The Problem with the Dualism
So why is all of this important? As I mentioned in the introduction to this site, I am not looking to eliminate the terms ‘culture’ or ‘nature’ from our discourse. I am only asserting that we should recognize that clear distinctions between the two are illusory. Hard, distinct separations between culture and nature tend to lead to problematic and unethical techniques of conservation. Conservation programs have, historically, been remarkably deaf to the voices and needs of local communities in the areas where such programs take place. The focus of these programs is on the natural environment. Since we have a conception of culture-nature separation, human well-being is often left out of the cost-benefit analysis of conservation efforts. For obvious reasons, this is ethically questionable (see #7).
To read more about this limitation, click the link to the article below.
Morrow, Johannes. 2009. “Dissolving Nature and Culture: Indigenous Perspectivism and Political Ecology” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the WPSA ANNUAL MEETING “Ideas, Interests and Institutions”, Hyatt Regency Vancouver, BC Canada, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
The problem of conservation programs being unresponsive to local perspectives is illustrated in Fairhead and Leach’s article: False Forest History, Complicit Social Analysis. Worse yet, sometimes organizations such as the World Bank will purposefully misrepresent the regions in which they want to conduct their programs. This is illustrated in Ferguson and Lohmann’s article: The Anti-Politics Machine: ‘Development’ and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho“.
Click here for an abstract of the Fairhead and Leach article (see #2) and an abstract of the Ferguson and Lohmann article (see #10).
The separation of culture and nature has also led to the conceptualization of certain behaviors as being “natural” or “unnatural”, with social consequences being attached to the latter. One contemporary example of this is the perception among many Americans of homosexuality as an “unnatural” behavior. Alex Carr Johnson’s article, an abstract of which can be found here (see #17), directly addresses this issue.
Regardless, the culture-nature dualism remains a prevalent conception, even in academia. Sherry Ortner applies the separation to gender studies, equating the domination of men over women to a presumed dominance of culture over nature. Andrea Nightingale, however, approaches gender environment studies from a different angle, asserting that gender and the environment share a mutually constitutive relationship. Abstracts of Ortner’s article and Nightingale’s article can be found in the Abstract Filing Cabinet (#4 and 16 respectively).