UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Materializing nature : discourse, practice and power in the temperate rainforest Willems-Braun, Bruce


This study examines the cultural construction of nature on Canada's west coast and relates it to the continued presence of a 'colonial imaginary' in practices and rhetorics surrounding the use and management of nature and resources in the region. The work weaves together three arguments. First, drawing on recent scholarship in social theory, it is argued that what counts as 'nature' on Canada's west coast does not pre-exist its construction in and through a series of discursive, social, technical and institutional practices whereby it is made visible and available to forms of instrumental reason. The work therefore draws attention to the role that language plays in disclosing a world of involvements and intentions such that our exhibitions of nature are intimately related to how nature is encountered and remade in everyday practices. Second, it is argued that the construction of nature in British Columbia is always implicated in relations of power and domination, but that epistemological traditions which locate nature as something that exists completely apart from our constructions of it makes these relations difficult to recognize. In particular, the study explores how constructions of nature at various sites - from the abstractions of industrial forestry to the paintings of Emily Carr - serve to naturalize, or contest, the hierarchical power relations generated by colonialism on Canada's west coast. Third, it is argued that the construction of nature does not belong to a singular or unified History, but rather that nature is constituted in and through social practices that are multiple and discontinuous and which carry their histories with them. Thus, by relating constructions of nature to the perpetuation of colonialist practices in the region, two further arguments can be made. First, that colonial discourse is neither singular nor unified. And, second, that postcolonialism is not simply an historical stage that supersedes colonialism, but that the 'after-effects' of colonialism still infuse the present. This has important implications for both ecological and anti-colonial politics on Canada's west coast. Consistent with the theoretical framework, the work proceeds as a series of studies rather than a single, unified account of nature's materialization. Each chapter explores different ways that nature is 'framed', traces histories and spatialities that organize and inform its appearance, and evaluates these practices in terms of a politics of decolonization. Particular attention is paid to how these constructions of nature authorize certain social actors to 'speak for' nature in the midst of struggles over the fate of the region's temperate rainforests while marginalizing others, often those whose lives are most closely tied to the 'nature' in question. By showing the ways that a colonialist visuality continues to inform what counts as nature on Canada's west coast, the thesis insists on the urgent need for a 'reflexive environmentalism' that takes responsibility for the social and political consequences of its representational practices.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.