Loving Nature: Towards an Ecology of Emotion

Loving Nature: Towards an Ecology of Emotion

Loving Nature: Towards an Ecology of Emotion

Loving Nature: Towards an Ecology of Emotion


How do some people come to care about nature and others don't? In Loving Nature , Kay Milton explores the idea of environmentalism as a distinct perspective on the world and tests the limits of anthropology against other disciplines, particularly psychology. Milton proposes a model of how we relate to the world in general and to nature in particular. Focusing on the role of emotion in shaping our experience and motivation, she develops a concept of sacredness in describing what we come to value. For environmentalists, anthropologists and those fascinated by psychology, this will make a thought-provoking read.


The hope that science could replace religion as a way for human beings to cope with the world…was really a hope that 'nature' could replace 'God' as a source of inspiration and understanding. Harmony, permanence, order, and an idea of our place in that order-scientists searched for all that as diligently as Job, with their unceasing attention to the 'web of life' and the grand cycle of decay and rebirth. But nature, it turned out, was fragile.

(McKibben 1990:76-7)

For as long as I can remember, I have been surrounded by people who take an active interest in the protection of nature and natural things. During the past fifteen years, when environmental ism has been my main research interest, I have spent many hours reading reports, policies and campaign literature produced by nature protection authorities and NGOs, and engaged in debates about these documents. I have attended many formal and informal gatherings at which nature protection has been discussed, and had many conversations with nature protectionists about their activities. I have also, in the pursuit of work and pleasure, been an enthusiastic consumer of books, magazines, television programmes and, more recently, websites, aimed at increasing public concern for nature. One of the clear impressions gained from all this exposure is that nature protectionists relate to nature in ways that can be described, broadly, as 'religious' or 'scientific'. These two idioms do not, by any means, exhaust ways of relating to nature, but they are prominently expressed in discourses about nature protection. This observation creates an interesting possibility. Debates about the differences between religion and science have arisen repeatedly in anthropology and related disciplines throughout the past century. Perhaps this academic discourse could provide an appropriate vehicle for thinking about how nature protectionists relate to nature, a way of identifying key ideas that might help us to understand how people engaged in the protection of nature come to think, feel and act as they do towards the objects of their concern.

In this chapter, I explore this possibility by analysing what anthropologists and other specialists have written about the relationship between science and religion. There are three tasks to be accomplished. First, I need to show that both scientific . . .

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