ANTHRO LEC 5
Surely Natural is ―Natural‖(2) The Social Construction of the Pristine February 6th, 2013
Activity: Someone Else‘s Elephant
A. the Social Construction of Nature
Video: Second Nature
B. Objectivist versus Constructivist Ideas of Nature
Recap: My Houseplant (Nature and Culture)
C. Separation of Nature and Culture
D. Historical Construction of Nature
A. The Social Construction of Nature: What does this image mean?
-ways to manage ivory markets.
-elephants are social- if elephants have the same emotions that we have to be human, then ideas of
killing them in order to preserve the eco system become problematic
-dangerous- transmit diseases
-pests that destroy crops
-an endangered species
Which or whose meaning wins?
Struggles over nature and resources are struggles over meaning- if you can create the idea that
something like wilderness is pristine, then you have won the war over that resource and anyone living in
there has to be removed.
B. Objectivist versus Constructivist Ideas about Nature
-Scientific approaches- the idea that we can understand nature through direct sensory contact, we can
experiment on it, we can do lab work on it, we can create equations, etc in order to understand the
empirical reality of what nature is.
-Reality observable through senses and…
-subject to experimentation
-neutral and apolitical (?)
-nature is a social construction
-―reality‖ is a perception
-things that appear natural are constituted:
-science can explain natural phenomena but…
-those phenomena are always implicated in social processes
-different knowledge‘s produce different categories for understanding objective reality of the world.
-things that appear natural are constituted: culturally, historically, politically
Which ―meanings‖ dominate? Cultural relativist versus universalist ANT204h1
-human activity is resulting in the savanna extending into areas that were once forested
-narrative extends from Colonial to the present
-for example: ―Guinee Forestiere is characterized by an originally rich soil on the way to sterilization
following the irrational agricultural practices of the inhabitants‖ – Regional Agricultural Director, 195
-climax vegetation theories assume: ‗Forest‘ is the ―natural‖ state
-human activity degrades the forest resulting in savanna or irreversible desertification
-BUT – area can support different vegetation types
Equilibrium theories assume:
-nature is in balance and harmony
-perturbations are met by a return to the balance
-unless overwhelmed by human action
-But disequilibrium is possible-