Stephanie BETHMANN and Eva BLAISE
Institution: Forest Research Institute (FVA) Baden-Württemberg, Department of Forest and Society – Germany
Keywords: Forest Recreation, Spirituality, Cultural Ecosystem Services, Forest Conflicts, Participation, Qualitative Research, Sociology, Oral History
When forest visitors describe their experience of walking in the woods, they rarely put their feelings in religious terms. But a close reading of their narratives and practices shows that forests are an important source for spiritual experiences. For many people, forests serve as reminders that as humans they are not opposed to nature, but rather intimately connected with it, themselves subject to the order of the natural world. Through their (recreational) practices, people produce a specific nature experience that we coin here “being nature”.
The talk traces the changing meanings of “being nature” through a wide range of qualitative data: interviews with citizens from rural and urban areas in south-west Germany, with members of forest-related citizen initiatives, and with forestry practitioners. We account for historical change by comparing between older and younger generations. And based on a study of forest conflicts, we also consider some political implications of the spiritual dimension in relationships to forests: The ways that citizens address their views and worries about legitimate forest use are in many ways incompatible with the scientific and bureaucratic jargon that alone is deemed “rational”. This antagonism occasionally escalates conflicts and limits the possibilities for political discourse and participation.