Nature and Culture Essay

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There is a movement among sociologists and social critics to include the built environment and physical bodies in social analysis, and to think seriously about the ways that locations and creatures (including people) matter to group life. Part of this comes from anthropological leanings in sociology, and the tradition of thick description that includes discussions of chickens and back streets as well as group life. Sociologists have had a long-term interest in describing the physical forms and social effects of cultural relations on the natural world. While relatively few ethnographic sociologists have paid serious attention to the physical settings for social life, those who have done community studies have sometimes illustrated the centrality of cultures of nature to collective life.

Urban sociologists have also written about nature, too – the persistence of natural forces in artificial worlds. Sharon Zukin (1995) describes cities as quasi-natures of living creatures and supposedly inanimate structures that nonetheless settle and move. The city may seem to be the opposite of nature, but it is better understood as a culture of nature that seeks its control.

Donna Haraway (2002), in quite a different move, looks at the companion species that live with human beings, sometimes known as pets, to meditate on domination of nature and the possibility of friendships with non-human beings. She asks whether cross-species companionship can be a model for human relations with the natural world.


  1. Haraway, D. (2002) The Companion Species Manifesto. Prickly Paradigm, Chicago, IL.
  2. Zukin, S. (1995)  The  Culture of Cities. Blackwell, Cambridge, MA.

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