Nature itself is first and foremost a category of the human imagination, therefore best treated as a part of culture

‘Nature itself is first and foremost a category of the human imagination, therefore best treated as a part of culture.’ Discuss?

This assignment is effectively based on the systematic branch of geography, otherwise known to most as cultural geography. The earliest days of the increasingly popular topic of cultural geography can be fundamentally traced to the seminal work of Carl

Sauer, and as a result of this numerous people worldwide believe that Sauer laid the foundations with which people built on, therefore we find ourselves in the situation we are today. In R.J. Johnson’s dictionary of human geography a highly distinguished definition of cultural geography is outlined. It states;

“Cultural geography deals with mans culturally determined activities and especially with the differential impact of cultural groups on the exploitation, form and personality of landscape.” (Johnson 1981)

From around the beginning of the nineteenth century Anthropology as a subject has grown significantly and became more and more complex as time has passed. Anthropology is of course the study of humankind, of ancient and modern people and their ways of living, and furthermore it is a subject which helps draw comparisons to both nature and culture as a whole.

As a term culture is extremely wide-ranging in that it provides many linkages to various other concepts. It may not be clear to people but many use the term culture without thinking much about it and therefore they use it in incorrect circumstances. The word culture derived form the Latin word cultra and from then onwards the word developed entering England around the fifteenth century. Since then many authors and geographers alike have put forward there own analysis of culture however the one which makes the most sense to me is that of Harris (1981) which reads;

“Culture is the learned patterns of behaviour and thought characteristics of a societal group.” (Harris 1981)

This short but detailed definition provides a foundation with which relative learning patterns of the term culture can begin and develop.

On the other hand nature is a term which is nearly always culturally construed and defined, in other words made meaningful through practical engagement and cognition. Many people stress that nature, and the extent to which it exists varies between different populations, various ethnic groups and most of all different countries. Therefore as a result, as also is the case with culture numerous view points have been put forward as to what nature means and how it operates. The following definition indicates to what extent nature operates;

“Nature is the web of life that exists outside the realm of the man-made; it is affected and altered but not created by man. Nature is wild and everything that man has not created.” (Fall 1991)

After successfully showing a general understanding of both nature and culture it is my view that nature is not a category of the human imagination so therefore it should not be best treated as an aspect of culture. To back the following point of view up I shall provide conceptual evidence as to why this is so.

Modern-day Aspects of Nature

Nature is a subject which continues to constantly deceive the day to day activities of many modern day people around the globe, in that they persist to ignore that it is there and also should be looked after instead of harmed through various detrimental aspects such as pollution and so on.

Due to the fact that living patterns today are centred on urbanisation and urban living and also the realms of technological advancements, nature constantly gets put to one side and overawed by man-made structures. Fall (1991) backs this point up when he indicated;

“Nature is the world that was not created by man. It includes man the creature but not his creations.” (Fall 1991)

In the past various ideologies of what nature actually is have been put forward by many human geographers and many strongly believe, including Cloke (1999) that nature does actually relate to science, philosophy and even the arts in that certain features of each of these popular subjects have links to nature in some way, shape or form.

To state that nature would be best treated as a part of culture would quite simply be an insult to the benefits and experiences nature has provided us with over the years, in that it to a certain extent shaped the evolution of man over the centuries. However it would not be an insult and it would be proper order to relate nature to the mother, father and child of us all and if anything culture would be best treated as a part of nature.

There is sufficient evidence to support the notion that as certain cultures and groups have developed and grown they have effectively damaged nature and in some cases beyond repair. When the word nature comes to mind things like green fields, trees, birds and other animals form a major element of my thinking, however as man continually tries to better his qualities, processions and general living conditions he subsequently removed huge chunks out of natures central core, in other words the trees and green fields that I previously mentioned become damaged and in some cases destroyed.

Many studies have been constructed on the damages certain cultures assault on natural creations and they do not make pretty reading, as they show how several species of either plants and animals become extinct (the red squirrel in the U.K) and also how green, open fields where a mountain of both a-biotic and biotic organisms exist get bulldozed and turned over to make way for houses and other modern day developments. This damage caused by various cultures on nature is just lame human attempts to recreate twenty first century nature.

The Other Side of the Argument

It is widely known that there are always two sides to every story, so therefore an argument must be created in order to back up the point that nature is best treated as a part of culture. The proposition that nature is to culture as a female is to a male may seem an improper comment to make and highly unfair to women especially but it does forcefully indicate the secondary status of nature over culture.

It is Roy Ellen (1996) who also puts forward a view that culture is superior to nature in various ways. In his book he wholeheartedly indicated that;

“Humankind has evolved over several million years by living in and utilizing nature, by transforming and assimilating it into culture.” (Ellen 1996)

This viewpoint that Ellen so confidently believes in highlights that culture has a stronghold over nature at the moment, whereas in the past the roles were some what reversed and nature generally had the upper hand over culture.

As a result of rapid global population growth in the latter stages of the nineteenth century it is to no surprise that culture can be superior to nature because of the fact that more and more people and more and more different cultures are in existence, so therefore nature is consequently put too the side and some what forgotten about. As this is the twenty-first century we are all living in the vast range of technology we have at our disposal means that we do not need nature to create plants, animals and even humans as developments such as cloning etc do this for us. Today’s world has become highly self centred and materialistic leaving the kind, natural and simple aspects of nature very little room to operate.


In the aftermath of the following argument that has been generated it seems correct to highlight the fact that it is incorrect to think that nature itself is first and foremost a category of the human imagination, therefore best treated as a part of culture. It would be true to say that nature has been around a great deal longer than the term culture, which really only came into existence around the fourteenth century.

In my opinion both nature and culture as concepts offer major differential characteristics in the sense that nature is a highly transparent term which offers many wide-ranging interconnections to various other ideas, where as on the other hand culture is a term which could be described a highly misleading and overused by many people.

To sum up how important nature is to us it is my view that the following abstract from Spring (1994) highlights it best;

“Nature is beauty and all that is part of nature is beautiful. Lands, plants, animals, skies and oceans are all part of nature that is shared with us. Nature is so amazing because it does not need the assistance of man to continue surviving as it has done for so long. Nature’s goodness can also make up for all that is bad and wrong for man. Man destroys but nature creates and gives birth to. It seems as if nature is the backbone to happiness and if there was no nature there would be nothing left in this world to admire and cherish.” Spring (1994)

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