Exploring nature as representation and young adults’ conceptualisations of nature in the user-generated online world: Nature 2.0
Urban living is now the norm around the world, nature spaces and species are declining and, it is argued, many now have little or no direct contact with nature. At the same time, people everywhere are increasingly dependent on technology and digitally-mediated experiences of the world, including experiences of the natural world. Much has been written on the benefits of direct nature contact–for both people and nature–and also the (frequently negative) implications of mediated contact, in particular nature experienced via mass media. There is a growing body of research into the social, political and economic implications of the interactive web (Web 2.0) although studies which attend to nature in this online space are still limited. In short, those with an interest in the natural world generally say little about digital or new media technologies, while new media commentators are generally more interested in culture than nature. This study attempts to bridge this disciplinary gap, towards more informed dialogue about nature in the modern, digitally-enabled, increasingly media-centric world. This cross-disciplinary study addresses both cultural representations of nature (e.g. as Arcadia or wilderness) and young adults’ conceptualisations of nature as realised on Web 2.0; what is described here as Nature 2.0. And significantly, the web is used here as research tool and research environment. An online questionnaire was used to gather quantitative and qualitative responses about Web 2.0 and nature from 504 New Zealand university students and each student was asked to select and share a nature website which is indicative of nature for them. Follow-up focus group comments (from 16 volunteers who had completed the questionnaire) add breadth and depth to the information which was shared by the students online. The findings from this study indicate that mass-mediated representations of nature that now appear online continue to reflect and inform how people think about the natural world. Furthermore, the interactive web is significant in terms of actualising peoples’ ideas about nature and also enabling (and potentially promoting) certain nature concepts over others, most notably reimaging nature as the more entangled and politicised environment. These findings challenge established frameworks which are used to understand peoples’ visions or concepts of nature, most notably those which fail to accommodate the potential for different ideas in a changed human-nature landscape (both online and offline). The findings also challenge the methodological boundaries and the language which is used within the nature space. Finally, these findings shine an unexpected light on the role of the user in the interactive space, when nature rather than culture is centre-stage. Notably, just as this exploratory study has been informed by research from a variety of disciplines, ranging from art history to conservation and new media studies, so too are the findings from this study relevant to human-nature research more broadly. This is the case regardless of whether interest is in contact in the offline physical world, the online digital world or, as here, both worlds now entangled.
Advisor: Freeman, Claire; Pearson, Erika
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Geography and Media, Film & Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Nature; Nature 2.0; young people; New Zealand; nature conceptualisations; nature representations; nature in art and literature; nature and media; new media; Web 2.0
Research Type: Thesis