SLU news

Nature as a concept discussed in new series of seminars

Published: 08 February 2017

How are concepts relating to environmental protection expressed and perceived? How are words such as ‘ecosystem’, ‘biodiversity’ and ‘landscape’ used and understood in various contexts? These are some of the questions that will asked and discussed in a series of seminars arranged by the Swedish Biodiversity Centre (CBM). The seminars will take place during five afternoons in the spring, beginning on 16 February. Invited speakers will make a one-hour long presentation followed by a discussion, also for one hour. The seminar series highlights the issue of nature and environmental protection in the context of social science.

The idea of the seminar series – “Conceptualisations of Nature” – is to inspire an interdisciplinary discussion, aimed at both researchers and students with varying backgrounds. Carina Green from CBM will be in charge of the seminars this spring and she has based the programme on her background in anthropology and interest in political ecology and environmental anthropology.

Why is CBM arranging these seminars and what does it mean to ‘conceptualise nature’

- We want to problematise humankind’s understanding of what we call ‘nature’ in general, and how we think about and carry out environmental protection. By using examples and situations from all over the world, we want to present different ways of interpreting, conceptualising and relating to these issues. For example, how are environmental protection concepts expressed and perceived locally? How are words such as ‘ecosystem’, ‘biodiversity’ and ‘landscapes’ used and understood in different social and cultural contexts? And what effect do these concepts have on our way of thinking and carrying out nature protection? Several of the presenters will talk about different situations where these issues are brought to a head. For example, Helga Ögmundardottir will talk about the challenges the sheep farmers on Iceland meet when traditional sheep management is threatened by the building of dams.

- The aim of the seminar series is to inspire an interdisciplinary discussion, but the presentations themselves are of a social science nature. Social science has the tools to highlight perspectives and discuss issues relating to nature and environmental protection on a human level. If we scratch the surface, we can illustrate the complexity that is always there. It is about gaining an in-depth understanding of the social, political and financial interests and incentives that affect how we think about nature and nature protection. It is also about clarifying the relationships between the parties involved and the bureaucratic structures in order to understand how ideas and concepts are created and used, become policies and then interpreted locally. From that perspective, we can see how things work in practice, and illustrate how nature protection concepts are created, constructed and reproduced, and what this means for us.

Why is this important?

If you do not focus on the complexity of these issues and problematise concepts, attitudes and everything else that is created when people meet, it is easy not to fully understand the developments that occur. The action and agendas of involved parties must also be understood in relation to different political, social and cultural contexts when it comes to nature protection issues. Otherwise, our understanding of these issues tends to become very narrow and shallow. In the end, it is, for example, about acquiring a deeper knowledge of how environmental policies are formed and what happens when politics are practised.

Carina says that CBM hopes to contribute to illustrating the diversity needed in research on these issues.

- We want to stimulate an interesting interdisciplinary discussion that can move us forward. And I hope that we will be able to highlight various contemporary environmental agendas, problematise them and learn more about why we think about and practise nature and nature conservation management in the way that we do.



In spring 2017, the Swedish Biodiversity Centre is offering a series of seminars on the theme ‘Conceptualisations of nature – Exploring constructions and political agendas in human understandings of ecology, biodiversity, and environmental practice.’

Five seminars will be organised between 16 February and 17 May. Time: 15-17 (except seminar no 5: 16.15-18). Place: SLU Campus Ultuna in Uppsala, Ulls hus (except seminar no 5: Ihresalen, Campus Engelska parken, Uppsala University).

Questions and registration:

For more information and a complete programmes, please see