University Of Tasmania
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Seeing the forest for the trees : ontological security and experiences of Tasmanian forests

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:37 authored by Rebecca BanhamRebecca Banham
This thesis explores Tasmanians' experiences of forests. Tasmania has been socially and environmentally shaped by decades of conflict popularly and provocatively termed the 'forestry wars'. In this context, I examine the link between human-forest engagements and 'ontological security' ‚Äö- a sense of familiarity and trust in the world and the self. In critiquing and remodelling Giddens' conceptualisation of ontological security, I argue that forests do important emotional and existential 'work' for people. For most participants, the state's forests symbolised ontological and emotional aspects of ontological security. Environmental sociology literature often adopts macro-level, realist, and/or quantitative frameworks which privilege themes of self-interest, rationality, or 'quantifiable' experiences of the nonhuman environment. The existing literature regarding Tasmanians' experiences with/in forests is dominated by political, discursive, and historical perspectives which heavily emphasise the construction of environmental conflict. Sociological approaches to this Tasmanian case study are absent. In contrast to these bodies of literature, I explore human-forest engagements through under-examined themes of vulnerability, ontology, emotion, and relationship. I conducted semi-structured interviews with 27 Tasmanians across the state. Eleven participants also contributed materials that they felt represented Tasmanian forests, including photographs, lyrics, and written pieces. Almost all participants were critical and distrustful of Tasmanian forestry politics, management, and practices, expressed concerns about local and global environmental issues, and associated forest experiences with processes of wellbeing, immersion, self-identity, and ontology. Yet participants also expressed ambivalent attitudes about Tasmania's forestry industry. These key findings indicate that Tasmanians' engagements with/in forests are complex, emotionally significant, and are bound up in experiences of identity, ontology, and vulnerability. These data illustrate Tasmanian forests as symbolic of six key aspects of ontological security: material constancy; routine and ritual; escape and refuge; self-narrative; the nonhuman; and the future. Through these operationalised points, I argue that participants' understandings and experiences of Tasmanian forests reflect the construction and experience of ontological security. This thesis contributes a unique micro-sociological approach to understanding human-forest engagements in Tasmania, and in doing so, undermines the polarising and alienating rhetoric of 'Tasmania's forestry wars'. This research also contributes a reworked model of ontological security, demonstrating the utility of the concept for qualitative research in environmental sociology.


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