By Uta Berghöfer, Julian Rode, Kurt Jax, Johannes Förster, Augustin Berghöfer1 and Heidi Wittmer
Across the globe, environmental changes brought about through extractive resource use, new or more intensive land uses, and infrastructure development are affecting relations between humans and the natural world in fundamental ways. People often disagree about how to use or protect nature. In this paper, we use the concept of Societal Relationships with Nature (SRN), originally developed in sociology, for understanding nature-related conflicts and to explain why people value nature differently.
In the last decades, debates on human-nature conflicts have often focused on which values different people hold for nature, or for specific aspects of nature such as an animal or a lake. These approaches agree that it is important to examine differing worldviews, as well as how to involve people in decision processes. Another important issue is who has more or less power to influence decisions. While these issues are rather well understood theoretically, it remains challenging to include them in practical research and assessments.
The SRN concept we use here aims to tackle these challenges. It asks about three dimensions of people’s relationship to nature: 1) knowledgescape (what and how people know about nature), 2) interactions (how nature plays a role in daily life), and 3) identity (how nature influences peoples’ personalities). The analysis of these dimensions helps to understand why people have different interests, attitudes and values regarding nature. It can explain why different groups of people have conflicts about how to treat nature, but can also show where they agree. SRN analysis can therefore help to find ways to solve conflicts, and it can inform political and societal decisions.