In many Western societies, the concept of nature has become one of our time's most widely used keywords representing everything that is not a product of humanity – the non-human world. What often is forgotten is nature's social dimensions, namely how our ways of seeing and representing nature construct it and our comprehensions towards it. In other words, all things we think we know about nature says as much about ourselves as it says about the world we call nature.
One kind of institution that is grounded in the idea of protecting and displaying nature to tourists is national parks. In my dissertation, I focused on ways of seeing the non-human world enabled by the practice of Swedish national park tourism and its visual culture. To analyze that, I worked scrutinized historical and contemporary empirical materials of visual character, including installations in the parks, governmental policies, tourism information publications, materials produced by tourism organizations, and tourists' Instagram posts. By focusing on representations of the non-human world in those materials, I problematized and unraveled human ways of seeing the non-human and the implications that those can result in.Today, Sweden has 30 national parks located from north to south. Many of these function as popular destinations for nature-based tourism. Photo credit Emelie Fälton Through my dissertation, I identified four ways of seeing that together construct the non-human world as a sublime wilderness of nationalistic character that functions as an edutainment arena för environmentally conscious tourists. Within and among those ways of seeing, there exist not only coherences but also contradictions. Those are grounded in a tension between the two opposing interests of saving and using nature, which is said to be united by the third interest of knowing it. Through this, the ways of seeing become ambivalent, as they frame the non-human world as a shapeshifting nature that assumes different and even contradictory forms.
A central part of my analytical work has been to visit national parks with newly installed installations. Here is one such example from Tiveden national park. Photo credit: Emelie Fälton
Another major interest of mine is to work with developing methodologies, where I am especially interested in exploring new ways of working with methods inspired by visual culture and discourse analysis. Here, I am interested in how the visual is part of the social and vice versa but also how a discursive analytical perspective could illuminate norms and representations but also power relations, regimes of truth, and knowledge epistemes.
Here, my supervisor Johan Hedrén and I are trying out new ways to analyze major materials of photographs in the Norrköping Decision Arena. Photo credit Emelie Fälton