wildhood welcome

Share what you have gathered wildly.

CHCB 467
Missoula, MT 59802

Wildhood is kinship of the wild in all people, places, and things.


Welcome the wild.

Thrownness - Problem - Purpose - Questions

Mark Douglas


Involvement is an integration of lived bodies and landscapes whereby corporeal orientation is given by place and the somebody that is engaged and enmeshed with the sensory array of sensuous surfaces (Seamon, forthcoming; Casey, 2009). Through receptivity and attentiveness, constituents become attuned to and involved with background social practices and cultivated meaningful distinctions that arise in their wilderness perspectives (James, 2013). Backhaus (2009) has articulated symbolic landscapes as co-constitutions of people and place. Meaning making is an embodied existential enactment of an experiential interpretation through the skilled appropriation of the wild place. Being-in-wilderness, that is, involving oneself with and dwelling in a wild place, founds the disclosure of significance by granting clearance to the interplay of nature and culture. Wilderness meaning is embodied by people that dwell in wild places. Somebody articulates the meanings through familiarity, care, and involved dealings with the environment. The skilled coping practices that people perform in the wild place involvements subtlety disclose how wilderness matters to them. Wildhood comes by being receptive and attentive to the wilderness in a way that allows somebody to gather and share mutual resonance and reverence for the human and non-human worlds.


Conservation scientists and natural resource decision makers need the most complete understanding of the significance and meanings that are gathered as people involve themselves with wilderness areas. This includes a need for understanding of the embodied meaning that is gathered and comported in regard to a wild place. These understandings are even more important when there are conflicting sociocultural and individual perceptions of the importance of wild places. The importance of those understandings gains even more prominence when conflicting perceptions influence the legal actions taken against public lands agencies.

 Conservation social scientists need enhanced comprehension of the significant meanings embedded in wild places. The #Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005, pp. 101-102) identified “major gaps in information” and “considerable uncertainty” relative to the dynamics and influence that cultural meanings have on ecosystem decision making. #Chan and others (2012) show that strictly computational thinking ignores the depth needed to understand the values, benefits, and sociocultural meaning of ecosystems. This demonstrates a knowledge gap in conservation science. There is widespread academic discourse and debate on human-nature interaction and scholars in many fields have addressed these important questions. Within the human dimensions of natural resources, scholars such as McCool (2008), Williams (2008), and Schroeder (2012) have all explored the co-constitution of landscapes in which people consciously and unconsciously share meanings. Within human geography, scholars such as Malpas (2011), Casey (2009), and Backhaus (2009) give interpretations of environmental embodiment, intertwinement, enmeshment, and entanglement. Seamon (forthcoming, n.p.) introduced eco-embodiment as “the various lived ways, sensorily and motility-wise, that the body in its pre-reflective perceptual presence engages and synchronizes with the world at hand.”

However, none of these works address the central question of what a systematic analysis of wild place comportment by land users, agency stewards, and representatives of various citizen associations reveal. Despite excellent work on sense of place and place attachment, scholars examining the diversity of environmental meaning have not yet fully explored the important role of ecological embodiment in creating and sustaining wilderness. But without such an understanding, conservation social scientists are left with inadequate analyses that produce ill-informed policy decisions and a self-sustaining cycle of misunderstanding and resentment of the stewardship practices intended to safeguard and sustain wild landscapes of significance. 

Statement of Purpose and Research Questions

This project is unique because it addresses an under-researched area of wilderness social science. What distinguishes this study is its approach to connecting the lived worlds of wilderness constituents with the referential stance they take on wild place meaning. It is unique in its typological investigation of the existential realm of wilderness meaning. It investigates and reconfigures what previous research has called “the symbolic values of wilderness” (Cole, 2005; Schroeder, 2007) and what the researcher calls wildhood. 

The study takes a constructivist research approach leading to practical outcomes. Social constructivism focuses on an individual’s learning that takes place through their involvements. This relates directly to the problematic element dealing with inadequate attunement to eco-embodiment. There is a range of significant embodiments that discursively co-constitute the wilderness meaning gathered and shared about wilderness areas. Through a better understanding of these wild place embodiments, better informed and more justified decisions can be made by wilderness stewards. The purpose of this study is to conduct a close and fine-grained analysis of ecological embodiment that discovers that in contrast to previous assumptions, in fact wilderness areas are constituted by sociocultural significance and meaning that is gathered and shared there in people, places, and things. Addressing the previous assumptions will require better understandings of the essential structures and processes of wild place eco-embodiment as wildhood. These understandings and descriptions will found implications for wilderness stewardship planning and communication practices. To pursue the purpose, the following research questions are addressed:

1) What are the independent aspects ecological embodiment comported by a) wilderness stewardship agency staff members, b) regional outfitters, c) gateway community business people; and d) various recreational user groups? That is, what are the independent dimensions of wildhood?

2) What are the divergent aspects of ecological embodiment comported by a) wilderness stewardship agency staff members, b) regional outfitters, c) gateway community business people; and d) various recreational user groups? That is, what are the tensions of wildhood?

3) What are the convergent aspects of ecological embodiment comported by a) wilderness stewardship agency staff members, b) regional outfitters, c) gateway community business people; and d) various recreational user groups? That is, what are the imbrications of wildhood?