Review: Identity and the Natural Environment: The Psychological Significance of Nature

By Nayar, Pramod K. | Electronic Green Journal, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Review: Identity and the Natural Environment: The Psychological Significance of Nature


Nayar, Pramod K., Electronic Green Journal


Review: Identity and the Natural Environment: The Psychological Significance of Nature By Susan Clayton and Susan Opotow (Eds.) Reviewed by Pramod K. Nayar University of Hyderabad, India Susan Clayton and Susan Opotow (Eds.). Identity and the Natural Environment: The Psychological Significance of Nature. Cambridge, Mass. and London: The MIT Press, 2003. 353 pp. ISBN 0-262-53206-9 (pbk) US $ 29.00

The Clayton-Opotow volume is a useful primer on identity and the environment. Since both "identity" and "nature" are slippery terms, the introduction sets out their parameters. Personal identity emerges in a social context that includes interpersonal and group memberships. Thus identity has a cultural and social aspect. The experience of nature is rooted in a social and cultural experience. Environmental identity can be conceptualized as occurring along a continuum. Identity and the Natural Environment is divided into sections based on the degree of social influence on environmental identity, ranging from the minimal to the strong.

Steven J. Holmes in the opening essay surveys the available literature/theories on identity and the natural environment. The first section of the book deals with a minimal degree of social influence, and is therefore titled "Experiencing Nature as Individuals." Susan Clayton's essay defines environmental identity as a meaningful source of self-definition. Her research findings demonstrate conclusively that environmental identity relates to values, attitudes and behaviors. Gene Myers and Ann Russell examine the human-natural interactions that produce an environmental identity. Ulrich Gebhard et al analyze how children use human identity to construct an anthropomorphic identity for natural objects. They demonstrate how such a construction of identity - interpreting human identity in terms of nature or natural objects, what they term "physiomorphism" (as opposed to "anthropomorphism") - enables children to develop a form of empathy with nature. Peter Kahn, Jr. comes to a similar conclusion in his research on children and the environment, arguing that children use either anthropocentric or biocentric ways to think about the non-human environment. He suggests that environmental identity must be talked about in terms of both multiplicity and unity. Elisabeth Kals and Heidi Ittner also focus on children, specifically their motives for nature-protective behavior. They conclude that nature-protective behavior in children stems from a combination of emotional attachment to nature and moral concern about threats to nature.

In Section II of the book, the essays deal with moderate social influence on environmental identity. Focusing on social and community contexts, the essays in this section research the concerns about environmental justice constructed at local levels. Linda Kalof looks at the ways in which humans think about animals, locating such attitudes within the matrix of race and ethnicity. …

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