Photography is an essential tool for geography students (Hall, 2009). It can provide evidence to support text, it can represent places, people and things, and it can be used in critical inquiry to expose and challenge meanings/interpretations of the world and the constructions of power they support (Sanders, 2007).
This assignment aims to connect your own experience of urban nature to concepts covered in class, to get you thinking critically about your day-to-day experiences of nature in the city. To achieve this you will use photography to document salient aspects of what you see. You will then incorporate your pictures into a photo essay, examining what they show about urban nature.
In Western thinking, urban and rural are frequently understood in opposition to each other. Open and green spaces are assumed to be confined to the countryside whereas city spaces are imagined as polluted, overcrowded concrete jungles; the opposite of nature. This perceived contrast between the two spaces influences people’s decisions about how and where they live (such as urban-rural migration and migration to the suburbs). While there is a great deal of focus on the way the city cuts into green spaces (through urban sprawl), there is limited consideration of the opposite: how nature permeates the city.
The urban-rural separation is an example of the limitations of binary thinking (such as culture/nature, black/white, man/woman). There is no clear divide between city and country: a variety of animals and plants are found throughout cities, and rural areas are deeply cultural spaces. Ecosystems do not stop at the city fringes and the impacts of human activities, such as water or air pollution, are not restricted to urban areas.
Cronon (1995) argues that focussing on preserving ‘untouched’ wilderness can prevent us from recognising the presence, and the value, of the wild things, processes and places which exist closer to where we live and work. Building on early geographical work pointing out the presence of nature in the city, attention has now turned towards the interactions, processes and metabolisms forming urban ‘social-natures’ (e.g. Braun, 2005; Swyngedouw, 1996; Wachsmuth, 2012). These ‘hybrid’ socio-natures challenge distinctions between natural and social, rural and urban.
Using photographs showing your experience of Auckland, critically explore the idea that cities are socio-natural spaces.
Approaching the question
Your own experience of Auckland should shape your approach to the question. Begin by reading around the topic, reflecting on how the concept of socio-nature fits with how you see the city.
How useful is ‘socio-nature’, and/or its related concepts, in describing and explaining your experience of Auckland?
Does a socio-natural ‘lens’ shed any light on what you see, or might your experiences/photographs be better explained as simply products of nature or society?
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