Sunday, April 19, 2009

Social Construction of Nature

In The Social Construction of Nature: Theoretical Approaches to the History of Environmental Problems by Elizabeth Bird, she talks about where environmental problems come from. She believes that “scientific knowledge should not be regarded as a representation of nature, but rather as a socially constructed interpretation with an already socially constructed natural-technical object of inquiry.” Unfortunately, science is influenced by other social constructs such as politics and cultural views. Bird then goes on to talk about scientific knowledge itself and questions it’s existence.
Bird also wonders whether “The existence of environmental problems, in fact, may pose a challenge to our assumption that what is known by science is nature.” Then there is a discussion of Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty. If you are observing something in nature, doesn’t the fact that you are observing it change it? When scientists study nature are they changing what is already there? Many other theorists are then mentioned. Robert Young’s labor process of science is discussed which “suggests that science cannot be understood naively as being about nature, because it is engaged in a productive process with its raw materials or objects.”
Bird then discusses the ideas of Latour and Woolgar. They mention how realities of science can be negotiated. They talk of it as a productive activity and suggest that it should be treated as a social production. They also talk about how science is known for reproducing certain conditions in order to check the knowledge, but that is not representative of nature.
One of the problems with nature is that is has not been represented accordingly throughout history. “…environmental problems are the result of a reductionist science that does not adequately take the whole of nature into account.” Often in the U.S. there is this false idea of what nature really looks like or is supposed to be. There is not a one universal truth to defining nature. Bird suggests that when looking at environmental problems we should also be looking at social issues, culture, etc. We need to examine historical interactions of society with nature to find the solution to the problem. Many of our social problems have greatly effected the environment.
I can see how it would be difficult to come to any conclusions using science to talk about nature when both are terms that are not easily defined. There are many ideas concerning both that have been shaped throughout history by our society that is culturally constructed.


  1. I think science can be very misleading at times when being presented to us as a truthful and ensuring type of solution when dealing with problems in nature. I think that because of the varying and diverse variables such as cultural and social constructions, we all have a different take on our natures reality. By focusing on more than just a scientific approach for finding solutions or understanding what issues need to be addressed, we can better the outlooks and perspectives that a number of people will might have on issues with nature.

  2. I agree with what has been said in the comments. I know of a lot of people, myself included, that base their beliefs about environmental problems solely on what the science tells them is true. Before taking this class, I've never really given thought to science's deceptiveness because I've always taken it to be definite. Like B White, I also think it's important that we take other approaches into consideration when searching for solutions to environmental problems.