Marginal nature: urban wastelands and the geography of nature

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2009-12

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Abstract

In the United States, the foundational myths of Nature are wilderness and pastoral arcadia. This dissertation examines a different kind of nature that emerges as habitats in urban wastelands and margins. This cosmopolitan community is a hybrid nature that is the unintended product of human activity and nature's unflagging opportunism, which I call marginal nature. Marginal nature is neither pristine nor pastoral, but rather a nature whose ecological and cultural significance requires a reassessment of our narratives of nature. The wastelands are unique sounding boards for measuring perceptions of nature, since these places provoke ambiguous responses of attraction and repulsion. I explore perceptions of wasteland habitat from the perspectives of urban space, urban ecology, and literature about urban nature. The primary methodology of this dissertation is hermeneutical inquiry which reveals the layers of environmental discourse concealing marginal nature beneath language that asks it to be something that it is not. This environmental hermeneutics focuses on key issues of the geography of nature: nonhuman agency, place, and nature/society hybrids. I argue that comprehending the lifeworld of the wastelands requires a reassessment of the concept of place as a coproduction of humans and nonhumans, that is, an ecology of place.

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