Caring for Nature: subjectivity, boundaries and environment.
Nightingale, Andrea J
The environmental movement has brought to the mainstream ideas about how to care, love and protect ‘nature’. Many people passionately propound these ideas and are scornful or morally outraged at others who objectify, exploit and damage ‘natural environments’. Importantly, their moral outrage outlines a clear polarisation between these two positions. Yet the division between protection/love and exploitation/damage is far more complex and contested. There are those who share a deep love and respect for the land and yet treat natural environments in damaging ways to sustain their livelihoods. And it cannot be forgotten that many of the most passionate environmentalists are people living relatively privileged lifestyles that are rife with environmentally damaging chemicals, practices and objects (White, 1996). Given these contradictions, I am interested in investigating how emotional attachments to ‘nature’ are linked to people’s behaviours towards their environments. I am particularly interested in exploring this with people who work with ‘natural’ resources in one way or another for a living. How is it that people whose livelihoods depend on ‘natural’ environments embody apparently contradictory relationships to those environments? In this paper I want to propose a new research direction that builds from current work on nature-society geographies. I begin by reviewing work on nature-society issues and discuss the extent to which this literature helps us to understand the contradictions between emotion, intent and action in relation to ecological environments. I argue that while important insights have been contributed from this literature, by drawing from feminist and post-structural literatures on subjectivity and psychoanalysis, we can gain a greater grasp on the links between action, ethics, emotion and subjectivity. Fundamentally, I demonstrate how despite a recognition that nature and society are inextricably linked, nature-society studies assume a more or less stable boundary between the subjective experiences of persons and the environments with which they interact. Yet, feminist and psychoanalytic work has shown how this boundary is not stable. This insight opens up new conceptual space to rethink the nature-society nexus.