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Researchers explore Oregonians’ connection to nature and concepts of utopia

September 29, 2008

(Portland, Ore.)—Language  and imagery used to convey nature generally project a dichotomy between two vastly differing futures: a dystopian land of total destruction due to climate change or a utopian world of humans living in harmony with nature. Both scenarios may be improbable but are possibly related as they capture some of our greatest hopes and fears.

Environmental studies researchers at Lewis & Clark believe the possibility of such connections is worth closer examination. They are conducting focus groups with Oregonians from urban, suburban, rural and intentional communities to ask them to define their connection to nature and how it affects them personally. The research title, Ecotopia Revisited, plays on the 1975 novel Ecotopia, which portrays a future ecologically sustainable society located in the Pacific Northwest.

“Most utopian and dystopian discourse points outward to the worlds it describes—in the ecological realm, for instance, the dream of a sustainable society and the nightmare of global warming typically emphasize how to achieve sustainability, how to stop global warming,” writes Jim Proctor, research lead and director of environmental studies. “Yet the key question we ask in Ecotopia Revisited is: what do our contemporary utopias and dystopias tell us about ourselves?”

Along with Proctor, postdoctoral fellow Evan Berry and CAS ‘08 graduates Meagan Nuss and Amber Shasky are blogging about their discoveries and insights as they talk with Oregonians.

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Jodi Heintz
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