Our position

We identify ourselves as scientists with an affinity for nature conservation. Being aware of the fact that our own relationship with nature would inevitably play a role in the interpretation of the interviews, we had constantly to reflect on our own position. One important question that we asked ourselves during the analysis was: What might be different between the relationships of our interviewees with nature compared with our own? At the beginning, we felt a bias toward relationships that were protective of nature, so we had to take a step back and concentrate more on existing complexities without falling into the trap of simply constructing “otherness.”


We conducted 68 interviews with 69 inhabitants between 2004 and 2006; two people were interviewed six times and five were interviewed twice (2004 and 2005). The interviewees belonged to the following social groups:

  • residents: 25 individuals (nine women and 16 men, nine of them fishermen),
  • Yaghan community: 12 individuals (five women and seven men, three of them fishermen),
  • navy: 17 individuals (one naval commander, one priest, five naval officers, 10 women), and
  • public employees working for public authorities: 15 individuals (six women and nine men).
Focus groups and participant observation

The focus groups were conducted with the aim of learning how the respondents talk about nature in the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, as a means of informing the interpretive analysis of the data obtained from the individual interviews (Stewart 1990). To cover a range of possible discussions, the participants invited were chosen from different social and organizational groups:
  • tourism,
  • members of social associations (neighbors, mothers),
  • fishermen from the fishermen’s union, and
  • residents.
Three of the focus groups were conducted at the regional university (Universidad de Magallanes). Oral invitations were issued to the participants. One focus group was conducted at a local bar when it was closed, because one of the participants was the owner. The topics that were discussed included, for example, the relevance of the natural environment for tourism, the importance of access to land titles, conservation strategies, and relatedness to place.

Participant observation denotes the attempt to co-observe a subject’s everyday world from his or her point of view (Jorgensen 1989). Participant observation was important because it helped us to experience the daily life of the inhabitants, especially in cases in which the interviews did not reveal sufficient information about their activities in relation to nature, and to understand better the information gained from the interviews. Participant observation also helped us to develop a familiarity with and a nuanced understanding of context. Trips out with members of the Yaghan community and with fishermen were very important, because it was difficult to communicate with them about nature, which they perceive as something that is self-evident and requires no special naming. The aim was to become directly involved as a participant, with direct observation as the primary method used to gain an understanding of how people make sense of nature in their daily lives. We also assisted in public meetings and teaching activities at the local school and had many informal meetings with members of the Yaghan community.

Details about the setting

All the interviews were conducted face to face and took place at the homes of the interviewees, except for three interviews that took place at the interviewees’ offices. For each interview an initial contact was made beforehand to arrange a place and time.

To enlist the cooperation of the navy, we asked for official support for the interviews and obtained an official letter of permission to conduct them. Once we had this permit, more families were willing to participate, although several interviews that had been arranged could not take place because of the navy’s irregular work schedules. The interviews developed in different ways: Some took only 30 minutes, because the interviewees stuck close to the questions they were asked, whereas others were more conversational and took up to 2 h.

One extremely important aspect for a favorable interview situation and intensive, open communication was trust. Some people were willing to talk about very personal experiences. Although it is difficult to define exactly what engenders communication based on trust, several aspects can be named: a sound knowledge of the local situation, familiarity with the region over a longer period and a shared experience of everyday situations such as energy problems, explaining the background of the interviews to the participants, an honest interest in the perspectives of the participants, adapting the interview situation to the participant’s experience, and trying to make the interview situation as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

A sample of the interview questions that guided the semistructured interviews is presented in Appendix 3.

Eleven interviews were conducted by Gudrun Pollack, and the other interviews and focus groups were conducted by Uta Berghöfer.

Initial sampling and coding

All interviews were transcribed literally in Spanish. The first coding process was manual, word by word and line by line, using paper and pencil. The first interviews were discussed in several working sessions involving between two and four participants. Coding was subsequently carried out using MAXQDA software (VERBI GmbH., Marburg, Germany).

For the initial sampling, the criterion for selecting interviewees was the social group to which they belonged. First we interviewed individuals from each group: the Yaghan community, public employees, residents, and navy personnel.

The first phase of the coding process included a word-by-word analysis of a few selected phrases to address images and meanings; this constituted a first analytic step. An example of such an analysis is presented in Appendix 4 for the sentence “Everything is valuable, everything that is natural, because everything is a harmonious whole, there is nothing that is dispensable; the only thing that is dispensable is the human being.” The first codes that emerged were focused on the images and appreciation of nature or natural elements to which the interviewees made reference. It soon became clear that childhood and learning experiences played a significant role. In addition, one particular question arose that led to the second interview phase: How are the activities engaged in by the interviewees in and with nature related to their appreciation of nature?

Theoretical sampling and focused coding

The purpose of theoretical sampling is to obtain data that help explain the categories emerging from the initial coding process. The second phase of data collection focused on different activities and childhood experiences. The interviewees were selected on the basis of a supposed difference in their activities in relation to nature to find contrasting cases. A third interview phase focused on fishermen, because their activities and relationships with nature had not been sufficiently understood.

The process of analysis and coding is characterized by switching constantly between the phenomena, i.e., the concrete interview data, and the theoretical level and thus by switching between different coding strategies. At the end of the analysis, line-by-line coding was still conducted wherever this was deemed necessary. A complete mapping of the coding process in its chronology is neither possible nor essential. To allow for transparency and credibility we present our results in two ways. First, we present our framework and then we describe the case histories or types from the perspective of our framework.