This study will remedy a gap in human dimensions of natural resource research by demonstrating how an existential approach to wilderness provides a description of lived wilderness meanings that emerge in everyday life. I’m proposing a doctoral research project to better understand what wilderness means to people as they live their lives. That is, I aim to generate new understandings of the different ways that wilderness fits into people's lives.
Conservation social science often misunderstands lived meanings in the sense that it has ignored lived meanings as connections to somebody’s way of life. Human dimensions scholars Williams, Patterson, Stewart, Stokowski, and Brooks have all taken important steps toward more fully exploring environmental meaning. However, the shortfall of the human dimensions research tradition sits in its strict emphasis on experiential meaning. 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. Their approach, largely founded in a Heideggerian tradition, can enliven, enrich and expand the meanings-based approaches within the human dimensions. This investigation is oriented toward lived wilderness meanings and it focuses on the way wilderness meanings manifest in the lives of wilderness enthusiasts and practitioners. If wilderness is an existential phenomenon then lived wilderness meanings are disclosed in the ways that day-to-day human existence relates to wilderness.
This study will explore wilderness as part and parcel of lives lived by people wilth familiarity and involvement with wilderness. A better understanding of lived wilderness meanings can enhance conservation social science theory and practice. Introducing the existential approach to human dimensions will give the field new ways to shed light on the meanings of ordinary environmental phenomena. These insights will help address a need reported by the Council on Environmental Quality (2011, p. 21) and expressed by a citizen speaking up at an America’s Great Outdoors 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.” Given that call, and given that wilderness constitutes a part of the great outdoors, I propose work that collects, analyzes, identifies, and interprets the ways that ordinary life connects with wilderness. I propose to study wilderness where man is not a visitor who does not remain, that is, where we exist.