The following entry is adapted from a fragment taken from the following open access article: Ares-López D. & K. Beilin. “Estudios culturales-ambientales Ibéricos: fundamentos teóricos y conceptos clave.” Letras Hispanas 13 (2017): 166-182. Special Issue: “Contemporary Iberian Ecocriticism and New Materialisms.” Ed. Luis I. Prádanos. Web.https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=6550899.
Cultures of Nature are groupings of material-semiotic practices that implicate conscientious or attentive inter-actions between people and other living organisms or inanimate matter. These encounters and interactions can be produced in very different contexts: from the perspective of inhabitation or from the perspective of traveling, in spatial proximity or across great distances mediated by texts or images. The key to understanding these collections of social-environmental practices as a culture of nature is not so much the spatial context in which they develop but rather the fact that together they interweave common, historically-situated ways of conceiving, conceptually parsing out, sensorially perceiving, and emotionally responding to non-human life and matter. In fact, the collections of practices that make up a culture of nature often include a constant, discursive production or ways of planning and management that connect urban offices and laboratories to rural areas or distant “wilderness.”
The practices of cultures of nature can include professional practices, labor-related practices, religious practices, or practices related to leisure or care. Some examples are hiking, landscape painting or writing, hunting, fishing, wildlife management, territorial and urban planning, environmental activism, the care of pets, the contemplation of wildlife as a tourist activity (whether it be in zoos or on protected lands), the cultivation of orchards and gardens, vegetarianism, agricultural and extractive labor, biology research, etc. Some examples of groupings of practices in the form of a culture of nature are agro-industrial extraction/ production, outdoor/ countryside excursions, sport hunting, conservation, and practices of habitation in rural, subsistence economies.
In the expression “cultures of nature,” the convergence of the terms “culture” and “nature” makes them lose their meaning as distinct, stable ontological entities. The constituents of cultures of nature are heterogeneous (people, living beings, inanimate matter, technology, techniques of observation, texts, images, institutions, etc.), they circulate and relate to each other in a dynamic way, giving rise to not only different cultures but also different “natures.” This multiplicity of what is “natural” shouldn’t be understood as merely a type of imaginary or discursive construction but rather as different ways of perceiving, inhabiting, moving through the world and interacting with and materially assembling with its constituents.
The constant contact, friction, or overlap between different cultures of nature can give rise to mutual support, hybridization, tensions, or violent conflicts. For example, sport hunting has publically justified its activity by adopting a conservationist discourse. The management techniques of wildlife in many Spanish hunting reserves, however, are based in a productivist logic: to produce the highest possible number of animals and the highest possible number of deaths. At the same time, this way of understanding wildlife as a “resource” or “hunting product” is in tension with the aesthetic and spiritual appreciation of wildlife that hiking promotes and with the value that the animal rights movement gives to the right of every animal to avoid suffering and prolong its life as long as possible.