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Re-enchanting Conservation Work: Reflections on the Australian Experience

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The Australian nature conservation movement is effectively entering its second century of existence and this transition has prompted a degree of reflection about the strategies used hitherto. After going through boom years - as part of a broader environmental movement - from the 1970s until the early 1990s, a more difficult political environment in the second half of the 1990s has sparked a semi-public discussion about priorities and future strategies. This article argues that the debate about future conservation strategies needs to tackle two important legacies that have become increasingly problematic: a lingering 'frontier mentality' that fosters a separation between people and 'pristine nature'; and a heavy reliance on scientific expertise and rational arguments for conservation. This dual legacy has blinded the movement to the aesthetic appeal of the romantic philosophical tradition in ecology and the importance of sensuous, embodied experiences of the 'more than human' world. In rethinking the legacy of the romantic philosopher Henry David Thoreau, the article argues for a shift of emphasis from wilderness to wildness in order to bring conservation home to more people. It suggests that we can learn from the ability of Australian Aborigines to listen to the land in order to 'sing up' the stories that are embedded in landscapes. Learning to read and create landscape stories provides creative ways of building more affective bonds between people and the land. Non-rational approaches to nature conservation can help to re-enchant conservation 'work'.

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Keywords: conservation strategies; embodiment; nature/culture dualisms; sensuous experience; storied landscapes; wildness

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-02-01

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  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has a Journal Impact Factor (2016) of 1.279.
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