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Ethics & the Environment, Volume 11, Number 2, Fall 2006

Special Topic Issue: Nature/Culture Dualism
Guest Editor: Ronnie Hawkins

ABSTRACTS

THE CULTURE OF NATURE THROUGH MISSISSIPPIAN GEOGRAPHIES
Jeff Baldwin, Wilamette University, Salem, Oregon, USA

The paper's first interest is in re-forming exploitive human-environment relations. It shows that culture/nature dichotomies are not only false, but obscure the commonality of culture to humans and nonhuman beings and processes. The paper draws upon the Roman genesis of "culture" to describe its function in finding appropriateness among co-evolving human and nonhuman projects. Culture, thus, is the process through which co-eval projects are brought together. The study argues that through dialectic interrelationships, culture works to move biospheric relations towards mutualism and away from parasitism (or exploitation). This is evident among nonhuman beings and processes as well as cultures in which humans are more central. The paper draws upon various interrelationships in the Mississippi watershed to illustrate these points. It then briefly explores the usefulness of a culture of nature perspective in planning and managing development projects.
IDENTIFICATION THROUGH ORANGUTANS: DESTABILIZING THE NATURE/CULTURE DUALISM
Stacey K Sowards, University of Texas at El Paso, USA

The nature/culture dualism has long been criticized for constructing social beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that fail to respect and value the natural world. One possible way to bridge the divide between the human and non-human worlds is the process of identification. Orangutans, an endangered species found in Indonesia and Malaysia, enable individuals to bridge, connect, and identify with a seemingly separate natural world. Through identification with orangutans, humans come to reevaluate their own perspectives and dichotomous ways of thinking about their relationships with nature.
BEYOND CULTURE? NATURE CULTURE DUALISM AND THE CHRISTIAN OTHERWORDLY
Anne Elvey, Melbourne College of Divinity, Australia

For both Platonic and Christian systems, the meaning of death is that the meaning of human life is elsewhere, not to be found in the earth or in human life as part of nature, but in a separate realm accessible only to humans (and only to certain chosen of these), the world of the Forms and the world of heaven. The salvation awaiting them beyond and above the world of nature, a fate marked out for humans alone, confirms their difference and separation from the world of nature, and their destiny as one apart from that of other species (Plumwood 1993, 100).
THE CONCEPT OF A CULTURAL LANDSCAPE: NATURE, CULTURE AND AGENCY IN THE LAND
Val Plumwood, Australian National University, Canberra

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report issued in April 2005 shows how severely our civilisation is degrading and overstressing the natural systems that support human life and all other lives on earth. An important critical challenge, especially for the eco-humanities, is to help us understand the conceptual frameworks and systems that disappear the crucial support provided by natural systems and prevent us from seeing nature as a field of agency. This paper considers the currently popular concept of a cultural landscape as an example of a concept that scepticism and nature cynicism that often accompanies its vogue in the humanities. Can some philosophical disentangling of senses of nature (often considered the most complex term in the language) allow sceptics their main points without placing them on such a strong collision course with the requirements of commonsense and survival?
BEYOND MODERNITY AND TRADITION: A THIRD WAY FOR DEVELOPMENT
Freya Mathews, La Trobe University, Australia

How we understand the world (our metaphysical premise) determines, to a large degree, how we treat it. How we treat our world constitutes our basic modality. Our basic modality colours everything we do - our entire culture takes its cue from it. Three basic modalities are here distinguished. The first is the modality of pre-materialist or traditional, religion-based societies. This is a modality of importuning, the seeking of assistance from supernatural sources. The second is the modality of materialist or modern, secular societies. This is a modality of instrumentalism, involving mastery, control and a will to re-make the world in accordance with human ends. The third is the modality of prospective post-materialist societies. These societies would be post-religious but not post-spiritual. Their modality would be one of letting the world unfold according to its own nature, and, by extension, finding creative synergies between human and nonhuman conativities. This modality of synergy is explicated by reference to the Daoist notion of wu wei.

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