The social construction of nature : an explorative investigation of the constructed meaning of nature within four national park exhibitions in Austria and Germany

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: Nature is and has always been a highly discussed concept. Over centuries, its meaning, appreciation and perception has changed. Today, facing global warming and other environmental problems, a deeper reflection about our general understanding of the concept of nature seems more necessary than ever. For this reason, this thesis tackles the question of we actually mean or describe with the term nature. Inspired by the theoretical framework on the social construction of reality by Berger and Luckmann (1991), this thesis investigates the concept of nature constructed in four National Park exhibitions in the Germany and Austria. Based on the sociology of knowledge approach towards discourses introduced by Keller (2011), this thesis illustrates how different discourses structure the meaning of nature displayed in the exhibitions. In the analysis, four different discourses have been identified that shape the content presented in the exhibitions. Since the discourses are based on social practices, they indicate certain common habits and perceptions which are deeply rooted in the institutional setting, but also in society in general. Each of these discourses depicts a different understanding of nature, describing various concepts of nature. Since the discourses have been created through social practices that influence and at the same time are influenced by the social order, the thesis also illuminates the complex dialectic relationship between social norms and social practices. The thesis illustrates how the discovered common beliefs are reinforced or questioned by the exhibition practice. This not only demonstrates the possibility to portray and understand nature in various ways, but also illustrates the necessity to understand nature as a abstract, socially defined and changeable concept. By taking a closer look at the current exhibition practice, this thesis helps to develop an understanding of ideas about nature deeply-rooted in social practice, and the direction in which the current perception tends to develop.

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