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Academic Special Session: Perceptions of nature and nature-society relations in comparison (Part I)

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In this special session we will explore the question what different views about nature and our role in relation to nature exist. As mental models these basic beliefs, assumptions and values are the drivers of human behavior and, to a large degree, shape the way how we treat our natural environment: Whether nature is seen, for example, as robust or fragile, or as biological reservoir or Gods creation has an effect on how we argue about our relation to nature and on how we justify human interventions in ecosystems. Understanding these fundamental ideas and the differences between these ideas that exist among cultures, places and social groups is crucial if we want to engage in a mutual dialog about eco-social questions with global concern involving many and diverse actors with different ideological backgrounds.
To investigate the variety of ideas about nature and nature-society relations we selected papers from different disciplines and perspectives that deal with the topic in a comparative way. The approaches include:
• Comparison of countries, political regimes, cultures, world regions
• Comparison of social groups according to age, gender, economic status, class, education etc.
• Case studies of specific groups, countries or geographies
• Theoretical and empirical studies, a philosophical reflection
• The application of qualitative and quantitative methods as well as the combination of both

This session consists of two parts (two sessions).

In Part I we discuss papers that deal with the topic in a more general way: In a philosophical reflection dualistic views on the relation between humans and nature are critically analyzed and contested by processual approach which contributes to a phenomenology of degrowth. A psychological paper applies qualitative and quantitative measurements to explore individuals’ imaginary of ecology. The author also investigates how these imaginaries directly affect our environmental behavior. The third study analyses survey data from Germany and presents a typology of ten different ‘camps’ defined by their expressed attitudes toward nature, environmental policy and sustainability. In the fourth paper this focus extended by analyzing international survey data and comparing nature-society relations among countries and cultures.

In Part II we will engage in in-depth analyses and case studies. The first paper from historical science compares rationales for recreational home ownership and use in Norway and Denmark. It argues that owning a second home in nature is an important part of national identity in these countries and can be explained through different storylines of special ties to nature. The second paper has a background in ecopsychology and presents the results of qualitative interviews about people’s relationship with nature and perceptions of economic growth in Switzerland. The third paper deals with a recent political event – the conflict about an additional runway for the Vienna International Airport – and analyses the attitudes and perceptions of the actors involved. The author applies the mixed methods approach of multicriteria mapping and studies the norms regarding the relation between nature and society which guide actor’s behavior in the conflict. The final paper is a case study from Nicaragua which analyses the claims of different social groups about a national park in the Southeast of the country. The focus is on comparing the perceptions of nature held by these interest groups (national politician, local families, foreign investors, and indigenous people).

The double session closes with a discussion about the possibilities how to mediate between the different perceptions of nature and conflicting views about nature-society relations.