New edited book on Landscape in Policy and Practice

Landschaftsbilder und Landschaftsverständnisse in Politik und Praxis

Edited by Cormac Walsh, Gisela Kangler & Markus Schaffert, Springer VS, March 2021

In the following, I provide an English-language introduction to the book, drawing in particular on the text of the introduction chapter.

Landscape is highly relevant for the policy, practice and politics of spatial planning and environmental management. In the preamble of the European Landscape Convention, (Council of Europe 2000) landscape is attested a “an important public interest role in the cultural, ecological, environmental and social fields”. Landscape management is described as a cross-sectoral task, part of an integrative environmental policy, requiring stakeholder engagement and public participation. The European Landscape Convention has to date, been signed and ratified by over 85% of member states, but not by Germany or Austria. This is particularly surprising, given that German landscape planning is often seen as model of best practice, yet perhaps reflects the high degree of sectoral institutionalisation and professionalisation of landscape policy and planning within the German and Austrian systems.

This edited collection examines the extent to which landscape policy and practice, and more broadly, the governance of place, nature, environment and cultural heritage is informed by a plurality of diverse, heterogenous landscape imaginaries and interpretations. Different interpretations or readings of landscape are understood to reflect a plurality of epistemologies (ways of knowing), rationalities, values and intentions, whether conceptualised as functional systems of ecological interactions or in terms of aesthetic and emotional qualities of beauty, atmosphere or lived experience. Landscape can be constitutive of place-based identities, or a dystopic, threatening ‘other’, a place of escape from contemporary civilisation or a manifestation of contemporary social processes and structures in space.

The chapters of this volume, many of which were first presented at the annual conference of the German-speaking branch of the Landscape Research Group at the University of Hamburg in September 2018, adopt different perspectives and points of departure. They stem from distinct disciplinary traditions, from landscape planning to cultural geography and geoinformatics. They, nevertheless, have in common, a recognition of landscape as a social construction, to varying degrees taking their cue from the well-documented constructivist turn in (German-speaking) landscape research (e.g. Kühne 2009, Leibenath et al 2013). Central to the theme of the book is how landscape is constructed at a collective level, beyond the level of individual perceptions and how such landscape constructions or imaginaries come to inform policy and practice. The German term Landschaftsbild has strong visual connotations and may be translated as ‘landscape image’. From an analytic perspective, however, the multisensorial nature of landscape perception and construction is explicitly acknowledged as well as the capacity for images and concepts of landscape to act as carriers of meaning and emotion. In this sense, Landschaftsbilder may be understood as equivalent to the term landscape imaginaries, denoting “collective understandings of landscape and nature-culture relations within specific spatio-temporal contexts of nature conservation and environmental management” (Walsh 2020). From this perspective, landscape imaginaries / Landschaftsbilder are not solely representative of societal values, normative ideas and ideals but performative, contributing to the concretisation and of certain values and ideas through their manifestation of accepted, taken-for-granted images and interpretations of landscape.

Despite its plural connotations, interpretations and associations, landscape can take on the role of a ‘boundary object’ in governance processes. Indeed, when diverse stakeholders come together in participatory governance processes, the heterogeneity and versatility of ‘landscape’ can be an advantage, providing a common language and point of connection across disciplines and perspectives. In the spirit of furthering this agenda, this book contributes to critical reflection on existing landscape interpretations and imaginaries as products of their institutional and societal contexts.

Individual chapters:

Gisela Kangler, examines current policy discussions concerning ‘wilderness’ and the goal to increase the share of wilderness areas in Germany to 2% of the land area. She critiques a narrow, essentialist understanding of nature and landscape as wilderness, which pays insufficient attention to the manifold cultural meanings associated with wilderness and wild landscapes. Hannah Kindler and Florian Weber analyse shifting perceptions of mined and quarried landscapes and their restoration as natural or semi landscapes. Andreas Röhring similarly discusses landscapes in transition, in relation to the conflicting perceptions and associative meanings underlying conflicts around wind energy development. Further chapters are specifically concerned with the assessment and measurement of landscape qualities.  Schaffert et al discuss the integration of participatory processes and expert knowledge in the development of indicators pertaining to cultural heritage and cultural landscape quality. Hildebrandt et al present and reflect on a methodology for assessing landscape quality through quantitative means as a core component of a strategic environmental assessment. Keller & Backhaus, examine the potential for the operationalisation of landscape services, understood in terms of the services delivered by landscape to society. Their objective is to arrive at a complementary measure to existing ecological assessments of nature and landscape. My own contribution to this volume is drawn from my research at the Wadden Sea and takes an international, comparative perspective to examine the landscape imaginaries informing Dutch, German and Danish conservation policy and practice at this international World Heritage Site.

Crossing the language divide

The German-language academic literature on landscape is distinct to the international, English-language literature and has followed its own, distinct trajectory, although influenced by the wider international context. The institutionalisation and governance of landscape in Germany and Austria, furthermore reflects national governance and planning cultures and traditions. Dialogue across the language divide requires deliberate and determined effort but is necessary to foster international dialogue and exchange in the field of landscape research.

The edited volume is available here in both e-book and pdf format.

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