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Nature, Culture, and Natural Heritage: Toward a Culture of Nature

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The inclusion of “cultural landscapes” as a category for protection in the World Heritage Convention in the 1990s calls for a re-evaluation of the distinction between natural and cultural heritage, and, in this context, of the relation between nature and culture. I suggest that nature can be understood as an important, distinctive category, despite the interpenetration of the natural and the human-made. I will argue that culture and nature need not be conceived in opposition to each other, and that it makes sense to speak of and pursue a culture of nature.

I begin by considering the notion of natural heritage, as developed in relation to the World Heritage Convention, the questions that have been raised regarding the idea of nature, and the supposed contrast between nature and culture. I continue by taking note of the manner in which the idea of culture functions, how nature and artifice relate to culture, and show what it means to speak of a culture of nature. I conclude with a sketch of the consequences that these considerations have for natural heritage conservation, and for our understanding of the relation between natural and cultural heritage.

The idea of heritage, like the idea of inheritance, involves reference to something that comes from the past and is legitimately enjoyed by some person or persons in the present. Heritage, however, involves further reference to something fundamentally shared in common, perhaps by all those who belong to a nation, ideological affiliation, or other affinity group. Hence, one speaks of national heritage, the heritage of the abolitionists, or the heritage represented by Moorish architecture. As such, heritage belongs to some group in a trans temporal manner: it is something to be enjoyed not only by certain people in this generation, but also by the relevant set of people across time, possibly for indefinitely long future periods. Consequently heritage, in contrast to inheritance, may be defined as the stock of valued goods passed on from the past to the present; the integrity of which is to be protected, possibly to be enjoyed and to be augmented, but not to be used up, before being passed on to the future.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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