On Landscapes – Part 2: What Are Landscapes?

29 October 2013

My previous “why” question was all but rhetoric – everyone I have spoken with agrees that landscapes are hugely important, and also agrees that they are essential for human well-being at large as well as life on our planet.

Asking “What are landscapes?” is more delicate and requires some thought as to where we are aiming with landscape approaches. The way we use “landscape” should be determined by the context we want and solutions we aim for, not the other way around.

The word landscape has been used for hundreds of years to encompass aspects of art, laws and geography. It is not often I quote Wikipedia but, I found this article on “landscape” enlightening, particularly the etymology with several references to landscapes as a social construct. I also note an article by Kenneth Olwig that explores the historical concept in depth, including to say that “A substantive concept of landscape is more concerned with social law and justice than with natural law or aesthetics.”

The concept of landscape approaches for sustainable development has been around for decades. This recent PNAS article by Jeff Sayer, Terry Sunderland et al. provides a good review and also highlights how the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, an intergovernmental process, has recently included the landscape concept in their negotiation process.

Read more from CIFOR here