30 Sep 2008, 1:58pm
researcher perspective
by Amber Shasky

Common Threads of Oregon Discourse

Since I have lived in the Pacific Northwest for the past 22 years of my life, I have always had a strong connection with the regional landscape and people. The house that I grew up in faced the Olympic Mountains to the west, and Pope and Talbot-owned, second growth forest to the east. In this small Puget Sound community, there are beaches within a ten minute walk in any direction. Although I could not identify it as such when I was a child, the surrounding environment invoked what some might call a spiritual connection to the mountains, peninsula, and trees that cannot be described with words. So when Jim Proctor, my former professor, made a call for research assistants for the Ecotopia Revisited project, I immediately jumped on the idea of researching contemporary discourse involving nature and spirituality, and visions of utopia and dystopia, in the Pacific Northwest.

My personal experience in the Pacific Northwest, as well as my experience living in Portland, Oregon and attending Lewis & Clark College for four years, has left me with the impression that the region and its people are unique in some way, specifically relating to the residents’ ecological, future-oriented, and global-scale convictions. There is also the sense that Pacific Northwest residents perceive themselves as distinct from the rest of the United States, and that they recognize themselves as a more environmentally and politically aware, more spiritual group. So it has been a fascinating, great learning experience to talk with Oregonians about these convictions over the past few months.

While we have barely begun the bulk of our data analysis work, there are common threads of discourse that seem to connect communities across Oregon. In both intentional and non-intentional communities, ideas about what makes an ideal community or community relationships, about the community’s connection to the natural world and surrounding landscape, and about fears regarding the global situation seem to be hot topics of discussion. While our interview questions probe for ideas relating to global environmental and social conditions (we show two popular movie trailers to prompt discussion), the same topics are touched on throughout the state. Global warming, non-linearity of future conditions (things getting worse before they get better), spiritual connections to the natural world, distrust of current political situations, and community values that involve sharing and stewardship are discussed in the bulk of our interviews. Thus it seems that in Oregon, this type of conversation is a buzzing one.

For now, David Suzuki’s quote seems to sum up a lot of the discussions we have heard this summer: “We are the air, the water, the soil, the sun. What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves, because we are a part of the web of life.” Many of the participants in our interviews have found personal resonance with this quote. It seems this quote resonates because it links the natural environment back to human nature, because it touches on a more spiritual note, and because it exemplifies something that is the bare essence of life. While we haven’t yet performed all the quantitative or qualitative analysis necessary to complete this project, it seems that there are strong, common threads that weave together public discussion and convictions in the state of Oregon.



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