Nature Through a Shifting Lens

Vijaylakshmi

A few days back, during one of the conversations with my friends, we were reminiscing about some old travel memories and how effortless it was to have a small weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. We would generally plan a vacation out of the city as an opportunity to be closer to ‘nature’. When observed closely, the basic idea of such a vacation usually meant to be in a place that had fewer people around. However, having been closely involved in an urban wetland restoration project for several years now, I pondered upon what it means to experience nature in the city, and I am convinced that nature can be experienced not only in some distant place but right in the midst of the city. One of the frameworks by which such an idea can be understood is by looking at the social construction of nature.

Image 1: Sal forest, Timli Forest Range, Uttarakhand, 2018. Photo Credit: Vijaylakshmi

How we understand nature and the human relationship with the environment is a cultural expression. According to Greider & Garkovich (1994), cultural expression is a symbolic representation created by humans to give meaning and definition to nature and environment and emanates from a set of particular values and beliefs. Cultural groups happen to transform the natural environment into landscapes through different symbols that attribute different meanings to the same physical object. These emerging symbols, which are a sociocultural phenomenon, are known as social constructions and are the results of ongoing negotiations in a cultural context (Greider & Garkovich, 1994). Consequently, the repercussions of such social constructions are reflected through social media platforms, magazines, television, etc., that project an image of nature in a certain way. Such projections colour the imagination of people and direct their minds to look for a certain aspect or experience of nature.

Image 2: A tourist hotspot in the middle of nature. Source: Pixnio

It is also interesting to note that, while we wish to vacation in a destination which is generally close to nature and away from the city, we also look for comfort, luxury and other facilities of the city when planning a vacation. Amongst the majority of people, the willingness to be close to nature is acceptable only to the point where their basic amenities are fulfilled. Such discrepancies cause one to ponder upon not only the reasons for the existence of such an imagination but also question the longevity of it, especially in the face of continuously changing culture.

Reference

Greider, T., & Garkovich, L. (1994). Landscapes: The social construction of nature and the environment. Rural sociology59(1), 1-24.

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