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  Literally a wild or untamed part of nature. The word derives from the Anglo-Saxon wildeor, denoting wild or savage beasts, and has a long history of usage in Western culture. In Biblical references wilderness is an uncultivated or unhumanized landscape, while in early European meanings it indicates places in a savage condition. Until the mid-nineteenth century, wilderness had a largely negative connotation in the Euro-American imaginary, as an area to be feared if left unconquered. Such an attitude, for instance, was strong among the early European settlers in the eastern USA when confronted with the seaboard\'s expanses of temperate forest. However, in the modern era wilderness has taken on far more positive meanings. Historically this coincided with large-scale human transformation of environment and the birth of an early environmental movement. In the US, the latter took the forms of preservationism, and a less pro-environmental conservationism (see conservation; preservation), as thinkers like John Muir and Gifford Pinchot decried the ecological destructiveness of American industrialization. In particular, Muir and romantics like Henry David Thoreau in the late nineteenth century, and nature photographers like Ansell Adams of the Sierra Club in the early twentieth century, were responsible for revalorizing wilderness in a positive way in North America and beyond.

In the late twentieth century this has fed into a widespread desire within the environmental movement to protect wilderness from the predations of humanity. In particular, many \'deep ecologists\' argue that the last vestiges of wilderness on the planet must be saved for their inherent beauty and moral worth. Such arguments have proved important in securing the survival of wilderness areas, like the old growth trees in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia (see Willems-Braun, 1997). However, in recent years some critics have suggested that there is more to the notion of wilderness than there seems.

Such criticism begins with the observation that since the meanings of wilderness have altered historically then wilderness is as much an idea as it is a brute reality (Oelschlaeger, 1991). Some have taken this further to suggest that wilderness in a \'cultural construction\' (Cronon, 1996, p. 81). While this argument does not deny that there is a natural world, it does emphasize the fact that this world is always interpreted and appraised through specific cultural categories. By constructing wilderness is this way rather than that, the argument goes, such categories can decisively affect people\'s views while pretending to merely mimic or objectively represent a mute wilderness \'out there\' in the world. A failure to recognize that wilderness is a specific cultural category is arguably problematic. For instance, Guha (1994) suggests that wilderness is a peculiarly Western, middle-class construction in its modern form, one based on the desire to escape from urbanism and industrialization. More particularly, he argues, it is a construction which ignores the fact that most supposed \'wilderness\' has long been inhabited by indigenous peoples. In turn, Willems-Braun (1997) shows how this can translate into an environmental politics and practice which erases First Nations\' land rights. London (1998), however, has recently argued that some western environmental organizations are now beginning to deconstruct the notions of wilderness which have hitherto underpinned their political beliefs and actions. (NC)

References Cronon, W. 1996: The trouble with wilderness. In W. Cronon, ed., Uncommon ground: toward reinventing nature. New York: W.W. Norton: 69-90. Guha, R. 1994: Radical American environmentalism and wilderness preservation: a Third World critique. In L. Gruen and D. Jamieson, eds, Reflecting on nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 241-5 1. London, J.K. 1998: Common roots and entangled limbs: Earth First! and the growth of post-wilder ness environmentalism on California\'s north coast. Antipode 30: 155-76. Oelschlaeger, M. 1991: The idea of wilderness. New Haven: Yale University Press. Willems-Braun, B. 1997: Buried epistemologies: the politics of nature in (post)colonial British Columbia. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 87: 3-31.



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