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On Meanings, Managerialism, and Natures

Workshop

Welcome the wild.

On Meanings, Managerialism, and Natures

Mark Douglas

Managerial modes of discourse sap the meaning of nature. If species are lost then it’s feasible to consider meanings as at risk for loss. If meanings may be lost, they may too be preserved. Preservation is insufficient. Nature’s meanings call for cultivation. There’re good reasons to consider the preservation of meaning. Writers and artists are often well suited to take care of and cultivate nature’s meanings.

There is an especially relevant context which calls for the preservation of nature’s meanings. The common parlance or idiom employed when folks talk about nature and natural resources is what James (2014) calls managerialism. Green managerialism is a mode and manner of dealing with nature as

an exercise in management, in which one sets out one’s vision, states ones objectives and identifies key performance indicators (or KPIs), and in which it is considered to be of paramount importance to think strategically, and to have clear, quantifiable outcomes that will, ideally, be produced with maximum efficiency. (p. 148)

Key performance indicators are inconsiderate of meanings. This is due to the fact that managerially adopted practices rely on quantitative measures. Key performance indicators constrain the perspective taken toward nature to a strictly objective stance. The act of management is configured from abstractions “from the particularities of the situation with which one is dealing, to regard it in terms of certain general categories (objectives, KPIs etc.) and the formal relations between them” (p. 149).

An objective or exterior stance will not allow understanding of the natural world. Citing Arntzen (2008), James (2014) surmises that the outside perspective “is ill equipped to do justice to the various meanings nature has for those ‘insiders’ who engage with it in the living of their lives” (p. 149). These insiders are constituents. Green managerialism cannot understand constituent meaning.

So how can somebody go about cultivating nature’s meanings. James tells us that it’s done simply “by any individual who, with an apt phrase or well-crafted passage and without succumbing to errors such as sentimentalism and cliché, can gather nature’s meanings” (p. 144). I’d argue that nature’s meanings can be cultivated through interpretive impersonation of our environment. We cultivate meaning in the living of our lives. Meaning is gathered in our crafty ways of getting along in our days. James suggests sculptors, painters, poets, and storytellers as the best stewards of nature’s meanings. Meaning cultivation “is best achieved, not by managerially-minded administrators, but by those, both inside and outside academia, who represent all that is best in the arts and humanities (including the qualitative social sciences)” (p. 145).