Skip main navigation

Nature between Propaganda and Ideology

Maiken Umbach & Mathew Humphrey explore different uses of Nature in Propaganda and Ideology, from Italian Fascism to contemporary environmentalism.

In this film Maiken and Mat explore different uses of Nature in propaganda and ideology, from Italian Fascism to contemporary environmentalism. Maiken suggests that its role is often ambivalent: on the surface, Mussolini’s regime prided itself on its ability to bring nature to heel – but at the same time, like other fascist movements, they also sought to promote the alleged moral benefits of people living in close proximity to, and in communion with, the land. Why not take a moment to look at one of the Fascist propaganda newsreels produced by the Italian company “Luce”, which she refers to in the film.

Later 20th-century environmentalists, Mat suggests, had a less instrumental view of nature: they saw the ‘wilderness’ as something worthy of political protection in its own right. Yet they, too, attributed particular ideological or ‘moral’ qualities to it: communing with nature bestows helps people overcome the evils of civilisation, which Muir describes as ‘ugly’.

Mat also concludes that all politics is, in some sense, about our relationship with nature. What is your experience? Do your attitudes to what is nature, or what is “natural”, inform any of your political beliefs and values? Or have you ever been at the receiving end of claims that political values you defend are “unnatural”?

Further reading:

Mat and Maiken have co-authored an article on the relationship between nature and authenticity, of which you can read a short summary below.

The Nature of Authenticity: Experience as a Political Resource by Maiken Umbach, Department of History, University of Nottingham & Mathew Humphrey, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham

Invoking authenticity is a ubiquitous practice, but one that we feel is poorly understood. In this article we seek to change the parameters in which the idea of authenticity is debated. Unlike other political buzzwords, authenticity has rarely been the subject of sustained critical analysis; scholars have mostly confined themselves to ‘unmasking’ invocations of authenticity as inherently contradictory: if identities are imagined, then so are their alleged authentic expressions. But real or not: if people believe in authenticity, it matters, and had and has real political consequences . We pay particular attention to interplay between political intentions and vernacular re-codings of representations and practices of authenticity, across long historical time-spans. To understand these, we combine different genres of evidence, from political manifestoes to quotidian practices, from paintings to mundane objects, which are typically studied in distinct academic disciplines.

We focus upon authenticity claims across three distinct spheres. The first of these is nature. Because we understand invocations of authenticity as a strategy to naturalise ideas, nature, understood as ‘wilderness’ (seemingly) free from human manipulation, is a prominent motif in this story. The desire to ‘live in integrity’ with nature forms a key part of the ideational language of authenticity. For a range of historical actors, authenticity has represented an antithesis to the alienating effects of civilisation, which offers a space where human beings can reconnect with their own authentic selves. But to serve this purpose, nature needs to be ‘framed’ to make it legible as a repository of authenticity, and our first section traces the history of such framings, uncovering some of the aesthetic, theological and ideological subtexts of landscapes. The second dimension we explore is that of production. This moves the discussion from authenticity as place to authenticity as process. In many historical invocations of authenticity, the work of the individual craftsman epitomises the transference of an authentic human essence onto the object of labour. Notions of authenticity are not, however, absent from discourses about mass production either. In the imaginations of various modernists, the world of arts and crafts became a sphere of outmoded kitsch, while genuinely modern industrial products embodied the authenticity of the new times. Moreover, objects can be bearers of authenticity not only because of their production, but also because of the way in which they are consumed. The process of consumption is the third strand that we investigate in this article. While consumerism has often been denounced as the apogee of inauthenticity, historically, appeals to authenticity have also served to legitimate particular modes of mass consumption, and contrast them with illegitimate forms of consumption characteristic of social or national outsiders.

This article is from the free online

Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now