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This subject draws on ethnographic examples to explore the diverse ways that humans come to know and think about the natural world, understand their place in relation to that world, and interpret their roles and responsibilities in relation to other beings in the world. Engaging with a range of ethnographic and theoretical literature, it questions what people might mean when they talk of Nature, including human nature. Through considering topics such as Traditional Ecological Knowledge, patterns of land tenure and management, the power of anthropomorphism and the naturalising of social differences and inequalities, students will develop an understanding of recent approaches to a key issue in anthropology – the relationship between Nature and Culture. How we imagine that relationship is deeply implicated in some of the questions we are all now having to confront. Do we work with Nature, or against it? Did we invent ‘Nature’ (another of those pesky dualities)? And have we now brought about ‘the end of nature’? Are we now living in the Anthropocene, or in a post-human/more-than-human world?
Intended learning outcomes
On completion of this subject students should be able to:
- Demonstrate an understanding that what people designate, think about, and experience as 'nature' may vary, and demonstrate knowledge of different approaches within anthropology to documenting, analysing and theorising this variation;
- demonstrate detailed knowledge of the range of ways people construct understandings of, and organise themselves in relation to, their natural environments;
- apply an independent and creative approach to analysing understandings of 'nature', based on an appreciation of the interplay between theory and ethnographic inquiry;
- articulate the relationship between diverse and contested forms of knowledge and practice in relation to 'nature' and the social, historical and cultural contexts that produced them;
- reflect on and discuss their own attitudes to 'nature', and how these are framed by particular cultural understandings and social contexts;
- apply critical and comparative analytical skills to identify and address issues raised by the confrontation between different systems of environmental knowledge and practice, and how these shape changing attitudes to 'nature'.
Last updated: 6 December 2019