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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: The Cultural Meaning of the Tree

Dryden, Patrick Neil
Degree Grantor:
University of California, Santa Barbara. Sociology
Degree Supervisor:
Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi
Place of Publication:
[Santa Barbara, Calif.]
University of California, Santa Barbara
Creation Date:
Issued Date:
Environmental Studies, Sociology, General, and Anthropology, Cultural
Environmental Sociology
Arbor Day
Dissertations, Academic and Online resources
Ph.D.--University of California, Santa Barbara, 2012

This dissertation analyzes the cultural meaning of the tree and the ways in which trees reflect and contribute to important discourses about nature and our relationship with the natural world. Although these discourses are often collectively identified as environmentalism, this all-encompassing term contains subtle but important differences that are occluded by the very language of environmentalism. The most important cultural "location" for this phenomenon is the tree, which is a metonym for nature. The tree, as representation, as idea, and as a physical organism, is deployed and understood in very different ways and for very different purposes. These differences are rendered invisible to many research methods because contemporary American culture treats trees with automatic hagiographic respect. Direct questioning, through survey research or traditional interviewing, will reveal only the superficial respect given to trees. More creative interview methods, along with a close reading of the way trees are treated in popular culture, reveal the divergent sensibilities that use arboreal language as a way to understand and give meaning to the relationship between humans and the physical world. Interviews were conducted in public urban and forested areas in California, Kansas, and New York and complemented by hermeneutic analysis of tree imagery in Christmas decorations, advertising, and landscape. Each interview revolved around the infamous 'If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?' question made popular by Barbara Walters.

The methods, interviews and analysis employed reveal just how many faux-environmentalist sensibilities rely on the idea, image, and planting of trees. When the tree is worshiped, uncritically, as a balm for all the ills of the modern world, it denies ecological thinking. The romanticization of the tree is dangerous because it usurps trees from the plant kingdom and uses them to redecorate and remodel urban environments. Trees are a counter-narrative to modernity, but a failed counter-narrative, an evil detournement. Within these discourses, however, is another sensibility, suggesting ways that even a tree-based rhetoric can shift into a more holistic ecological approach that can eliminate the delineation of nature, as non-man, into a vision of an ecology that permeates the urban and rural Earth.

Physical Description:
1 online resource (454 pages)
UCSB electronic theses and dissertations
Catalog System Number:
Inc.icon only.dark In Copyright
Copyright Holder:
Patrick Dryden
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