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Lecture 5

Lecture 5 - Surely Nature is Natural Part 2 - February 6.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Saul Cohen

February 6, 2013. Lecture 5 – Surely Nature is “Natural” Part 2 Today’s Lecture  Activity: Someone Else’s Elephant  The Social Construction of Nature  Objectivist Versus Constructivist Ideas of Nature  My Houseplant (Nature and Culture)  Separation of Nature and Culture  Historical Construction of Nature The Social Construction of Nature  Picture of two elephants, we see elephants  Has implications to do with hunting, conservation efforts, ivory sales, extinction o Some places have a ban on ivory sales o Some place want a limited number of ivory to be sold at a huge profit so as to funnel the money back into conservation efforts  Elephants are social (picture shows elephants rubbing trunks together) o Implies emotional communication/connection o They have human emotions o That implies they aren’t all that different from humans o Begs questions regarding the sacrifice of some elephants for the greater good of all elephants  Elephants can be pests o Destroy crops, trample people, can transmit diseases to humans via other animals, rips up fences and water holes o Something of an annoyance to humans  Which or who’s meaning wins?  Struggles over nature and resources are struggles over meaning Objectivist vs. Constructivist Ideas of Nature  Objectivist o Scientific approaches o Nature can be understood through direct sensory contact o We can experiment and do lab work on it, create scientific theories and equations in order to understand the empirical reality of what nature is o Reality observable through sense o Subject to experimentation o This doesn’t mean “science is bad”  Competing scientific theories as to how the world works  E.g. conservation ideas: one BIG area vs. a bunch of dispersed small ones  Hard “Constructivist” o Nature is a social construction o Sensory perception is always interpreted through the mind (feelings, thoughts, emotions) o These feelings are always a product of social and cultural constructions o The idea that these feelings can be separated from observation is a problematic idea o “Reality” is a perception o Things that appear natural are constituted:  Symbolically; everything is symbolic and up for interpretation  “Soft” Constructivist o Science can explain natural phenomenon o But still implicated in social processes o A lot of empirical and “objective” observation is still subject to constructed perception, bias, etc. o Different knowledges produce different categories for understanding objective reality of the world o Things that appear natural are always constituted:  Culturally, historically, politically o Which “meanings” dominate? o Cultural relativist versus universalist  Who is to say that one person’s view of seeing the world is better than another’s?  Or, is there some universal way of seeing the world that everyone inherently knows?  Degradation Narrative o Human activity is resulting in the savanna extending into areas that were once forested o Narrative extends from Colonial to the present
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