and those who approach it through an examination of shifting concepts and ideas. Rather than pitting these against each other, I argue that a dialogue between how nature and humans relation to it has been culturally constructed and physically altered is critically needed. Second, while I commend wilderness and protected-area management strategies for responding to shifting ideas and diverse material conditions by incorporating participatory or community-based approaches, I argue that how and when a community-based approach is workable needs to be answered in the context of particular places, peoples, issues and ecosystems. In general, wilderness social science needs to move beyond simplistic dualistic thinking and binary categories, and continually be willing to address the politics behind how "nature" and what is considered "natural" are defined and deployed on behalf of particular human interests. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of efforts across the globe that seek to utilize multiple conceptual and practical management approaches tailored to particular social contexts and histories.
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