Nature and the Natural

What is nature? What is ‘natural’? Nature is often understood as ‘that which is out there’ – and that which is permanent, or fundamental – that which can be contrasted to culture. On the other hand, our conceptions of nature and the natural are fundamentally cultural, i.e. specific to different cultures and eras.

This applies both to what we understand as nature ‘out there’ and to human nature. In addition, nature itself is a historical entity and thereby also the result of cultural transformations. The various forms of nature we interact with, that surround us and sustains us, are shaped through legislation and technical regulations, through arbitrations and rules on usage, through notions of what is right and wrong, and through ideas about e.g. what should be the standards for mankind’s relations to other living creatures. Nature is simultaneously that which we place our trust in, that which we explore in the hope of enhancing our culture, and also the object of some of our most persistent controversies: How do we understand and relate to the global climate crisis? In what way do some questions become global? What characterizes the transnational knowledge systems or the local practices and institutional formations that have shaped and help reshape nature and ‘the natural’? And how do social scientists and humanists study ‘nature’ without it being reduced to a ‘pure’ cultural product?

By including this theme we want to encourage research and professional activities that explore such questions and dilemmas. Evidently, our mission is not thereby to answer what nature or the natural is, but to critically and reflectively examine transformations of nature. In order to accomplish this, cross-disciplinary cooperation between the humanities and the social sciences will be crucial. The same applies to the combination of historical and contemporary studies, and the combination of close, practice-oriented studies and more overarching, institutional studies. We want to draw attention to as well as reinvigorate the cross-disciplinary and cross-faculty collaborations that already exist in this field of research – as well as to initiate new ones. Another objective will be to strengthen cross-disciplinary cooperation on this topic beyond the University of Oslo.

The Kultrans Research area Nature and the Natural organized an international conference on 15-17 September 2010: Sentient creatures - Transforming biopolitics and life matters.

The blog "Nature and the Natural" (last updated in 2009).


Leader: Kristin Asdal.