Category Archives: Unpacking the Motive

Spring 2024, Unpacking the Motive

Unnatural Nature: Kellert’s Conflicting Nine Values of Nature and the Forbes Backyard

In a Tortoiseshell

This is an excerpt from my R1 for WRI 106: Seeking Nature. We were asked to “extend and refine” Stephen R. Kellert’s framework of the nine values of nature, using a place on Princeton’s campus as a case study. Kellert presents a series of nine “values” detailing the many ways in which humans interact with nature and provides the clear benefits of each, indicating that engagement with these values may result in increased desire to conserve the natural world. Among these is the “dominionsitic” value which describes a desire to control nature. I argue that Kellert neglects to consider that dominionism has the potential to erase other elements of nature, resulting in people’s partial appreciation for the natural world and hindering the very conservation efforts that Kellert’s framework aimed to support.

Excerpt / Fionnuala Moore

Examining the Forbes backyard demonstrates the negative impacts of pursuit of the dominionistic value, complicating Kellert’s proposal of all of his values acting equally in service of humans’ physical and spiritual survival. He suggests that “their cumulative, interactive, and synergistic impact may contribute to the possibility of a more fulfilling personal existence” (Kellert 60). However, he neglects to consider that interactions between the values may have a subtracting rather than a cumulative impact. Though he does briefly present the possibility of a single value to “possess the capacity for… exaggerated distortion and self-defeating manifestation”, any observable repercussions of such a prospect are largely ignored (Kellert 56). The Forbes backyard and Springdale Golf Course demonstrate such repercussions as they show the ecological dangers of the dominionistic value in their so-called idyllic lawns. Re:Wild Your Campus, an organization dedicated to promoting biodiversity on college campuses, explains that sites like these actually “wipe away local ecosystems and native plant life and replace it with European turf-grass” (“About Us: The Issue”). Additionally, maintenance practices such as the application of synthetic pesticides are harmful to all forms of life on a campus, from trees and other plants to insects, birds and the students living there (“About Us: The Issue”).  The fulfillment of the dominionistic value removes biodiversity and weakens ecosystems, significantly decreasing the potential for satisfying naturalistic experiences in affected locations. It is vital to consider these impacts in speaking and thinking about the categories Kellert provides – they are neither independent nor interchangeable. These contradictions present an argument against single-use natural sites designed for specific human applications and demonstrate the importance of sites being designed with many aspects of nature in mind to avoid erasing other values in an attempt to promote just one.

An understanding of the possible erasing effects of Kellert’s values can explain the origins of partial relationships with and appreciation for nature, a phenomenon which he introduces yet fails to explain. Kellert briefly explores this idea in mentioning a study of residents of the United States and Japan, two very prosperous countries. It was found that while the majority of the residents in these countries identify some connection with nature, they do not appreciate all elements of it. This phenomenon can be understood as  “‘a love of semi-nature’…respondents described it as a perspective of nature dominated by a preference for the artificial, abstract, and symbolic rather than any realistic experience of the natural world” (Kellert 65). Though Kellert does not form this connection, people’s familiarity with “semi-nature” seems to originate from interactions primarily with sites that allow for engagement with only some of his nine values, especially those created with a dominionistic purpose. These daily interactions impact people’s perception of the definition of nature. The official webpage of Forbes college advertises the terrace, patio and backyard by citing that they have “the best view on campus!”, and the sentiment is frequently repeated within the Princeton community (“Terrace, Patio and Back Yard”). People who praise this location in this way likely have limited experience with truly “natural” areas with which to compare the heavily manicured appearance of the Forbes’ backyard, showing evidence of a warped perspective of nature resulting from constant interactions with dominionsitically-motivated locations.

The consequences of partial relationships with nature go far beyond individual misconceptions, even threatening to hinder Kellert’s goal for his nine values to aid in conservation efforts. Near the end of his article, Kellert expresses a hopeful view of the impact of his nine values on conservation efforts. He proposes that if people have a greater understanding of the importance of nature in their lives, they may be more inclined to protect it, with the belief, as René Dubos suggests that “were it only for selfish reasons… we must maintain variety and harmony in nature” (Dubos qtd in Kellert 60). Despite this generally optimistic view, Kellert does consider the impacts of  partial relationships with nature on this conservation ethic. He notes that if the majority of people maintain their relationships with semi-nature, “this narrow emphasis on certain species and landscapes is clearly an insufficient basis for a fundamental shift in global consciousness” (Kellert 66). If people are only familiar with some elements of nature, they will logically only seek to conserve those types of natural spaces. Students on Princeton campus, for example, are not  aware of the full extent of human interventions in the Forbes Backyard. Students will believe that it is these kinds of spaces that must be protected rather than wild, unchanged locations with which they may be largely unfamiliar and will apply these perspectives to ecological protection efforts. In this way, people will believe themselves to be supporting sustainability efforts when, in reality, they are advocating for a continuation of ecologically damaging maintenance practices, such as pesticide use and removal of biodiversity on the Springdale Golf Course. From this perspective, if people approach conservation acting in their “best interests”, they will continue to alter the sites with which they are familiar and maintain ignorance of those that legitimately demand conservation. Incomplete understandings of natural sites as a result of the erasing effects of the dominionistic value of nature have the dangerous potential to interfere with conservation efforts of even genuinely dedicated individuals.

Works Cited

“About Us: The Issue.” Re:Wild Your Campus, Re:Wild, Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.

Kellert, Stephen R. “The Biological Basis for Human Values of Nature.” The Biophilia 

Hypothesis, edited by Stephen R. Kellert and Edward. O. Wilson, Island Press, 1993, pp. 42-69. 

“Terrace, Patio and Back Yard.” Forbes College, Trustees of Princeton University, Accessed 15 Sept. 2023.

Author Commentary / Fionnuala Moore 

This was my first paper at Princeton, and through it, I learned how to find and apply motive. Like most first-years starting Writing Seminar, I had never explicitly considered the motive behind papers I was writing, but once I had developed an understanding of what it was, I’ve seen its value in every single essay I’ve written since. Often, it’s assumed that it’s easier to find motive if you have more control over your topic, but I think it’s just as important to find a genuinely interesting motive with less control over the topic in order to make the essay-writing process smoother and more enjoyable. I always like to think of it as searching for motive rather than creating it – there is always some kind of interesting tension when comparing sources, and I simply have to find it. This feels much less overwhelming than needing to create a sense of motive from nothing.

In this essay, for example, once I had decided on a nature site, I simply sat outside and observed things that seemed strange or notable. In this case, it was the constant sound and presence of maintenance equipment. Then, I repeated the process with Kellert, identifying points where I was confused and finding an interesting gap in Kellert’s thinking: he assumed that all of his nine values of nature interacted in perfect harmony. Finally, I tried to explain one of these tensions using the other, leading to interesting conclusions and an overarching sense of motive related to the dangers of a partial appreciation of nature and its implications in conservation. By using this strategy, even though I was provided with a topic with little choice, I was able to find a motive I found legitimately compelling.

Having found an exciting motive, I was able to arrive at a thesis. By following these steps, my motive was inherently threaded throughout all parts of my essay, but I also tried to be intentional in raising the stakes (increasing the sense of motive) as the essay progressed to build up my argument logically and in a way that felt interesting and communicated the urgency of my argument. The mounting pressure of the argument peaks in the third paragraph of this excerpt (the final body paragraph of the essay), when I connect the ideas I’ve introduced to the real-world issue of conservation.

Editor Commentary / Natalia Espinosa Dice  

Moore submitted three works to Tortoise: her R1, R2 and R3. Each was excellent in its own right, collectively showcasing Moore’s tremendous growth as a writer over the semester. While selecting the R3, the culminating research assignment of the semester, might have seemed the logical choice, Moore’s R1 stood out for a particularly impressive reason. 

Writing Seminar serves as a student’s first introduction to motive, a concept rather notorious for its elusiveness. To grasp motive by the end of the semester is an accomplishment to be proud of, yet Moore achieves this after just a few weeks in class. Indeed, as the very first paper, her R1’s success speaks not only to her talent as a writer but also to her wholehearted embrace of a new challenge. Above all else, Moore’s remarkable understanding of motive led us to select her R1 for publication, with the hope that her work is not only impressive but instructive, too. 

Moore’s motive identifies and refines a subtle tension within Kellert’s argument, but she does not stop there. Instead, she dives deeper, using her refinement to reevaluate a phenomenon that Kellert himself briefly mentions but cannot fully explain. She considers how this phenomenon might threaten Kellert’s conservation goals, thus complicating his argument in a nuanced and thoughtful manner. As she zooms out in scope, her meticulous build-up culminates in a global motive, concluding that failure to recognize the potential dangers of the dominionistic value might impede even the most well-intended conservation efforts. 

Her motive thus serves as the paper’s guiding thread and central source of dynamic energy, propelling her argument forward as it builds layers of complexity with each paragraph. Ultimately, motive enables her to achieve perhaps the second most challenging task of a Writing Seminar student: developing a progressive structure. Indeed, in harnessing the full power of motive, Moore demonstrates precisely why its pursuit is worth the effort. 

What makes Moore’s use of motive so exceptional is perhaps best described in her own words, “I always like to think of it as searching for motive rather than creating it.” This mindset proves pivotal to her success. By investing considerable effort early in her writing process, Moore finds a space to authentically engage with Kellert’s work. Instead of forcing a motive that aligns with her thesis, she allows motive to guide every step of her writing process, including the formation of her thesis itself. Asserting a framework that reconsiders Kellert’s nine values as interactive rather than static, she sustains a conversation within this identified space throughout her entire paper. Ultimately, when she applies this refined framework to the partial relationship phenomenon, she redefines this space as entirely her own, thus making a truly unique contribution to ongoing scholarly conversation. Indeed, by establishing an exemplary standard for future students to follow, her work assumes an equally valuable role in this publication.

Spring 2024, Unpacking the Motive

“For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas, We’ve Boundless Plains to Share”: Australia’s Representational Violence Against Asylum Seekers

In a Tortoiseshell

This is an excerpt from my final paper for ANT264: Violence. The prompt for this assignment was quite broad – we were simply asked to write an analytical paper exploring different theoretical and anthropological perspectives on violence that we had covered throughout the semester. I decided to write about Australia’s asylum seeker policy, or the “Pacific Solution,” a legislative framework designed to detain asylum seekers in Nauru, Christmas Island, and Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island before they are allowed to enter Australia. Drawing on the work of historian Achille Mmebme, anthropologist Michael Taussig, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, and sociologist Loïc Wacquant, I contend that the Australian government is employing representational violence, a violence that emerges from the manipulation of narratives and knowledge on an oppressed subject, to mask and legitimize its acts of violence against asylum seekers. 

Excerpt / Laura Zhang

Representational Violence

Since 2001, Australia has implemented a policy of processing and resettling asylum seekers in offshore facilities. Despite these policies drawing international condemnation from bodies like the United Nations Committee against Torture, there is little domestic backlash on Australia’s continuous mistreatment of asylum seekers. Australia’s ability to generate indifference in its general public to irrefutable human rights violations is what I call representational violence, an analytical framework at the intersection of the concepts of necropolitics, epistemic murk, and symbolic violence. Necropolitics, as conceptualized by historian Achille Mbembe, is inspired by French philosopher Michael Foucault’s idea of biopower, the capacity for sovereign powers to exercise a legitimate “right to kill, or [refrain] from killing” its own citizens (Foucault, 2004, p. 79). Mbembe builds upon Foucault by highlighting how biopower depends on excluding certain groups within society and is thereby fundamentally tied to the idea of “race (or for that matter racism)” (Mbembe, 2003, p. 17). In sovereign states creating the concept of the Other, they lay claim to a right to kill racial groups that represent a “mortal threat or absolute danger” within society (18). 

By putting necropolitics in dialogue with anthropologist Michael Taussig’s idea of epistemic murk, I can develop an explanation of how Othering can be accomplished. Taussig highlights how, in the context of the Putumayo Rubber Boom, rubber station managers, concerned with ideas of Native American savagery, created “an uncertain reality out of fiction, a nightmarish reality in which the unstable interplay of truth and illusion becomes a social force of horrendous and phantasmic dimensions” (Taussig, 1984, p. 492). That is, the colonizers used techniques of storytelling, fictionalization, and narrative-making to create epistemic murk and construct the colonized in a false, illusory image of savagery and Otherness to justify their torture and abuse of Native Americans. 

By including sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and sociologist Loïc Wacquant’s symbolic violence in the conversation, I am further able to understand how social agents within society can internalize these narratives surrounding necropolitics. Symbolic violence is “the violence which is exercised upon a social agent with his or her complicity” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 2004, p. 272). Whilst Bourdieu and Wacquant specifically tie the concept to women in France internalizing patriarchal values to explain symbolic violence, symbolic violence can also be broadly applied to groups within society viewing systems of violence in the status quo as natural, and state violence as legitimate. In tandem with Mbembe and Taussig, symbolic violence allows me to define representational violence as the violence arising from sovereign powers controlling processes of storytelling and the public imaginings of a group resulting in its citizens internalizing and accepting its policies causing violence, exclusion, or death for that particular group. Processes of representational violence, in the context of Australia’s asylum seeker policy, can be divided into three main methods:

(1) Control of visibility 

By placing asylum seekers in offshore detention centers, the Australian government uses geographical distance to render them invisible in the public eye. In a 2012 speech, Senator Christine Milne pointed out that the Australian government has denied the idea of “out of sight, out of mind” about processing asylum seekers offshore (Milne, 2012). However, this is contradicted by the Australian government’s past actions, such as excising Christmas Island from Australia’s migration zone (Coombs, 2003)– manipulating physical borders to metaphorically emphasize how asylum seekers do not belong within Australian shores. The control over borders is a form of “constructive blurring,” which, as architect Eyal Weizman articulates, is the manipulation of borders to “naturalize facts of domination” (Weizman, 2012, p. 8). This action also links to environmentalist Rob Nixon’s idea of slow violence, the violence that “occurs gradually and out of sight” (Nixon, 2011, p. 2), in highlighting how keeping asylum seekers in historically perceived “isolated, remote, and primitive” (Salyer et al., 2020) locations relegates asylum seekers into the peripheries of the general public’s collective visions and attention. 

Making asylum seekers invisible serves to mask the ecological and structural violence that Australia has enacted on asylum seekers and the Pacific Islands, thereby dismissing Australia’s responsibility in this issue. The Department Secretary Michael Pezzullo, during a 2015 Senate Inquiry, stated that “[t]he government of Nauru is ultimately responsible in the exercise of its jurisdiction,” representing Australia’s belief that they are not responsible for the conditions and treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention (The Senate, 2015). Shifting the accountability from the Australian government to foreign governments and detention centers makes it so that the narrative surrounding asylum seeker policies is aligned with “prevention through deterrence,” weaponizing the environment of detention centers and framing refugee death as an “unintended consequence” that Australia bares no responsibility for (León, 2015, p. 34-36). An example of this is the death of Hamid Khazaei, who died of medical neglect after presenting to Manus Island medical center with flu symptoms and a lesion on his leg. In this case study, Australia’s rhetoric veils the fact that Nauru’s harsh environment of extreme heat, drought, and poor health conditions– which resulted in Khazaei’s death– are all products of long legacies of colonial phosphate extraction and mining in the 1900s, forced occupation during both World Wars and impact by climate change–processes which Australia has been directly accountable for (Kanngieser, 2020). Hence, not only is Australia responsible for direct acts of violence perpetrated against individuals, it is also responsible for placing asylum seekers in hostile landscapes that it has shaped through decades of exploitation and ecocide. Australia’s representational violence, through narratives of invisibility and skewing migrant deaths as “acts of nature,” thereby obfuscates and masks Australian necropolitics. This leads to indifference in the general public on the asylum seeker issue, and ensures that the general public solely internalizes the hegemonic narrative that justifies the death, eradication, and abuse of asylum seekers. 

Author Commentary / Laura Zhang 

When I started brainstorming what my motive was for this assignment, I decided to research reactions to Australia’s asylum seeker policy. I found a large number of articles from international human rights organizations condemning this policy. However, I struggled to find critical reports from domestic organizations or Australian media sources. Such a discrepancy suggested a tension between international and domestic perspectives on offshore processing. This allowed me to figure out that my motive was to investigate why there was so little domestic backlash on Australia’s continuous mistreatment of asylum seekers. After deciding this, I needed to figure out my thesis. I had vague ideas about the link between asylum seekers and ideas about internal and external sovereignty, myths of terror, and the normalization of state violence. However, addressing all these concepts in one essay seemed quite messy. 

Upon going through the entire syllabus and highlighting relevant theoretical concepts, I then knew I needed to engage the authors into a scholarly conversation so that I could combine these concepts together. Drawing on what I learned from my R2 in my freshman writing seminar, I sketched out the ways in which the authors interacted. I eventually came to the realization that I could synthesize all these authors’ perspectives into a new form of violence, which I called ‘representational violence.’ I was afraid of the challenges of defining this new concept, and applying this concept to Australia’s asylum seeker policies. However, when writing my essay, I found that it was quite a natural process – I simply kept on adding the contributions of authors on top of others’ to create my definition of representational violence. 

In terms of my evidence and analysis, I found it difficult to talk about the specific details of the policies. Instead, I found myself reading and listening to transcripts of Australian politicians’ speeches regarding the asylum seeker policies. Although a form of evidence that I had not yet interacted with at Princeton, analyzing rhetoric was a crucial part of explaining representational violence. I also read anthropological articles that connected Australia’s asylum seeker policy to other theories of violence. Doing this was a helpful way to understand how I could use representational violence as a theoretical framework to analyze these policies. Whilst creating my own concept was difficult and novel, it was also incredibly rewarding. Challenging myself to defend my argument with my own theoretical perspective was such an interesting method to approach an essay – and I hope to have the opportunity to do so again in the future!

Editor Commentary / Natalia Espinosa Dice  

When students graduate from Writing Seminar, they likely wonder if they will ever need to use motive again. How could such a Writing Seminar-specific lexicon term possibly translate beyond the structured prompts of the R1, R2 and R3? Zhang’s exceptional excerpt demonstrates not only why we need to use motive, but also why we may even want to. 

Zhang situates three distinct scholarly conversations in context with each other. In doing so, she not only actively engages with four scholars at once – a feat in itself – but also traverses three disciplines: anthropology, philosophy and sociology. By finding the space between and intersections of these three scholarly conversations, she lays the groundwork for her own concept of representational violence. 

What I love most about Zhang’s writing is that she is explicit about why she includes each scholar along the way, making her framework accessible to unfamiliar readers even despite its complexity. However, Zhang does not stop thinking about motive once she establishes her framework. Instead, she deftly weaves motive into her evidence and analysis. Throughout our revision process, I encouraged Zhang to push this even further, simply because after all her work in developing an excellent motive, I wanted her to continue to make it explicit throughout her paper. Her revised excerpt delivers exceptionally in this regard, as Zhang meticulously defines her position in relation to other scholars throughout her section entitled “Control of Visibility.” 

Zhang’s approach to evidence is equally remarkable. In her reflection, she elaborates on her writing process, which notably begins with finding her motive: to investigate the tension between Australia’s actual mistreatment of asylum seekers and the lack of domestic backlash. When she begins gathering evidence, her decision to focus on transcripts of speeches and anthropological articles reflects this same tension, as she utilizes rhetorical analysis in conjunction with an anthropological approach that examines behavior within the context of culture and broader systems. Methodology is often an ambiguous concept for Writing Seminar students. In Zhang’s case, beginning with motive enables her to develop a methodology that helps resolve precisely the tension she identifies. Furthermore, combining a theoretical framework with anthropological evidence and rhetorical analysis makes her essay well-balanced. By anchoring every theoretical concept of her framework in tangible evidence and contextualizing every empirical claim within her theoretical framework, she convinces us that her argument is both credible and complete.  

Perhaps Zhang did not have to construct such a complex motive. Indeed, as Zhang puts it, “…addressing all these concepts in one essay seemed quite messy.” Yet, by dedicating time to finding an intriguing tension, engaging with existing scholarly conversation and crafting a coherent framework that synthesizes all these complex concepts, Zhang accomplishes precisely what she set out to do, and perhaps even more. Her use of motive, along with her writing process itself, sets an example not just for Writing Seminar students but for all of us. 

Spring 2024, Unpacking the Motive

Unpacking the Motive: Evidence-Analysis, Motivating Moves

We often think of motive as something established in the introduction of a paper. But what happens to it after? This section illustrates how motive can serve as a powerful tool to both frame the structure of an argument and generate compelling analysis of evidence. From Laura Zhang’s rigorous engagement with scholars in her Anthropology paper to the dynamic structure of Fionnuala Moore’s Writing Seminar paper, the excerpts in this section showcase ways in which writers can sustain their motivating momentum well into their body paragraphs.

— Grace Wang ’26