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Report, 2012

Forskningsperspektiv på naturvägledning

Caselunghe, Elvira


Literature study shows a lack of Swedish nature interpretation research. The Swedish Centre for Nature Interpretation (SCNI) was established in 2007 by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences. One task of SCNI is to initiate research on nature interpretation. This research overview is intended to provide a jumping-off point. The main purpose was to investigate Swedish research that contributes to development of theory and practice in nature interpretation. In addition, research from other Nordic countries as well as international research was reviewed. A literature search for Swedish scientific publications on nature interpretation, explicitly, revealed a scarcity of such research in Sweden. Of course identifying such studies depends, in part, on how “nature interpretation” and “research” are defined. There are actually a number of Swedish researchers who work with topics that are relevant to nature interpretation, and to some extent this research is also published in scientific media. However, there is a larger quantity of educational literature. Overall, the main finding of this literature search is that nature interpretation research has not been conducted in Sweden, to date. However, relevant studies were found in such areas as outdoor recreation, nature tourism, education for sustainable development, outdoor education, environmental history, museology and environmental psychology. Various key words have been used in the selected databases, since “nature interpretation” generates no scientific hits. Definitions and pedagogical principles for nature interpretation are described in the first part of the report. Then international nature interpretation research and some different occurring theories are presented. Emphasis is then put on Swedish and Nordic research that is relevant for developing nature interpretation. The main findings below include conclusions from both the international and the Swedish/Nordic research and indicate some possible directions for development of nature interpretation research, in Sweden and elsewhere. NATURE INTERPRETATION CAN BE BOTH A MEANS OR AN END IN ITSELF There is a need for scientific development of nature interpretation evaluation principles. In Sweden, but also elsewhere, a common goal for publicly financed nature interpretation is to influence people in the direction of sustainable development. Research on interpretation evaluation is needed in order to know whether various activities correspond to our expectations. Also, there is a need to question whether this goal of influencing people is transparent and democratic enough. Internationally, there are both researchers who claim that interpretation can have a positive effect on environmental attitudes and behavior, and those who claim that effective evaluation methodologies for exploring such relationships need further development. Worldwide, interpretive evaluation research has focused heavily on knowledge gain and impacts on attitudes and behaviour, but it has seldom partitioned out the role of the emotional aspects of nature experience, although interpretation instructions stress revelation and provocation for instance. The notion of “participants gaining knowledge” could be widened and include mutual and experiential learning processes. Unlike environmental education, interpretation usually is a rather time limited activity. That could also be a reason to why long term interpretation effects are difficult to evaluate. If any effects appear, it would still be difficult to distinguish what has generated them. Nature interpretation is sometimes seen as a means for fulfilling a greater objective, but in other cases it is seen as an end in itself. For instance, within outdoor recreation, nature interpretation activities could be considered an end in themselves. Whereas nature interpretation efforts within state run nature conservation could be a means for legitimating and promoting poli-tical nature conservation decisions. NATURE INTERPRETATION AS A COMMUNICATIVE ACT The literature review indicated that the number of Swedish or international publications focusing on the communicative act of nature interpretation from an interactional micro perspective seems to be limited. What is happening within and between the persons during a nature interpretation session? How does the interpretation process really occur? Is the interpreter or the participant the one who makes the interpretation for instance? What kind of learning is taking place? CRITICAL RESEARCH ON NATURE INTERPRETATION COULD DEVELOP THEORY AND PRACTICE When discussing what Swedish nature interpretation research could concentrate on, there is not only a need to discuss the topics, but also different scientific approaches that could facilitate a greater understanding. Much of the Nordic research referred in this report is carried out within a positivistic research tradition doing quantitative studies. When approaching social science there are also some publications within hermeneutic research tradition. Critical research tradition, however, is rare among the studies reviewed. Since nature interpretation is not a natural science phenomenon, but a social one, nature interpretation research based on social constructivism has an obvious importance in further development of Swedish nature interpretation research. The role of nature interpretation in society could be better understood by analyzing what discourses characterize Swedish nature interpretation practice today. What ideas of man and nature are taken for granted which could affect the content and format of nature interpretation? Nature interpretation contributes to constructing our nature experiences, something that is seldom analysed. What values and rationalities holds the Swedish nature interpretation discourses? These questions require a critical dimension of nature interpretation research. Another division to make is research that looks for improving nature interpretation practice (how to do good interpretation), versus research that looks for understanding the phenomenon of nature interpretation (research about interpretation). Both kinds are needed. EXAMPLES ON CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF NATURE INTERPRETATION Some discussions in museology are highly relevant to nature interpretation as well. A quote by Ella Johansson (2001) about open air museums illustrates several of the inherent paradoxes in interpretation that could be interesting to further investigate. “… some contrary – or maybe complementary – aspects are lasting and necessary features in a museum: authenticity versus scene, critical distance versus deep empathy, creating knowledge versus ideology, education versus Sunday pleasure.” The content and format of nature interpretation is always a mental and social product, where the involved individuals decide what phenomena and objects are paid attention to and what questions and explanations are suggested. Søren Kruse (2002) argues that “the interpreter designs the participants’ nature visits and determines thereby frames for their nature experiences”. He further writes that: “Nature interpretation is in the centre of the normative minefield of pedagogics, where one could ask oneself: With what right can the nature interpreters claim that their design of nature visits is better than the nature contact designed by the participants themselves? My point of departure is that nature interpretation is not an interpretation of nature, but a production and reproduction of socially constructed descriptions of nature and our relations with it.” THE NEED OF ADVANCING NATURE INTERPRETATION RESEARCH IN SWEDEN Advancement of Swedish research on nature interpretation is needed for several reasons. There are national prerequisites that are unique, such as the Swedish right of public access to nature. Swedish nature interpretation is not yet systematically evaluated from a scientific point of view. There are also a number of educational programmes in Swedish universities within nature guidance and nature interpretation, and connecting these educational efforts to research would strengthen their quality. However, nature interpretation is not a research discipline, but rather a topic that requires research from various perspectives. That interdisciplinary context could be treated by different branches – from public health science, to cultural studies, to forest sciences, if it is combined with communication science, pedagogics or similar fields. Environmental psychology, marketing and media sciences could also provide knowledge about behavioural impacts that nature interpretation often aims for in a general context.


nature interpretation, heritage interpretation, outdoor recreation, nature tourism, education for sustainable development, outdoor education, environmental history, museo-; naturvägledning, utomhuspedagogik, miljöhistoria, museologi, friluftsliv

Published in

Rapporter Institutionen för stad och land
2012, number: 3/2012
ISBN: 978-91-85735-26-6
Publisher: Institutionen för stad och land, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development

UKÄ Subject classification

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Communication Studies
Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use
Pedagogical Work
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified

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