The Nature of ‘Nature’


“The Nature of Nature” series focuses on the shifting, blurred and contested lines between what is natural and what is not. On the one hand, we worry about invasive species and genetically modified food and so on. On the other hand, we are increasingly aware of living in what some call the Anthropocene: there is no land, place or living organism that is unaffected by human beings. From climate change to DNA, the effects of human life are obvious.

What, then, is nature? Can we justify the normative force that the idea of the natural still has for us? Should we be any more concerned about our “natural” environment than our built one – about our natural parks than our shopping malls? Does our concern about invasive species reflect as much – or more – concern about our national, cultural and political borders as it does about our environmental ones? What sort of line, if any, can we still draw between the natural and the artificial? Is even death unnatural now?

Past Events

Jim Igoe: Making, Marketing, and Managing Nature in Tanzania’s Maasai Steppe
October 6, 2016 @3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

Megan Crowley-Matoka: Others’ Organs and the Nature of Suffering
February 9, 2017 @3:30 – 5:00 pm

What is the Value of a Tree?
February 21-23, 2017

April 28th Dawson Nature of NatureAshley Dawson: Hope in a Time of Extinction
April 28, 2016

Some thousands of years ago, the world was home to an immense variety of large mammals. From wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers to giant ground sloths and armadillos the size of automobiles, these spectacular creatures roamed freely. Then human beings arrived. Devouring their way down the food chain as they spread across the planet, they began a process of voracious extinction…

Ewa Luczak: Racial Degeneration and the Perfect Society
September 29, 2015

Envisioned as a science of better human breeding in the interest of racial purity, eugenics, in the 1920s and 1930s celebrated its triumph in the U.S. With the 1924 Johnson law for the control of immigration and 1927 Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of a eugenic sterilization law in Virginia, eugenics ceased to be a speculative science and became an agent of social change in the United States.

Steven Vogel: Thinking like a Mall
June 4, 2015

Aldo Leopold said we should learn to “think like a mountain,” recognizing a complexity and independence in natural entities that ground an obligation to respect and protect them from destruction by humans. I trace the history of a shopping mall that was built in Columbus, Ohio in the 1980s and flourished for some years before declining into bankruptcy and eventually being demolished.

The Salton Sea
November 10, 2014

This Nature of ‘Nature’ Series Panel explores conceptions, appropriations, and remediation of ‘natural’ environments, bodies, and processes featuring Gregory Yanega (UCI, Salton Sea Initiative), Michael Anderson (Environmental Sciences) and Mark Matsumoto (Environmental Engineering).