In a lot of ways, my framework development process was backward. I came into this project with one thing in mind, Bigfoot, and I have been slowly stepping back ever since to determine how I could frame Bigfoot in the scope of my "Environment" is a word so embedded in environmental discourse and scholarship that it has effectively disappeared. We all know what the environment is—or do we? And what do our unexamined assumptions about environment mean for how we approach environmental issues? A careful examination of the word might lead us to... More Studies education. I have had a lot of time to research Bigfoot and critically examine how this creature fits into ideas of the environment. For a long time, I was sure I would frame the Sasquatch phenomenon in relation to its implications for wilderness conservation. However, I have since realized that I want to capture something bigger than that. I want to take a step back and examine how Bigfoot influences the ecological imagination. I am defining ecological imagination as the way that humanity cultivates and perceives our relationship to nature. Through this process in which I have reimagined how I want to examine the Sasquatch, I have also reflected on my infatuation with the creature. Through my preliminary research, I realized that my draw to Bigfoot is due to the fact that this creature is representative of mysticism and belief in a world that is commonly considered to be over rationalized and fully charted.
The implications the Bigfoot has on environmentalism is a thinly explored topic, though I feel confident that this is an important area of inquiry. In fact, I think that these implications stretch further than just Bigfoot. From this revelation, I realized that the Sasquatch phenomenon is representative of how mythology, legend, and lore more broadly reflect attitudes towards the environment. I find mythology, legend, and lore to be a particularly alluring case because they are not limited to certain economic, social, or ethnic groups. As such, mythology is an excellent source of data about environmental attitudes because they reveal widely shared views and understandings.
I have identified three main framework elements that have been useful to me as I grapple with my framing question, “Do mythologies, legends, and lore influence our ecological imaginations?” A major guiding concept within my framework is the popular perception of wilderness as a dualist notion of nature (Castree et al. 2018, 137). Folklorist Peter Dendle says that the study of hidden animals, also known as cryptozoology, “now serves to channel guilt over the decimation of species and destruction of the natural habitat; to recapture a sense of mysticism and danger in a world now perceived as fully charted and over-explored” (Dendle 2006, 190). The idea that nature is “fully charted and over-explored” speaks to a conception of the world in which humans are outside of nature. Wildman narratives, which are the earliest accounts of Sasquatch-like creatures, are representative of a problematic perception of wilderness. Phillip Vannini contends that “Such understanding fuels the popular imagination and is widely manifested in media culture, tourism, law, science, and conservation” (Castree et al. 2018, 130).
This dualist notion of nature that is embedded in “wilderness” speaks to the fact that nature is socially constructed. “Social construction” refers to the ability of people to fabricate the the world around them (Castree et al. 2018, 243). According to Michael Eckers, The concept of reality is vague and the concept of nature is even more so, so how can these terms be grounded by universal definitions? Simply, it cannot and must be evaluated along a continuum of ambiguity grounded in different perspectives of reality. Nature is not defined solely in its... More “refers to the making of the world both physically and imaginatively, whether that is urban landscapes replete with infrastructure and parks or even children’s books that constitute the ideas we have about what counts as nature” (Castree et al. 2018, 244). Mythology, legend, and lore inject ideas about nature and wilderness into our collective consciousness and inform our environmental imagination, which speaks to the idea that nature is socially constructed.
Lastly, I have been thinking about how mythology, legends, and lore influence our ecological imaginations in light of Foucault’s work on heterotopias. Heterotopias are “other” spaces, which are contradictory or incompatible with the outside world. I use Foucault’s (1967) groundwork on heterotopias to demonstrate how myths, legends, and lore allow us to reimagine the human-nature relationship.
Transitioning into ENVS 400
Moving on to how this frames my capstone project, my preliminary focus question is “How have mythologies, legends, and lore created ecological infatuations both real and imagined?” I have coined the term ecological infatuations to describe passion for certain ecological organisms. I explicitly state real and imagined here because I am interested in carrying out a comparative analysis of how mythologies inform infatuations in abstract contexts like Bigfoot, and in more realistic situations like infatuations with wolves in Yellowstone.
While the details of my capstone project are far from complete, I know that interview and content analysis of myths, legends, and lore will be central to my study. The comparative aspect of my research, in combination with an imagined situated context, will allow me to connect the top and bottom of my hourglass. Moving forward, I need to solidify my focus question by doing some intensive background research to determine if there are any similar studies and figure out what combination of methods will be the most useful for me. I am also considering an alternative capstone outcome, so I need to do some reflection on what that project might look like.
Dendle, Peter. 2006. “Cryptozoology in the Medieval and Modern Worlds.” Folklore 117 (2): 190–206.
Ekers, Michael. 2018. “The Social Construction of Nature.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 243-248. London: Routledge.
Foucault, Michel. 1967 . Of Other Spaces. In: Dehaene, Michiel – De Cauter, Lieven (eds.): Heterotopia and the City: Public Space in a Postcivil Society. London and New York: Routledge: 13–22.
Vannini, Phillip. 2018. “Wilderness” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 136-139. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.