Knowing Me, Knowing You: Aboriginal and European Concepts of Nature as Self and Other

in Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology
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Abstract

Based on long-term fieldwork with Aboriginal groups, Euro-Australian pastoralists and other land users in Far North Queensland, this paper considers the ways in which indigenous relations to land conflate concepts of Nature and the Self, enabling subjective identification with elements of the environment and supporting long-term affective relationships with place. It observes that indigenous cultural landscapes are deeply encoded with projections of social identity: this location in the immediate environment facilitates the intergenerational transmission of knowledge and identity and supports beliefs in human spiritual transcendence of mortality. The paper suggests that Aboriginal relations to land are therefore implicitly founded on interdependent precepts of social and environmental sustainability. In contrast, Euro-Australian pastoralists' cultural landscapes, and constructs of Nature, though situated within more complex relations with place, remain dominated by patriarchal and historically adversarial visions of Nature as a feminine "wild-ness" or "otherness" requiring the civilising control of (male) Culture and rationality. Human spiritual being and continuity is conceptualised as above or outside Nature, impeding the location of selfhood and collective continuity within the immediate environment. In tandem with mobile and highly individuated forms of social identity, this positions Nature as "other". There is thus a subjective separation between the individualised life of the self, and the life of Nature/other that, despite an explicit discourse in which ecological well-being is valorised, inhibits affective connection with place and confounds sustainability.

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