Wilderness matters in different ways to different people. That is, the way wilderness shows up, its significance, and the roles it plays in people’s lives all vary according to people’s practices. These wilderness meanings are found in lived practices and through relations with more of less familiar environments. Lived meanings emerge through somebody’s taken on way of life. Lived meanings are rooted in the way somebody gets along in the world. This study will introduce and investigate lived wilderness meaning as a contribution to the science of human dimensions of natural resources.
This study focuses on the ways wilderness meaningfully matters to people. Specifically, the focus is on lived wilderness meanings that arise in the lives of people involved and familiar with wilderness. There are risks associated with ignoring the everyday aspect of environmental meaning generally, and lived wilderness meaning specifically. Ignoring everyday environmental meaning generally risks a diminished connection between people and place. Somebody’s connection to the environment is diminished when environmental meaning is restrictively acknowledged as an experienced-based outcome or benefit rather than as an emergent and constitutive lived phenomenon. Furthermore, an existential (as opposed to an experiential) approach to wilderness meanings allows for a focus on an understanding of everyday life and lived meanings. The existential approach is oriented toward meanings that arise from somebody’s own lived social and historical situation. This broadens the domain of wilderness meanings beyond recreational experiences that happen in formally bounded space.
Conservation social science generally misunderstands lived meanings. Human dimensions scholars Williams, Patterson, Stewart, Stokowski, and Brooks have all taken important steps toward more fully exploring environmental meaning. The shortfall of this research tradition is that its emphasis on experiential meaning has covered over the potential to explore the existential dimension. In contrast to human dimensions research, the work of existential environmental thinkers Seamon, Casey, James, and Holland have focused on environmental meaning in a different way. These thinkers and their approach, largely founded in a Heideggerian tradition, can enliven and enrich the meanings-based approaches within the human dimensions.
This study will remedy a gap in human dimensions by providing an interpretive description of lived meanings that emerge from the everyday understanding and significance of wilderness. I’m proposing a doctoral research project to better understand what wilderness means to people as they live their lives. Through a close and fine-grained examination and description of living wilderness meaning, I will explore the different ways that wilderness shows up for people.
The purpose of this study will be to explore the significance and role that wilderness plays in the lives of 20 folks that are familiar and involved with wilderness. That is, the purpose is to investigate lived wilderness meaning. It is anticipated that a better understanding of lived wilderness meaning will enhance conservation social science theory and practice. Introducing the existential approach to human dimensions will give the field new ways to elucidate the meaning of environmental phenomena that show up in everyday life. There’s hope that such insights may help address a need called out by a participant in an America’s Great Outdoors (2011, p. 21) listening session. “We need a philosophical change of what the great outdoors is. We don’t need to go out west or to some faraway place. It can be a little stream, out your door, even if it’s in the city. It exists where we exist.” This study seeks to identify the independent aspects of lived wilderness meanings in terms of the role and significance that wilderness plays in the lives of people involved and familiar with it.