Nature as relationship partner: an old frame revisited

Miklós Antal, Stefan Drews

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2014 Taylor & Francis. Language use that embodies a mechanistic, instrumental view of nature contributes to the environmental predicament. This paper argues that interpersonal relationships can be applied as suitable analogies and metaphors for human–nature relationships. To show that such reframing is necessary and possible, we used the Google Ngram Viewer to study how often expressions from different frames of nature were used in English language books between 1800 and 2008. As the language use of scientific publications is directly related to formal education, a similar analysis was conducted using the Scopus scientific database for 1993–2012. After presenting our numerical results, we explain why the interpersonal relationship frame is environmentally appropriate and widely applicable. It is pointed out that in both human–human and human–nature relations, complex systems are connected, change is constant, stress is unavoidable, and multiple dynamic equilibria exist. Moreover, a number of analogous psychological defense mechanisms are used, which can lead to similar systemic problems, such as unrealistic expectations, growing distance, and exploitation in the relationship. In light of these similarities, relevant theoretical and empirical results are re-examined. It is shown that the relationship frame can help understand and bring about the cognitive and behavioral changes required to improve human–nature relationships.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1056-1078
    JournalEnvironmental Education Research
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2015


    • environmental communication
    • environmental values
    • Google Ngram Viewer
    • metaphor
    • pro-environmental behavior
    • relationship frame


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