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  • IntroductionHybrid Landscapes: Science, Conservation, and the Production of Nature
  • Reade Davis and Laura Zanotti

The articles included in this special collection examine the implementation of varied conservation agendas, seeking to integrate the strengths of a political ecology framework with insights derived from Science and Technology Studies (STS). By taking an ethnographic approach to the study of conservation projects, they challenge the nature/culture divide so central to the Western philosophical tradition and draw attention to the ways in which nature and culture are co-constituted in and through practice.

In his landmark essay “Ideas of Nature,” Raymond Williams famously observed that “the idea of nature contains, though often unnoticed, an extraordinary amount of human history” (1980:67). Williams traced the notion of a singular, abstracted “Nature” from the age of antiquity to the modern period, examining how it was that Nature came to be viewed as a separate realm of which humans were not a part. He notes that classical accounts defined nature as simply “the essential quality of things” or the “essential constitution of the world” (1980:68), but this view came to be refined in the early Christian period, as Nature came to be understood as God’s “minister or deputy” (1980:69). [End Page 601]

With the growth of the modern sciences, this understanding gradually gave way to a notion of nature as something with its own essential laws that could be understood and manipulated for the benefit of humans, an idea that persists to this day (see also Guha 2000). By the mid-19th century, however, growing acceptance of evolutionary theory began to unsettle the idea of a stable and orderly nature. Furthermore, the view of existence as a ruthless, competitive “survival of the fittest” that accompanied this new perspective gave heightened legitimacy to increasingly stark forms of social and environmental exploitation, as the inequalities produced by the capitalist market economy increasingly came to be viewed as a reflection of the natural order of things (Williams 1980:73; see also Johnson and Murton 2007).

Paradoxically, Williams notes that it was only during this period—when the capacity of humans to reshape the world to suit their own ends had escalated to new heights—that the conceptual separation between humans and nature was finally complete. The ravages of industrial society ultimately gave rise to the fetishization of remote, inaccessible, and marginal landscapes, which began to be seen as places of beauty, tranquility, and primal innocence (Williams 1980:80; see also Grove 1995). As many other scholars have noted, this ethos was at the heart of the emergence of the national parks movement in the US and the global protected areas movement that followed (Brockington et al. 2008, Neumann 2004, Walley 2004, West et al. 2006). This romanticization of unspoiled, pristine landscapes, however, masked the degree to which many of these places had been shaped by human activity, whether consciously or not. As Williams explains: “…to speak of man ‘intervening’ in natural processes is to suppose that he might find it possible not to do so…” (1980:74).

Building upon the insights of Williams and others, a number of anthropologists (Balée and Erickson 2006, Bateson 1972, Gupta 1998, Tsing 2005), environmental historians (Arnold 1996, Braudel 1992, Cronon 1983), and cultural geographers (Denevan 1992, Neumann 1998, Peet and Watts 2004, Zimmerer and Bassett 2003) have endeavored to break down binary divisions between nature and culture, drawing attention to the degree to which human groups and their surrounding environments have been co-constituted over time. These scholars have been instrumental in challenging reified and abstracted understandings of “nature” as a realm outside of culture and history or an inanimate storehouse of natural resources, as well as overly deterministic accounts which presented [End Page 602] environmental adaptation as the primary driver of human social relations (Little 1999, Orlove 1980).

In recent decades, developments in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) (Callon 1986; Haraway 2007; Latour 1993, 2004; Lock 2002; Mol 2002) have helped to further destabilize divisions between nature and culture, stressing that speaking of either one in isolation from the other is nonsensical. Particularly noteworthy has been the influence of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) which examines...


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