Axiology – theories of value

The advantage of interdisciplinary research is that it enables us to think about problems from multiple perspectives. Different disciplines make different aspects of the world “visible”.

Working across marine ecology and the humanities is an integral part of The Cultural Value of Coastlines project. In my disciplinary tradition as a cultural geographer I have been interested for a while in the different cultures of nature. For me, this term highlights all the different ways there are of knowing and defining “Nature” from human perspectives.

‘… our natures are always culturally mediated’ (Massey 2006: 36)

The ways in which nature is culturally mediated is especially important when we are trying to make decisions about how we should manage the interactions between people and ecosystems. Decision-making involves determining and balancing values. For example, the Ecosystem Services framework (which our project addresses) defines nature and values it in particular ways. This can cause problems and tensions. For example, whilst talking about aesthetic and spiritual values of ecosystems, Cooper, Brady, Steen and Bryce have suggested that some perspectives of the relationship between human life and nature are so different that they are hard to reconcile (Cooper et al. 2016).

‘[T]he core conceptual framework of ecosystem valuations (that combines science and economics) is at odds with the conceptual frameworks for beauty and the spiritual that are in common use in Western cultures, however dominated by economic thought these cultures appear to be’

(Cooper et al. 2016: 219)

However, the exciting prospect of the Cultural Value of Coastlines project is the opportunity to have these difficult conversations across opposing disciplinary traditions. I hope that in a year’s time, at the conclusion of this experimental research, we will all come away with a more interesting and developed understanding of the relationships between cultures and natures in their various forms.

‘the task of the arts and humanities, both in their creative and educative aspects, is to contest, to challenge, to question, to undermine, to satirise, to offend, to violate, to deconstruct, to degenerate, to critique, to undo, or to suspend dominant and dominating assumptions of value’

(Miller  2013 in James 2015: 346).

There are so many different ways to value our coastal environments – The Walkway at Bull Island, Dublin


Cooper, N., Brady, E., Steen, H., & Bryce, R. (2016). Aesthetic and spiritual values of ecosystems: Recognising the ontological and axiological plurality of cultural ecosystem “services.” Ecosystem Services, 21, 218–229.

James, S. P. (2015). Cultural Ecosystem Services: A Critical Assessment. Ethics, Policy & Environment, 18(3), 338–350.

Massey, D. (2006). Landscape as a provocation – Reflections on moving mountains. Journal of Material Culture, 11(1–2), 33–48.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s