QLE.20.002 – Wild in the West: People, Nature and Emotions

Route: Quality of the living environment

Cluster question: 002 What do humans and nature mean to each other and what is the ideal relationship between the two?

Emotions play an essential role in the relation between people and nature. In the Netherlands, where management and control have shaped the entire socio-ecological system, the force and impact of emotions have not received much consideration. Yet, the twenty-first century sees ‘nature’ increasingly occupy emotional space in everyday life. Such involvement reaches beyond that with nature conservation and ecological restoration movements: any nature-related policy, intervention or development may evoke a range of emotions inducing societal action. Anxieties, anger, distrust, pride and compassion arise from people’s engagements with specific animals, plants or certain landscapes. In present-day perceptions, nature is inhabited by iconic, invasive, national, dangerous and irrelevant species. Such emotion-inspired categorizations go along with emotions of (national) belonging and identity, often towards (un)desired others. In complementary and paradoxical processes, certain animals may be attributed human qualities, while certain humans are categorised in animal terms: parasitic, predatorial, brutal or invasive. Addressing the increasing societal divides, therefore, should include a focus on the emotional entanglements of nature, people and nation. Bringing in emotion as a societal force in its own right, the project furthers identifying the requirements for resilient socio-ecological systems. For, worldwide, emotions tend to dominate politics. In the decades to come, also the Netherlands will have to confront emotion-evoking issues such as migration, climate change, water shortage, land use and, probably, new pandemics, issues which only will get the more pressing. The project aims at bridging gaps between policy makers, public institutions and citizens by asking ‘what do emotions do’. To that aim, the research will focus on the ‘knots’ in the networks where nature, policies and feelings meet. Methods: ethnographic fieldwork, citizen science, socio-psychology, mathematical analysis of socio-ecological processes.


ecological restoration, emotions, human-nature relations, nature conservation, perceptions of nature, rural-urban interactions, societal action, wildlife

Other organisations

Bee Foundation, Extinction Rebellion, Kenniscentrum Plaagdieren, Keuken van het Ongewenste Dier, KNJV, Organisatie Invasieve Soorten, Rijkswaterstaat, Staatsbosbeheer, Wageningen Universities and Research (WUR)


Organisation Meertens Instituut
Name Dr. I. (Irene) Stengs
E-mail irene.stengs@meertens.knaw.nl
Website https://www.meertens.knaw.nl/cms/nl/cms/nl/medewerkers/142487-irenes