Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Philosophy

Committee Chair

Deborah Slicer


cultural constructionism, epistemology, ontology, physical environments, wilderness


University of Montana


Recently, a heated debate has emerged between advocates of the traditional wilderness concept and those who believe that this concept is merely a cultural construction. The traditional wilderness conception viewed wilderness as an objective place separate from humans that is defined by being primarily shaped by natural forces, possessing natural origins and being free of human inhabitants and structures. This view culminated in the definition of wilderness featured in the 1964 Wilderness Act. A postmodern critique of the traditional wilderness conception began in the 1980s. In this view, the traditional wilderness conception is thought to be a product of Euro- American culture rather than an objective place. This thesis mainly focuses on William Cronon’s argument for the cultural construction of wilderness. The traditional wilderness conception is criticized for two main reasons. First, this conception ignores the historic presence of native people in areas considered wilderness. Second, it does not account for the extent to which native people have managed the land through practices such as prescribed burning. This thesis is an attempt to mediate between Cronon’s cultural constructionist view and the traditional wilderness conception. This is done by examining the role of physical environments and interactivity in concept construction. By viewing the wilderness concept as being the product of both interactions with physical environments and culture, some of the conflict is resolved. In this way the wilderness concept is seen as reflecting the texture and structure of the physical environment of wilderness areas. This unique texture and structure suggests a distinct wilderness environment that is different from human environments. However, culture still plays a prominent role in the construction of this concept, and should be acknowledged. This view also allows for some human presence and management through fire without ruining the wilderness character.



© Copyright 2008 Matthew Adam Gray