From Wilderness to Rewilding: Muir and Monbiot on the Idea of the Wild

Kaisa Mikkola

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

*Landscape Institute Finalist for Best Dissertation Prize*

This dissertation explores the changing ideas surrounding the wild in landscape perception and environmental discourse through the lenses of two influential environmentalists, John Muir (1838-1914) and George Monbiot (1963-). The focus of this dissertation is on the aesthetic and emotional aspects of the Anglo-American landscape experience. To illustrate the changes in our relationship with the wildness of the natural world, the concept of ”wilderness”, referring to the 19th century concept of a remote, peopleless landscape as advocated by Muir, is contrasted with the concept of ”wild nature” or ”the wild”, which – drawing on Monbiot’s thinking – is defined as autonomous non-human nature driven by natural processes. A selection of these two author's works was chosen to be analysed through grounded theory as a methodological approach, namely using content analysis. The sample texts were broken down and categorised into a codebook through a process of open coding. The codes were further organised into concepts and categories, which, after having been grounded in the relevant cultural context, were compared and contrasted between the authors to identify wider changes in our perception of the wild. Muir’s wilderness was found to manifest itself largely as a static scene, whose appreciation is influenced by a combination of picturesque aesthetics, the Romantic sublime, and Transcendentalist concepts which regard nature as sacred. Monbiot’s wild nature is, in contrast, defined by complexity, non-linearity and the presence of the unexpected, and as such it offers a cure to a collective unease he calls ecological boredom. Both authors regard the wild as a source of hope, inspiration, comfort and spiritual meaning in a rapidly changing world. Based on this comparison, it can be concluded that the wild is a profoundly cultural concept which, operating as an antidote to the constraints urban life, is capable of adapting to society’s changing needs and desires.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Lima, Francisca, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Wilderness
  • Landscape Perception
  • Nature-Culture
  • Rewilding


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