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The concept and practice of place is an important answer to two questions posed at the outset: what is the environment of environmental studies and sciences (ESS), and what sort of ecoliteracy do we need today? Yet place is more than it has often been understood in ESS, where notions of the local and the natural have loomed large. Scholarship from the field of geography can help ESS reframe environment and ecoliteracy in a manner amenable to the contemporary world. Place has been a century-long conversation in English-language geography, building on traditional regional approaches and running to recent work, paralleling contemporary notions of geographical imaginations, in which places are now understood as diverse nodes in larger hybrid nature-culture networks, and senses of place are now understood as “glocal” identities. Contemporary geographical approaches to place challenge common associations with nature and the local; and ESS may feel a bit like “everything studies and sciences” as a result. But ecoliteracy could become a new knowledge and practice of the larger connections that define place, and this deeper sense of place could suggest to our students a deeper way of dwelling on Earth.

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  1. There have been attempts to forge a more cosmopolitan notion of bioregion (Thomashow 1998), but the local and natural still arguably prevail even in these efforts—no matter how much early praise they received from geographers (e.g., Parsons 1985).

  2. The concept of place in geography continues to evolve; see Progress in Human Geography (e.g., Jonas, 2012, 2013; Tomaney 2014) for regular review articles covering English-language literature.


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The Andrew Mellon Foundation has provided significant support to help us develop and integrate a geographically informed approach to place in the Environmental Studies Program curriculum at Lewis & Clark. I acknowledge useful input on an earlier version from two anonymous reviewers and the guest editor, Brandn Green. Several other essays in this mini-symposium adopt broadly similar arguments regarding place, and further develop critiques of nature and the local; readers may turn to these essays for additional clarification. Finally, the many conversations I have had with geographers, starting with my Berkeley graduate school cohort and reaching to the present day, continue to be a source of intellectual inspiration as we collectively ponder nature/culture and the global/local.

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Correspondence to James D. Proctor.

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Proctor, J.D. Replacing nature in environmental studies and sciences. J Environ Stud Sci 6, 748–752 (2016).

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