AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

The wilderness knot

by Haydn Grinling Washington

Institution: University of Western Sydney
Degree: PhD
Year: 0
Keywords: wilderness areas; philosophy of nature; nature; wilderness area users
Record ID: 1052105
Full text PDF: http://handle.uws.edu.au:8081/1959.7/18652


Over the last thirty years the meaning of the word 'wilderness' has changed in Australia, and it has come under sustained attack on philosophical, cultural, political and ‘justice’ grounds. This thesis investigates the 'Wilderness Knot’ – the confusion and tangled meanings around ‘wilderness’. In the literature this ‘knot’ is comprised of at least five strands; philosophical, political, cultural, justice and exploitation. Normally people focus only on the last of these strands, its economic exploitation. The methodology is qualitative, involving participatory action research (PAR) and hermeneutic phenomenology. The PAR was done with the Blue Mountains Wilderness Network near Sydney, which investigated the confusion around ‘wilderness’, and sought to reduce this by entering into dialogue with supporters, critics and community members interested in wilderness issues, notably the local Aboriginal Traditional Owners (TOs). Eleven in-depth interviews with scholars (including critics) of wilderness were carried out to feed into this PAR. The hermeneutic phenomenology made use of the wilderness journals of five of the Network, and sought to gain a deeper understanding of the experience of wilderness itself, and also the lived experience of encountering the wilderness knot. The PAR provided many insights into the knot, especially regarding the need for dialogue to reduce the confusion. It demonstrated the delicacy needed to gain meaningful dialogue over an issue which raises real passions about social and environmental justice. It took three years to develop meaningful dialogue between TOs and conservationists. The spectra of issues entangled in ‘the land’ and ‘wilderness’ are presented textually and diagrammatically, as are the ways forward to untangle meanings and reduce confusion. The political naivety of academia is discussed in regard to ‘wilderness as lanai’ (considering increasing threats). There is a need for greater rigour in identifying which meaning of ‘wilderness’ is actually being referred to. There is also merit in promoting recognition that ‘wilderness’ is in fact a tribute to past indigenous land practices, not a disregard of indigenous history. The idea of shared ‘custodianship’ or stewardship is suggested as a way forward. The wilderness knot can indeed be loosened, as this thesis demonstrates. However, it will be an ongoing project for all those involved. The art to keeping ‘wilderness as lanai’ is not just ‘eternal vigilance’ it is an eternal ongoing dialogue about its meaning and values. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)