What does lay understanding of scientific knowledge of the environment actually consist of? Do lay people broadly accept what abstract science has to say or are they rejecting it? It is symptomatic of the general argument outlined in this study that lay understandings of the relationship between society and nature are under-recorded. A specially commissioned Directive by Sussex University’s Mass-Observation Archive illustrates the kinds of alienation to which the last two chapters have been referring. This chapter will argue that lay people are not so much dominated by abstract thinking as left with an inadequate understanding of their predicament and their relations to nature. They also do not necessarily share the theoretically informed social constructions which intellectuals and others attribute to them.
However, we can be more assertive than this. People do seem to be constructing and communicating about relations with nature which draw on and reflect their social experience. On the one hand people are necessarily involved in experiencing and monitoring diverse combinations of real causal powers and tendencies. These, as we have seen, are best understood through the analysis of concrete conjunctures. On the other hand, people are making sense of these experiences, giving meaning to them and communicating about them by drawing on icons and forms of experience with which they are more familiar. Perhaps we are encountering here another tendency which stems from the innate powers of human beings, that of constructing the world in ways which make some sort of sense to the person involved.
We have already suggested in the last chapter that there may be a significant gap between the social constructions which intellectuals make and the interpretations and understandings of lay people. In the absence of adequate information, it is tempting to ascribe to lay people views similar to those held by academics. Much the same can be said of lay people’s understanding of their relations with nature. Here again, their appreciations of abstract science are not the same as those often attributed to them by intellectuals.