5 - System or arena? Conceptual concerns around the analysis of landscape dynamics  pp. 80-94

System or arena? Conceptual concerns around the analysis of landscape dynamics

By Marie Stenseke, Regina Lindborg, Annika Dahlberg and Elin Slätmo

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter


An important challenge in the quest for sustainable development is to understand and manage changes in the physical landscape. It is widely acknowledged that this has to be achieved within a multidimensional framework where human well-being, species, biodiversity and many other values are recognised (MA, 2005). In order to enhance social and ecological responsible governing, analytical tools are needed that can identify potentially problematic trends as well as contribute to the formulation of effective management strategies. In this context the importance of national and global perspectives is indisputable – but not sufficient. If one includes material and immaterial features and processes, and considers the unique constellations of these at different sites, strategies for sustainable development must, by necessity, reflect local variation. This is even more apparent as drivers of land use change operate at various spatial, temporal and institutional scales, and also with their influence differing depending on local socioeconomic and biophysical characteristics (further developed by Bürgi et al., Chapter 7; Eiter & Potthoff, 2007). Therefore, the success of managing change will, to a large extent, depend on considerations made by local authorities in their comprehensive planning for specific areas, as expressed in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. This calls for a qualified understanding of the integrated relationship between social and ecological aspects also from a more narrow scale perspective.

‘Social–ecological systems’ is a concept used to frame an integrated perspective that links human society and nature commonly applied within resilience thinking (or resilience theory). Although it has become widely used since its introduction in the 1990s, the concept is still considered to be in an exploratory phase, where one of the key challenges is to come to grips with complexity (Cumming, 2011; Ostrom, 2009). The concept departs from an explicit system approach, where concepts are characteristically generated mainly from theory, and interrelationships are based on extrapolations and generalisations, rather than on vicinity and physical affinity (Törnqvist, 1981). However, studies employing the concept of social–ecological systems often relate to specific case studies, that is, investigations of specific areas of a limited size (Berkes & Folke, 1998; Berkes et al., 2003), and the concept thereby assumes a spatial definition. In this way, social–ecological systems show apparent overlaps with conceptualisations of landscape, most notably with the spatial landscape perspective within geography (Olwig, 2007).

Anderies, J. M. Janssen, M. A. Ostrom, E. 2004 A framework to analyze the robustness of social–ecological systems from an institutional perspective Ecology and Society 9 18 http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss1/art18/
Berkes, F. Colding, J. Folke, C. 2003 Navigating Social–Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press
Berkes, F. Folke, C. 1998 Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press
Cumming, G. S. 2011 Spatial Resilience in Social–Ecological Systems Dordrecht Springer
Davidson-Hunt, I. J. Berkes, F. 2003 Nature and society through the lens of resilience: toward a human-in-ecosystem perspective Navigating Social–Ecological Systems: Building Resilience for Complexity and Change F. Berkes J. Colding C. Folke Cambridge, UK Cambridge University Press 53
Eiter, S. Potthoff, K. 2007 Improving the factual knowledge of landscapes: following up the European Landscape Convention with a comparative historical analysis of forces of landscape change in the Sjodalen and Stølsheimen mountain areas, Norway Norwegian Journal of Geography 61 145
Enfors, E. I. Gordon, L. J. 2007 Analyzing resilience in dryland agro-ecosystems: a case study of the Makanya catchment in Tanzania over the past 50 years Land Degradation and Development 18 680
ESF 2010 Landscape in a Changing World. Bridging Divides, Integrating Disciplines, Serving Society Strasbourg European Science Foundation
Foley, J. A. DeFries, R. Asner, G. P. 2005 Global consequences of land use Science 309 570
Folke, C. 2006 Resilience: the emergence of a perspective for social–ecological systems analyses Global Environmental Change 16 253
Giddens, A. 1984 The Constitution of Society. Outline of the Theory of Structuration Cambridge, UK Polity Press
Hägerstrand, T. 1982 Diorama, path and project Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 73 323
Hägerstrand, T. 1993 Samhälle och natur Nordrefo 1993:1; Region och miljö 14
Hägerstrand, T. 2001 A look at the political geography of environmental management Sustainable Landscapes and Lifeways: Scale and Appropriateness A. Buttimer Cork, IRL Cork University Press 35
Hornborg, A. 2009 Zero–sum world: challenges in conceptualizing environmental load displacement and ecologically unequal exchange in the world-system International Journal of Comparative Sociology 50 237
Jones, M. 1991 The elusive reality of landscape. Concepts and approaches in landscape research Norwegian Journal of Geography 45 229
Latour, B. 2005 Reassembling the Social: an Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory Oxford, UK Oxford University Press
Lenntorp, B. 1999 Time-geography: at the end of its beginning GeoJournal 48 155
Loreau, M. 2010 Linking biodiversity and ecosystems: towards a unifying ecological theory Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 365 49
MA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) 2005 Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis Report Washington, DC Island Press
Mels, T. Setten, G. 2007 Romance, practice and substantiveness. Introduction: what do landscapes do? Geografiska Annaler 89B 197
Naveh, Z. Lieberman, A. S. 1984 Landscape Ecology, Theory and Application New York, NY Springer
Olsson, M. -O. Sjöstedt, G. 2004 Systems Approaches and Their Application: Examples from Sweden Dordrecht Kluwer Academic Publishers
Olwig, K. 2002 Landscape, Nature and the Body Politic: from Britain’s Renaissance to America’s New World Madison, WI University of Wisconsin Press
Olwig, K. 2007 Norden and the ‘substantive landscape’: a personal account Geografiska Annaler 89B 283
Ostrom, E. 2009 A general framework for analysing sustainability of social ecological systems Science 325 419
Pred, A. R. 1981 Power, everyday practice and the discipline of human geography Space and Time in Geography: Essays Dedicated to Torsten Hägerstrand, Lund Studies in Geography B, 48 A. Pred Lund LiberLäromedel/Gleerup 30
Resilience Alliance 2011 http://www.resalliance.org/index.php/key_concepts
Törnqvist, G. 1981 On arenas and systems Space and Time in Geography: Essays Dedicated to Torsten Hägerstrand, Lund Studies in Geography B, 48 A. Pred Lund LiberLäromedel/Gleerup 109
Turner, M. 2005 Landscape ecology in North America: past, present and future Ecology 86 1967
Walker, B. H. Gunderson, L. H. Kinzig, A. P. 2006 A handful of heuristics and some propositions for understanding resilience in social–ecological systems Ecology and Society 11 13 http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol11/iss1/art13/
Walker, B. H. Holling, C. S. Carpenter, S. R. Kinzig. A. 2004 Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social–ecological systems Ecology and Society 9 5 http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art5/
Westley, F. Carpenter, S. R. Brock, W. A. Holling, C. S. Gunderson, L. H. 2002 Why systems of people and nature are not just social and ecological systems Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems L. H. Gunderson C. S. Holling Washington, DC Island Press 103
Wylie, J. 2007 Landscape Abingdon, UK Routledge