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Environment and History

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Environment and History

'Water Systems', Environmental History and the Deconstruction of Nature

Terje Tvedt

Environment and History 16 (2010): 143-166. doi: 10.3197/096734010X12699419057179

Suggesting the concept of 'water systems', or more precisely, of 'open and multifunctional water systems' this article argues in favour of deconstructing the idea of nature as being a useful entity and term in environmental research. This deconstruction has nothing in common with the constructionists' discussion of 'natures'. Its starting point is that the practice of environmental history has shown that it is not possible to empirically examine societies' relations and interdependencies to nature as a whole, since both nature and society are such extensive, complex phenomena. The terms 'nature' (and 'environment') cover such a myriad of variables and aspects of importance to societies that meaningful empirically oriented research or precise discussions become very difficult, if not impossible. The article proposes theoretical and conceptual approaches that are more realistic in their ambitions in examining and understanding society-nature relations and that are of methodological relevance in examinations of how nature impacts social development and human agency changes and impacts nature. The article discusses these issues in relation to arguments regarding the nature/society dichotomy, structure and time in historical narratives put forth by Fernand Braudel, Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck and Bruno Latour.

KEYWORDS: Environmental concepts, water systems, historiography, water and structuration theory, water and time


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