Nature and nurture in relation to environmental studies

Comments welcome on this first draft of the introduction to a entry on Nature and Nurture for a handbook in environmental studies.
At many points during the long history of nature-nurture debates, scientists and other commentators have often asserted that nature versus nurture or genes versus environment is an ill-framed formulation (Paul 1988). Why then does the question how much is nature, how much is nurture persist in popular debate and in announcements about developments in science? To address this question in a way that informs discussion of environmental studies, this entry looks first at ideas of nature, then the opposition nature versus culture. That introduction provides critical handles on nature-nurture debates seen as debates about what is known and could be known about human social behavior and limits. Such knowledge may seem relevant to environmental studies given that people in societies seek to know and change the world. The final section, however, places the critical handles themselves in tension with alternatives, extending to culture and nurture the admonition that “we need… to find different ideas… if we are to know nature as varied and variable, as the changing conditions of a human world (Williams 1980, p.85)….


Paul, D. B. (1998). “A debate that refuses to die.” Pp. 81-93 in The Politics Of Heredity: Essays on Eugenics, Biomedicine, and The Nature-Nurture Debate. Albany: SUNY Press.

Williams, R. (1980). “Ideas of nature.” Pp. 67-85 in Problems in Materialism and Culture: Selected Essays. London: Verso.


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