Thursday 8 September 2011

Creating a language for our psychoterratic emotions and feelings

I am developing a conceptual framework for understanding psychoterratic, or earth related (terra) mental health (psyche) states or conditions. I want to contribute to an expanded understanding of the changing relationship between the states of biophysical and built environments and human mental and physical health.

Despite the importance of connections between environmental or ecosystem health and human health (physical and mental) in many cultures, we have very few concepts in English that address environmentally-induced mental distress, or conversely, environmentally enhanced positive mental health. What I am attempting to do now is develop a rich psychoterratic typology that provides a language and conceptual landscape to match the rich range of emotions and feelings people have about nature and place.

The negative and positive concepts that are relevant to a fuller understanding of the human-environment relationship have been incorporated by me into a psychoterratic typology (below).

Table 1. A Typology of Psychoterratic States.

Negative States
Positive States
Hofer 1688
Albrecht 2010
Fromm 1965
Fromm 1965
Kellert & Wilson 1995
Wilson 1984
Sobel 1995
Sobel 1995
Albrecht 2005
Auden 1947,
 Tuan 1974
Global Dread
Albrecht  2003
Albrecht 2009
Nature Deficit Disorder
Louv 2005
Ecophilia and Eutierria
Albrecht 2010
Rees 2007, Albrecht 2008
Albrecht 2009
Leff 1990
Albrecht 2010

The typology of psychoterratic states is a transdisciplinary contribution to the complete reworking of our “eco-mental” landscapes (Bateson 1972). As work in development, this typology contains concepts developed over time in the international literature and new terms created by myself. In brief overview, the key elements of the typology include:

Nostalgia and Endemophilia

Nostalgia, as defined by Hofer (1688) was regarded as a medically diagnosable disease. In past centuries, because people were more strongly and permanently tied to place, the condition of nostalgia was more likely to be felt as a severe form of psychoterratic and somaterratic disorder (Lowenthal 1985). I have created the new term, endemophilia, to counter traditionally defined nostalgia. The English word, ‘endemic’, is based on the French word, endémique and has the Greek roots, endēmia (a dwelling in) and endēmos (native in the people) and philia (love of). Endemophilia describes the particular love of the locally and regionally distinctive in the people of that place. It is similar to what Relph (2008 (1976) ) called “existential insideness” or the deep, satisfying feeling of being truly at home with one’s place and culture.

Necrophilia, Biophobia and Biophilia

The Neo-Freudian, Erich Fromm, contributed to the psychoterratic typology by creating the binary opposites of necrophilia and biophilia. Necrophilia, or the love of death, is to be countered by the love of life (Fromm 1965). Fromm’s (1965, 1994) pioneering concept of biophilia links love of humanity with love of life and nature, in a nexus that anticipates many themes within environmental ethics. For E.O. Wilson (1984), biophobia describes an anathema to the natural world, and Wilson (1984) saw biophilia, or biological affiliation with all other organisms, as a counter to biophobia and destructive and exploitative relationships with nature.

Ecophobia and Ecophilia

Sobel (1995) and others use the term ecophobia to describe the fear or hatred of ecology or the environment, involving a denial of the value of biodiversity, the physicality of the earth and the processes that make life possible. To counter what Kahn has called “environmental generational amnesia” (Kahn 1999) we need to draw on every element of bio- and ecophilia left in humans to find educative solutions to environmental and climatic problems. As David Sobel argues: “We can cure the malaise of ecophobia with ecophilia” (Sobel 1995).
Solastalgia and Topophilia 

I have created the concept of solastalgia (Albrecht 2005, 2006, 2010), defined as emplaced or existential melancholia at the negatively perceived transformation (desolation) of a loved home environment. Solastalgia has its origins in the concepts of ‘solace’ and ‘desolation’. Solace is derived from solari and solacium, with meanings connected to the alleviation of distress or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. Desolation has its origins in solus and desolare with meanings connected to abandonment and loneliness. Algia means pain, suffering or sickness.It is a form of ‘homesickness’ like that experienced with traditionally defined nostalgia, except that the victim has not left their home or home environment. 

The concept of solastalgia has had considerable international impact since its creation and has helped revive interest in the relationships between humans and place at all scales.In addition to application in new academic research, the concept of solastalgia, has, since its creation in 2003, steadily grown in its public use. An internet search on the term will produce many thousands of results in many languages and a brief scan of those results reveals that, apart from new applications in academic contexts, artists, composers and musicians, poets, playwrights and hundreds of ordinary people in blogs and websites have already started to use the term and apply it in meaningful ways. 

The concept of topophilia was first used by the poet W.H. Auden in 1947 to describe the attention given to the love of particular and peculiar places as manifest in the poetry of John Betjeman (Hauser 2007). The neologism combines topos (place) with philia or love, hence love of place. By contrast, the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan (1974) explicitly used the term to describe a love of landscape that included the non-built or natural environment as well as the built environment. If we accept that love of landscape and place can be a powerful emotion, especially for Indigenous people and people who live closely to the land/soil, then a lived experience of the chronic desolation of that landscape/place would be an equally powerful emotion and psychic state. It is this precise experience that solastalgia describes.

Global Dread, Soliphilia and Nature Deficit Disorder

Global dread is a psychoterratic condition centred on the anticipation of a future state of the world that produces a mixture of terror and sadness in the sufferer for those who will exist within such a state. I created the concept of soliphilia’ to provide a cultural and political concept that will help negate dread and solastalgia. The concept has its origins in the French solidaire (interdependent) and the Latin solidus (solid or whole) and the love of one’s fellow citizens and neighbours implied by the Greek (philia). Soliphilia is manifest in the interdependent solidarity and the wholeness or unity needed between people to overcome the alienation and disempowerment present in contemporary political decision-making. Soliphilia introduces the notion of political commitment to the saving of loved home environments at all scales, from the local to the global. While only in existence since 2009, this concept has already been discussed in a feature article that has global reach (Smith 2010). The concept of soliphilia also has affinities with ideas such as ‘eco-cosmopolitanism’ (Heise 2008) where rather than place pathology and dread being the inevitable consequence of modernity, a global sense of place can also be compatible with an endemic sense of place in an environment of high quality.

Richard Louv (2008) has created the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ and has warned about the negative impacts of withdrawal of our children and their socialisation from nature and natural processes. Louv and many others point out that the epidemics of physical (obesity) and mental health (ADD) in our children are closely related to the disconnection now well established between children and eco-socialisation. Without close physical contact with wild places and wild things, as Sobel also pointed out, the socialisation and education of children are incomplete. At this point, as Fromm argued, the development of the healthy personality is compromised.

Ecoparalysis, Ecoanxiety and Eutierria

Ecoparalysis appears as apathy, complacency or disengagement with reality as it unfolds, but the detachment people feel may well be psychoterratic rather than an active decision to do nothing. Lertzman, building on the work of the psychoanalyst, Searles, suggests that “[f]ar from being an absence of pathos, or feeling, inner feelings of anxiety, fear or powerlessness manifest as a lack of action or a paralysis” (Lertzman 2008). Rees highlights the structural aspects of the current human dilemma when he argues that while individuals “hold to the expansionist myth” of consuming and growing our way to sustainability, “society remains in eco-paralysis” (Rees 2008). Ecoanxiety, or non-specific worry about our relationship to support environments in the twenty-first century (Leff 1990, Dickinson 2008) is generated, on a daily basis, by the delivery of information and images about negative trends concerning the environment and the climate. I define eutierria as a good and positive feeling of oneness with the earth and its life forces. This feeling is one where the boundaries between self and the rest of nature are obliterated and a deep sense of peace and connectedness pervades consciousness. When the human-nature relationship is spontaneous and mutually enriching (symbiotic) we experience an emotional state of ‘eutierria’ in contrast, to ecoanxiety, ecoparalysis and global dread. Eutierria now exists as an alternative to what has previously been described within religious and spiritual writings as “that oceanic feeling.”