Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Fragment on the Meanings of the Term Restoration

The meanings that adhere to the term “restore” and “restoration” can be classified into a) those that relate to the projected outcomes and purpose of the restorative act for a generic ‘thing” [which may or may not be a human being]; b) those that specifically address a specified human element in relation to an outcome or a process.  The latter definitions can further be divided into those that related to humans conferring or humans receiving a benefit. 
Definitions closest to projected outcomes for a “thing” include: “to build up again; to re-erect or reconstruct.” (Meaning 3 in OED), “[t]o bring back to the original state; to improve, repair, or retouch (a thing) so as to bring it back to its original condition.” (Meaning 3b OED).  A rarer uses of the word “restore” is “[t]o set right, repair”.  All of these uses seem to conform pretty readily to the technical definitions developed by conservation practitioners. Further removed from the senses that the ecological restorationist ordinarily use is “[t]o reproduce or represent (something ancient, an extinct animal, etc.) in its original form.”  We should note that this last definition describes the circumstances of several restoration projects where the original “natural” systems has been replaced by a human dominated one [say an agricultural system] and is then made available as open land for conservation purposes.  The definition seems also to describe circumstances criticized by some that restoration claims produces fakes, forgeries (Katz; Elliott). 

Those definition that relate to a specifically human element in a restorative act include “to give back, to make return or restitution of (anything previously taken away or lost) (OED Meaning 1) or “to make amends for; to compensate, to make good (loss or damage) (OED meaning 2), the latter being a rarer meaning.  These definitions describe a benefit to humans derived from a seemingly altruistic gesture.  Related also is “[t]o replace (mankind) in a state of grace; to free from the effects of sin” where humans both confer and derives the benefit of restoration.  Relating to health to restore can be [t]o bring (a person or part of the body) back to a healthy or vigorous state, or “to bring back to mental calm.” (Meaning 4 OED).  Also suggesting a human benefit is when restoring means “to bring back (a person or thing) to a previous, original, or normal condition. [Meaning 6 OED] and finally “to recompense or compensate (a person) or to recover, revive. Obs. Hence restored ppl. a.

Definitions of restoration typically employ other words that have “re” as a prefix, e.g. return, restitution, recompense, reestablish.  “Re” a Latin prefix indicates a general sense of ‘back’ or ‘again’.  All shades of meaning for the word ‘restore’ signal its relationship with time.  The term ecological restoration has the general sense of returning an ecological system to a former state, one that represents the conditions that prevails before an anthropogenic.  Formally, it has been defined as “an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability”. This definition makes the connection with the past clear, but also indicates inevitable connection with the future.  That is, restoration of ecological systems is to deliberately alter a set of dynamic processes rather than to retrieve a past condition.  A frequently raised question in restoration debates is one of restoration “of what, to what?”  If restoration has a regard to the past, what it the appropriate moment to select?

Is this the right term?

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