Ideals and pragmatism in the justification of ecological restoration

Iris M. Hertog, Esther Turnhout*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Ecological restoration requires value-laden choices about what goals, references, and methods to use in a particular area. The restoration ecology literature has identified a number of interrelated dilemmas pertaining among others to the use of historical references or the creation of novel ecosystems and to the selection of appropriate measures of intervention. In this study, we investigate the narratives that Dutch professionals in ecological restoration use to justify these choices and we analyze the values, beliefs, and human-nature relationships they reflect. Based on our analysis, we identify three interrelated sets of values, beliefs, and human-nature relationships, which we call here narrative clusters. These are: (1) virtuous stewardship, which foregrounds human responsibility to care for nature; (2) autonomous nature, which foregrounds the self-regulating capacities of nature; and (3) pragmatic wise use, which foregrounds the use of nature by humans and the importance of practical considerations. These narrative clusters connect well with established sociological and philosophical classifications of nature and human-nature relationships. However, our analysis also shows that in the navigation of the different dilemmas of conservation, practitioners draw on a wide variety of arguments to justify their practices. In doing so, they blur the boundaries between different views of nature, between ethical and pragmatic arguments, and between nature and culture. We conclude the article by reflecting on the implications of these findings for the conceptualization and practice of restoration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1221-1229
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number6
Early online date1 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • Environmental philosophy and sociology
  • Narrative analysis
  • Restoration practice
  • Views of nature

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