Tasmania as Little England and the social construction of landscape

Max Staples

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    3 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    'Social construction' is the theory, which explains that groups of people make up views of the world which reflect their own interests. Objective reality, runs the theory, is not knowable. Every view of the world is a social construction. Recent academic literature has taken previously reliable terms such as 'drought' and 'family' as well as more abstract categories like 'crime' and 'madness' and reinterpreted them as the variable product of a certain society or subgroup operating at a certain time. Writing about the Australian landscape, social constructivists have claimed the existence of 'European' and 'Aboriginal' views. Social construction can be questioned on two grounds. One is that external physical reality does indeed exist and has some objective features which can be recognised by all sensible observers. The second, which is not necessarily contradictory, is that humans vary in myriad ways, and their views are determined by many more factors than simple bi-polar oppositions drawn on the basis of race or gender. In this paper I provide a case study of social construction by looking at the argument that European settlers socially constructed the Tasmanian landscape as a type of Little England. I provide historical evidence that early European inhabitants of Tasmania had a range of views about the landscape. While some might have regarded Tasmania as similar to England, or tried to recreate aspects of England, others did not. Where construction has taken place it has been by those recent academic authors who have retrospectively constructed fictional European and Aboriginal views by taking selected individual comments as universal and ignoring evidence to the contrary, in order to sustain their own beliefs. To argue that a thing is 'socially constructed' is itself an ideological view about how meaning occurs.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)312-329
    Number of pages18
    JournalRural Society
    Volume13
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2003

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