RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017


241 Sensing and making sense of ‘nature’ in the context of illness and impairment
Affiliation Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group
Convenor(s) Sarah Bell (University of Exeter, UK)
Ronan Foley (National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland)
Chair(s) Sarah Bell (University of Exeter, UK)
Ronan Foley (National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland)
Timetable Thursday 31 August 2017, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Session abstract There is a large and growing body of research – as well as longstanding cultural narratives – suggesting that time spent in ‘nature’ could promote a sense of wellbeing in the contexts of people’s day to day lives. In this work, ‘nature’ tends to refer to settings such as gardens, parks, woodlands, beaches, rivers or the ‘countryside’ more broadly. With much of this work focusing on so-called ‘able-bodied’ experiences, this session includes a selection of papers that promote more critical awareness of alternative ways of embodying, interpreting and representing nature-based encounters. In doing so, it seeks to challenge dominant scripts about how to ‘be’ in, move through and experience such settings, and therefore to recognise the multiplicity of ways of being ‘well’ (or otherwise) in nature.
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Watching and befriending the horse chestnut tree has made the most difference
Joanna Birch (University of Sheffield, UK)
Clare Rishbeth (University of Sheffield, UK)
Sarah Payne (Heriot-Watt University, UK)
Brendan Stone (University of Sheffield, UK)
People’s nature-connectedness is commonly framed in terms of how frequently they visit natural environments, but this research takes a more integrative view of nature as more subtly embedded in daily life for many city residents with health problems. This paper will present early findings from one strand of a larger research project that considers Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature (IWUN), in Sheffield, UK. Our research strand explores cultures and values of nature that have health and wellbeing implications in an increasingly ethnically diverse and aging society.

We discuss early analysis of qualitative interviews with Sheffield residents affected by illness or disability and who fall into a category of ‘low users’ of natural environments (Natural England 2015). We also consider the study’s forthcoming series of co-produced projects between mental health service users, creative practitioners and researchers to understand more about nature as a restorative process and as a means of supporting better mental health. Our study asks how nature is conceived and experienced, seeking to reveal the ways in which everyday activities, routines and movements shape the often-oblique ways in which people notice nature and how these interact with mental health.
Exploring young psychotic patients’ spaces of recovery in the city of Lausanne (Switzerland)
Zoé Codeluppi (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
The role of nature in the promotion of wellbeing has already been widely analyzed in literature in the social sciences (Gesler, 1992; Williams 2007; Foley, 2010). Within this work, a range of studies focuses on the therapeutic experiences of nature providing physical as well as spiritual healing (Kearns and Gesler, 1998). In geographies of mental health, a small but growing body of research explores the everyday experiences of recovery of people with a psychotic diagnosis in natural settings such as parks or gardens in urban and rural contexts (Parr, 2007; Milligan et al., 2010). However, few of them look at how people living with a diagnosis of psychosis combine natural and built up spaces in urban settings in their everyday experience of recovery (Parr, 2000; Philo, 1997; Pinfold, 2000).

In this presentation, I aim to outline the ways in which young patients assemble natural spaces and formal/informal built up spaces in their trajectories of recovery. More specifically, I argue that these assemblages are modified according to patients’ state of ill or wellbeing, on the one hand, and to the time that separates them from an episode of crisis. I discuss in particular the regulatory and dampening role of these spaces on patients’ psychotic symptoms and the way they provide wellbeing. The paper is based on an ethnography conducted in a therapeutic institution for young persons living with a diagnosis of psychotic disorder in the city of Lausanne, in Switzerland.
Being bobby, being blobby: Transforming swimming bodies in blue space
Ronan Foley (National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ireland)
In considering a range of healing practices in green and blue space, increasing attention is being paid to outdoor swimming as an activity that enables health. While the physiological benefits in terms of exercise have typically focused on active sporting bodies, less work has been carried out on everyday swimming by less-than-perfect bodies. In considering swimmers with different and less fully enabled bodies, a key theme is the ability for transformation provided by the swimming experience. In addition, new in-situ spatial and visual methodologies are being used to uncover different narratives directly from the water.

This paper describes a recent project drawing from small-scale ‘swim-along’ interviews with a range of users of different abilities in outdoor Irish water. In addition, the methodological approach uses a combination of action cameras and a newly developed spatial video app, Ubipix, to show how such bodies navigate the water and develop their own blue trace in the liminal spaces between land and sea/river. Preliminary results show that being in the water allows people with different bodies, especially older bodies with reduced capacities; to feel enabled through an ongoing sense of empowerment in the water, in contrast more complex and disabling experiences on land. Methodologically, the increasing ability to carry out what might be termed, ‘intimate sensing’, especially in relation to health and wellbeing, is deepening our understanding of immediate experiential, emotional and embodied geographies in blue space.
“I love it here. I like to sit outside” – The Reigershoeve farm as an example of dementia care
Virve Repo (University of Turku, Finland)
The Reigershoeve farm in the Netherlands represents a nature-connected way of taking care of people living with cognitive impairments, such as dementia. The core idea is to offer as normal a life as possible for people suffering from conditions that affect one’s memory. Reigershoeve provides surroundings with a garden and green houses and several animals, such as sheep, mini pigs and rabbits. The independence of the residents is strongly encouraged; for example, they take part in the farm chores and make their own food. Even though spatial control is at some level needed when taking care of people living with cognitive impairments, the control in traditional nursing homes can make residents anxious and create a feeling of being incarcerated. In this paper, I examine the effects of a farm-like atmosphere on the well-being of cognitively impaired residents, and whether the presence of nature provides relief to the sense of being controlled, feelings of anxiety and the constant urge to “go back home”. I also study the relations of mobility/immobility and nature experiences in the case of these dementia patients.
An ‘overly green canvas’ or ‘multisensory watercolour’? Reflecting on diverse encounters with nature in the context of visual impairment
Sarah Bell (University of Exeter, UK)
Experiencing sight loss can be both debilitating and deeply distressing, such that blindness and vision impairment are often spoken about in terms of loss and disability. However, accounts shared by people who were born blind and those living with long-term sight loss also convey rich multisensory worlds, arguing that ‘blindness’ can be a world creating condition, opening the body and mind to new ways of experiencing and making sense of space and place. Many of these wider sensory experiences are currently overlooked in our understanding of how and why people engage with nature-based settings in the contexts of their day-to-day lives.

This presentation will share initial findings emerging from an in-depth qualitative study, combining ethnographic participation with both narrative and mobile interviews in the south west of England, to examine the role of diverse ‘natures’ in the varied sensory and emotional geographies of visual impairment. It will discuss, for example, why people feel ‘well’ or impaired in nature and how (if at all) they feel able to connect to nature, drawing on the narratives shared by individuals born with visual impairment and those encountering sight loss later in life. In examining these more-than-visual ways of sensing and making sense of diverse nature-based settings, the study seeks to promote more socially inclusive approaches to landscape design, community planning and environmental management.