What does Cronon mean by the doctrine of sublime and the frontier?

What does Cronon mean by the doctrine of sublime and the frontier?.

What does Cronon mean by the doctrine of sublime and the frontier?

            According to Cronon (1995), the wilderness is composed of a cultural constitute which was invested more than two centuries ago. During that period, the wilderness was described with a wrong perception as an area which cannot produce anything useful but which is frightening (Cronon, 1995). However, by the 19th century, the wilderness had been rehabilitated into a more conservative place. This transformation is characterized by two sources. First is the sublime which is transatlantic in character, whose landscapes were very large and powerful such that they could evoke spiritual sensation and therefore needed protection as sacred places. Second is the frontier which is explicitly American and which is literally the wilderness that was a symbol of the last set of individualism (Cronon, 1995). These two notions are important because by the end of the 19th century they converged hence bracing the wilderness with moral values and cultural symbolism that are presented up to date. Therefore, the modern environment is a result of romanticism and post-frontier ideology (Cronon, 1995).The tropical rainforest is a good example of a region that evokes the sublime whereby despite being a recent icon of sacred land, its reservation would mean evacuating the American Indians who reside there. Due to such a conflict, convergence between wilderness values and indigenous species brings the aspect of the remote ecosystem.

How can we frame Cronon’s argument on the types of nature we need to preserve?

            Modernized people view the wilderness as the only region where civilization has not interfered with across the globe. As a result, they tend to create a gap between nature and humanity claiming that certain areas should be a no-go zone for human habitation. This perception is based on ignorance of the reality that through their modernization the rich inhabited these protected zones long ago without directly destroying them. This is as a result of environmental degradation that is a consequence of the rate of growth in industrialization (Cronon, 1995). That is why Cronon is against the idea that humans are separate from nature because such an idea will ignore the interests of the indigenous people such as hunters and gatherers. He strongly suggests that the wilderness is a creation of civilization.  Therefore, putting the wilderness stake very high will be like certain groups of people as less human and this will deter us from getting concerned about their fate (Cronon, 1995). Those people who are mainly affected by environmental implications are the poor. For instance, securing land through the establishment of a national park just to protect a particular species while evacuating indigenous communities from their original land does not count as environmental justice.

Power of memory in maintaining association with the wilderness

            If we begin to view the wilderness in a much closer perspective in terms of what we consider to be natural, it will then be easier for us to understand that even our bodies are part of the wilderness. We, therefore, have a critical role in improving it other than destroying it (Cronon, 1995). One of the most memorable experiences of my interaction with the wilderness was when I was eight years old. It was during the rainy season, but luckily, that afternoon the sun had shone, so I decided to take a walk across a nearby forest. On my way back I met two elephants and being my first time I thought my last day on earth had arrived. Fear had outdone my ability to shout and so I just stood like a statue and watched them pass by without being concerned about my presence. When I later enquired from my father he informed that certain wild animals are friendly unless you disturb their peace. This experience is so indelible in my mind and it enabled me to realize that how we socially interact with the wilderness equally affects us as part of the species linked to it.

Is a national park a more “natural” place than a place dominated by farms?

When it comes to nature, the question of whether to conserve or to preserve it is a familiar one. While conservationists strive to regulate human use of nature’s gifts, preservationists seek to do away with human impact altogether. In the same way, preservationists would argue that a national park is a more “natural” place because wild species are preserved there with very minimal human intervention or control if any, while on the other hand, the conservationists would be of the opinion that human beings are entitled to explore and exploit the gifts of nature such as agricultural lands provided that this is done in a healthy and holistic way.  However, from a social constructionist point of view or perspective, I would argue that none of the two is more natural than the other.  Wildlife is part of nature and so are human beings.  According to Cronon, human beings cannot be alienated from nature simply because they are a part of it (1995). Everything that appertains to human life, the jobs they do, the cars they drive, the food they eat, they are all benefits given to us by nature. This is why human beings are permitted to utilize what is made available to them by nature, particularly for survival. The way I see it, establishing agricultural farms to produce food for survival does not in any way diminish nature. The crops reared in these farms are a part of nature just as much as the animals kept in a national park. Human beings need the same nature that such animals need for survival. This is why they are permitted to exploit nature and its resources in a holistic way that is not only beneficial to them but also sensitive to nature itself. In my opinion, therefore, I feel that a place comprising of farms is just as innate as a national park.

What are the problems associated with the way “nature” is marketed for ecotourism?

While nature has been preserved to promote tourism, which in turn is a big economic booster, human life has continuously been disregarded.  This becomes the case because setting aside sites and national parks that would attract and equally appeal to tourist means chasing away indigenous inhabitants of these lands who are also dependants of nature’s resources. A good example is India where human populations who were inhabitants of the wilderness were moved to reservations to create room for the establishment of tourist sites (Cronon, 1995).  The greatest problem associated with these incidences is that conflicts emerged amongst the human race. Those who were pushed away from the wilderness, a place which they had perceived to be home for years expressed their disappointment and despair through conflicts and chaos.  Similarly, if today we focus more on marketing our natural resources for ecotourism  without giving due regard to other implications that it may have particularly on the human race, then we might end up with nothing in the long last, with no tourists and with no resources to market or showcase. A balance between human needs for survival and the country’s thirst for tourists should be strike. Otherwise, the results would be a country with a good number of tourists and at the same time homeless citizens who may be victims of eviction from their traditionally inhabited lands in a bid to save these lands for tourists. This is in no way an appropriate use of nature’s free gifts.

What are the tools that the social construction perspective provides and what are their limitations? (Comparing them with other perspectives for e.g. ethical and political economy issues)

Sustainability and tourism are some of the tools from social constructionists. The argument is that nature should be utilized in a way that sustains human life. Whether it’s through farming, mining or such similar activities, human beings should be capable of sustaining themselves through the proper utilization of the gifts of nature. However, scientific research indicates that some species have with time diminished making the remaining few endangered species (Cronon, 1995). The need to protect such species should come before anything else. It’s a paramount duty to protect nature from exhaustion. Human needs should not be bigger than those that nature can sustain. As a major limitation, the inhabitants of nature say those who still call wilderness their home should not take advantage of the free gifts of nature and consequently use them in a manner that is inappropriate. For instance, cutting down trees and poaching are a great threat to the ecosystem and to nature as a whole. Similarly, pollution to the environment should be discouraged. Pollution not only poses danger to human health but also to animal life, plants and water sources too. In an ethical way, human actions should be aimed at conserving nature rather than exhausting it.  The government should also be in the frontline in ensuring that the gifts of nature are well protected. While laws have been put in place to regulate human actions on nature, conserving and preserving nature is a continuous process that needs government’s full support.



Cronon, W. (1995). The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature. (William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New York: W. W. Norton & Co.


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What does Cronon mean by the doctrine of sublime and the frontier?