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Gillian ElliotMA(Hons) (University of Edinburgh), DipLib (Victoria University of Wellington)

Completed 2016: PhD

Contact Gillian

Thesis Title:

Exploring nature as representation and young adults' conceptualisations of nature in the user-generated online world: Nature 2.0

Thesis Abstract:

Urban living is now the norm around the world, nature spaces and species are declining and, it is argued, many now have little or no direct contact with nature. At the same time, people everywhere are increasingly dependent on technology and digitally-mediated experiences of the world, including experiences of the natural world. Much has been written on the benefits of direct nature contact–for both people and nature–and also the (frequently negative) implications of mediated contact, in particular nature experienced via mass media. There is a growing body of research into the social, political and economic implications of the interactive web (Web 2.0) although studies which attend to nature in this online space are still limited. In short, those with an interest in the natural world generally say little about digital or new media technologies, while new media commentators are generally more interested in culture than nature. This study attempts to bridge this disciplinary gap, towards more informed dialogue about nature in the modern, digitally-enabled, increasingly media-centric world.
This cross-disciplinary study addresses both cultural representations of nature (e.g. as Arcadia or wilderness) and young adults' conceptualisations of nature as realised on Web 2.0; what is described here as Nature 2.0. And significantly, the web is used here as research tool and research environment. An online questionnaire was used to gather quantitative and qualitative responses about Web 2.0 and nature from 504 New Zealand university students and each student was asked to select and share a nature website which is indicative of nature for them. Follow-up focus group comments (from 16 volunteers who had completed the questionnaire) add breadth and depth to the information which was shared by the students online.

The findings from this study indicate that mass-mediated representations of nature that now appear online continue to reflect and inform how people think about the natural world. Furthermore, the interactive web is significant in terms of actualising peoples' ideas about nature and also enabling (and potentially promoting) certain nature concepts over others, most notably reimaging nature as the more entangled and politicised environment. These findings challenge established frameworks which are used to understand peoples' visions or concepts of nature, most notably those which fail to accommodate the potential for different ideas in a changed human-nature landscape (both online and offline). The findings also challenge the methodological boundaries and the language which is used within the nature space. Finally, these findings shine an unexpected light on the role of the user in the interactive space, when nature rather than culture is centre-stage.

Notably, just as this exploratory study has been informed by research from a variety of disciplines, ranging from art history to conservation and new media studies, so too are the findings from this study relevant to human-nature research more broadly. This is the case regardless of whether interest is in contact in the offline physical world, the online digital world or, as here, both worlds now entangled.


Dr Erika Pearson

Associate Professor Claire Freeman (Department of Geography)

Personal Information:

Gillian was born and raised in Scotland and graduated with an MA (Hons) in Social Anthropology from Edinburgh University. She has been a full-time, professional librarian at the University of Otago since 1998. Her current position, as Research Services Librarian, is both stimulating and challenging. This brings her into contact with all aspects of the research environment and increasingly this involves the world of linked data and semantic technologies. She has a long standing interest in nature and conservation. Between 2007 and 2009 she championed a Library project which examined the potentials of managing Otago biodiversity research data. She produced two project survey reports; both were well received internationally and are available via OUR Archive: (If you don't know about Otago's research repository, check it out as this is where information about Otago theses is shared). Having supported Otago researchers (staff and students) for more than 15 year she is now thoroughly enjoying doing her own research, drawing together her personal interest and professional experience.


General Staff Conference, University of Otago, Dunedin (Aug, 2012). Presentation with Jesse Meek & Russell Butson (Otago): e-Research initiatives at Otago: “thinking globally, acting locally.”
Open Minds Seminar Series: Considering Options for Open Scholarship at Otago, University of Otago, Dunedin (Oct, 2012), 'Open Data Seminar.' Panel presenter: The Otago Lens.
Geography Postgraduate Symposium, University of Otago, Dunedin (Aug, 2011). Presentation: What role do Web 2.0 mediated experiences of nature play on young peoples' conceptualisations of the character and significance of the natural world?
LIANZA Conference (Library & Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa), Dunedin (Nov/Dec, 2010). Presentation with A. Brown (Otago) and K. Nixon (Waikato): Getting beyond the roach motel: How to develop a service that our clients may not realise they need.
PRDLA Conference (Pacific Rim Digital Libraries Association), Singapore (Oct 2008), 'Herding Tigers: Digital Proliferation & Management.' Presentation: Otago Biodiversity Research Data Management Project:
APSR Invitational Workshop (Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories), Melbourne (Aug 2008), 'The Data Management Plan: Putting Policy into Practice.' Presentation: Biodiversity Data Management Project: University of Otago Library.
Ecology Programme & Botany Seminar, University of Otago, Dunedin (April 2008). Presentation: Information management and biodiversity data: who's doing and what might we do at Otago?


Pearson, E. & Elliot, G. (2015). Multiplicities and the Subject: Rethinking a Mix-of-Attributes Approach in the Digital World. International Journal of Communication. 9(2015), 694-709.
Elliot, G. & Fisher, J. (2013). University of Otago Christchurch Medical Library User Survey Report. Dunedin, N.Z: University of Otago.
Elliot G. (2011). 'Searching for information on 'clean and green'' in M. Tolich and C. Davidson (eds), Getting Started: An Introduction to Research Methods. Auckland: Pearson Education.
Elliot, G. (2011). Are we on the same page? Understanding your research needs: 2010 ITHAKA/Otago Library Survey Report. Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago.
Elliot, G. (2009). Biodiversity Data Management Project: Extending the boundaries of information management in collaboration with Life Scientists at the University of Otago. The New Zealand Library & Information Management Journal, 51(2), 104-120.
Elliot, G. (2009). Otago Biodiversity Data Management Project Report. Part 2: A Qualitative Report. Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago.
Elliot, G. (2008). Otago Biodiversity Data Management Project Report. Part 1: Questionnaire Report. Dunedin, NZ: University of Otago.

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