UNE environmental humanities folk present at ISSRM in Sweden

UNE environmental humanities folk present at ISSRM in Sweden

Details of the papers delivered by UNE researchers at the International Symposium on Society and Resources Management (ISSRM), June 2017.

The International Symposium on Society and Resources Management is the conference of the International Association for Society and Natural Resources. In 2017 the Symposium was held in Umea, Sweden, and UNE academics Fiona Utley, Tanya Howard, Robyn Bartel and Vanessa Bible (pictured L–R ) presented a panel session on "A Future Without Wilderness".

The idea of wilderness has motivated many conservation actions and continues to be a pivotal policy objective, due in part to the effects of the Anthropocene, a proposed epoch defined by human co-construction of our environment, including mass anthropogenic extinction and climate change, and halting biodiversity loss is listed within the global Sustainable Development Goals. Wilderness is identified as important for its intrinsic as well as utilitarian values and appreciated for its own sake as well as benefits for human wellbeing. However wilderness preservation also appears to be a problematic aim and the concept itself is increasingly contested, particularly in colonial countries and settler nations where conservation efforts have often overlooked millennia of environmental management by First Nations peoples. Growing recognition of the history and complexity of human-environment interactions and relationships, as well as the agency of non-human nature, has led some to conclude that wilderness is a fictional state that has never existed, and can never be attained. The apparent entrenchment of binarised thinking within common conceptions of wilderness, which may perpetuate and promote human-nature dualities, has also been questioned. However alternatives may also be problematic, as they risk conflating human and nature. At the same time, work emerging in the paradigm of new materialism suggests that there may be a mutually productive meeting of the two approaches, in combining multiple ontological perspectives that reflect the diversity in both culture and nature, as well as supporting the dynamism and emergence that is critical for the ongoing evolution of our world. This multi-disciplinary panel will explore these and further perspectives on wilderness, the place of humans with and within nature, and whether we may now be entering a period that is ‘post-wilderness’ rather than “a future without wilderness”, to borrow a phrase from Aldo Leopold.

The panel presented the following papers in a session that was well attended and attracted lively discussion on the nature of wilderness, cultural landscapes and the management and appreciation of wild areas as well as of people, particularly in the context of growing development pressures.


Title: 'Wilderness, coexistence and coevolution: placing humans past and present' 
Author: Assoc. Prof. Robyn Bartel (Geography and Planning, UNE)

Abstract:  The idea of wilderness has motivated many conservation actions and continues to be a pivotal policy objective, due in part to the effects of the Anthropocene, a proposed epoch defined by human co-construction of our environment, including mass anthropogenic extinction and climate change, and halting biodiversity loss is listed within the global Sustainable Development Goals. Wilderness is identified as important for its intrinsic as well as utilitarian values and appreciated for its own sake as well as benefits for human wellbeing. However wilderness preservation also appears to be a problematic aim and the concept itself is increasingly contested, particularly in colonial countries and settler nations where conservation efforts have often overlooked millennia of environmental management by First Nations peoples. Growing recognition of the history and complexity of human-environment interactions and relationships, as well as the agency of non-human nature, has led some to conclude that wilderness is a fictional state that has never existed, and can never be attained. The apparent entrenchment of binarised thinking within common conceptions of wilderness, which may perpetuate and promote human-nature dualities, has also been questioned. However alternatives may also be problematic, as they risk conflating human and nature. At the same time, work emerging in the paradigm of new materialism suggests that there may be a mutually productive meeting of the two approaches, in combining multiple ontological perspectives that reflect the diversity in both culture and nature, as well as supporting the dynamism and emergence that is critical for the ongoing evolution of our world. This paper will explore how these different threads have formed, and may be applied, to answer the question of the place of humans in, or outside, nature, and the consequences for wilderness and biodiversity protection, particularly in urbanized and highly modified landscapes.


Title: 'What is the wild place? Evolving values of wilderness in the northern region of NSW' 
Authors: Dr Vanessa Bible (Peace Studies, UNE) & Dr Tanya Howard (AgLaw, UNE))

Abstract: This paper examines how concepts of wilderness have evolved in the past 40 years of community activism in the northern rivers and tablelands region of NSW. The transformative experience of a successful anti-logging campaign at Terania Creek is examined as a crucial event in the development of a place-based philosophy that connects landscape protection with values of community, sustainability and resilience. This philosophy moves beyond ideals of wilderness as separate and distinct from humanity, and has deep roots in the region. This paper demonstrates how the history of the place continues to inspire community activism, even as the context of resource conflict and landscape protection have changed over time. The paper suggests that current community campaigns for clean air, water and soil in the context of coal seam gas development represent a reconceptualization of ‘wilderness’ that reflects the increasing human impacts on the landscape. In rural landscapes, wilderness may be representative of broader values of sustainable development, where the debate shifts in response to the question “what do we consider worthy of protection?” Increasing the role of community in the protection, restoration and management of natural resources is a stated priority of ecologically sustainable development (ESD) principles. Despite a proliferation of legal requirements for public participation and non-legal guidelines that promote community access to environmental decision making at both the international and national scale, implementation is often unsatisfactory and difficult to evaluate. This paper combines socio-legal scholarship with environmental history to pose this question in the context of the Anthropocene.


Title: 'Another walk on the wildside: a phenomenology of rewilding and edge lands
Authors: Dr Stephen Harris (English, UNE) & Dr Fiona Utley (Philosophy, UNE)

Abstract: The recently popularised call to ‘rewild’, considered a practical modeling of an ethical relationship with nature, promises the expansion and flourishing of species and habitats and, potentially, a re-connection with nature. Some of the implications of ‘rewilding’ follow those of other models for understanding our relationship with nature, including the sense that we can return to/reclaim a ‘wildness’, and so, by implication, a form of authenticity and a fundamental state of wonder or awe. Thus, ‘rewilding’ asks again that we re-visit the logos of radical division and transcendence as species. The notion of wilderness as pristine or pure nature has supported a radical separation between humans and nature—this is well recognized in a range of disciplinary literature. Largely through Thoreau’s pivotal essay “Walking”, wildness became synonymous with wilderness and has profoundly influenced the way we see and negotiate this sense of otherness, and sparking what has been called a ‘cult’ of wilderness. In this paper we take up an eco-phenomenological approach to exploring the spaces of contact between humans and nature. While the concept of wilderness itself implies a radical spatial separation, ‘wildness’ is not necessarily or only ‘out there’, away from civilization/urbanity/ modernity, but exists/thrives in the interstices – the ‘interzones’ in urbanity, where intensely localised ‘wild places’ come into existence; drains/highway culverts – the ‘edgelands’ of which British poets/writers have celebrated in recent years. The desire to experience a fundamental wonder also implies the possibility of a reconnection through an intertwining with nature, as source, and its ‘more natural’ rhythm within the flow of time; such temporality must also be questioned and explored. Using Merleau-Ponty’s notions of reversibility, depth and chiasm/intertwining, in this paper we interrogate these spatial and temporal intertwinings in order to further develop ways of seeing and negotiating our relationship with nature.


[Image (L–R): Fiona Utley, Tanya Howard, Robyn Bartel and Vanessa Bible at the the International Symposium on Society and Resources Management]