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cultural landscape

  Conventionally, a principal object of study in cultural geography and still the subject of intense debate among cultural geographers; the classic definition is Carl Sauer\'s (1925; see the figure):

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cultural landscape Natural landscape and cultural landscape (after Sauer, 1925)

The cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a cultural group. Culture is the agent, the natural area the medium, the cultural landscape is the result. Under the influence of a given culture, itself changing through time, the landscape undergoes development, passing through phases, and probably reaching ultimately the end of its cycle of development. With the introduction of a different — that is — alien culture, a rejuvenation of the cultural landscape sets in, or a new landscape is superimposed on remnants of an older one.Several aspects of this frequently quoted passage are worth examining, for they reflect not only the intellectual context in which Sauer was working and his own scholarly concerns, but also theoretical issues which have remained critical to discussions of cultural landscape to the present.

There is a clear parallel in conceptual language between Sauer\'s description of cultural landscape as subject to evolutionary change over time, and W.M Davis\'s normal cycle of natural landscape evolution (Livingstone, 1992). Each scholar was strongly influenced by biological and ecological metaphors then current in the American academy. But Sauer was explicitly concerned to counter an environmental determinism which had dominated the American geography of Davis\'s generation, within which human agency was given scant autonomy in the shaping of the visible landscape. Sauer was determined to stress the agency of culture as a force in shaping the visible features of the Earth\'s surface in delimited areas, and his own landscape studies and methods came to dominate the Berkeley School of cultural geography. Yet the physical environment retains within his definition a central significance, as the medium with and through which human cultures act (see culture area). Thus, elements of the physical environment, such as topography, soils, watercourses, plants and animals are to be incorporated into studies of the cultural landscape insofar as they evoke human responses and adaptations, or have themselves been altered by human activity, for example forest clearance, hydrological management or plant and animal domestication (cf. animals, geography of). Sauer\'s definition is grounded in a neat distinction between nature and culture, reflected in the structure of his diagram, a distinction which few cultural geographers would be so willing to uphold or defend today. Not only is there broad acceptance that the tabula rasa of \'natural landscape\' upon which \'culture\' inscribes itself has probably never existed, since its own features are subject to constant change through geophysical, climatic, hydrological and other processes of change, but \'nature\' itself and the boundaries which separate it from the human are culturally contrived in radically different ways by different groups in different historical contexts (Cronon, 1995). Thus, both nature and culture are best regarded together, as co-productions (see culture). All landscapes are thus equally natural landscapes and cultural landscapes, according to the questions we ask of them and the processes we choose to examine in relation to them. It is clear also from the model that Sauer laid greatest emphasis on the visible forms of cultural landscape as the principal features for geographic study, as implied also by the term \'morphology\' in the title of his essay, and this attention to visible form rather than process has been a matter of some debate in recent discussions of landscape and cultural geography.

Sauer\'s reference to the introduction into a cultural landscape of a different — \'alien\' — culture is more than a mere reflection of the Davisian idea of erosional rejuvenation with uplift of physical landscapes, but reflects Sauer\'s interest in the cultural impacts of colonization and modernization on pre-Columbian cultural landscapes in Hispanic America which manifested visibly the imposition of colonial cultures upon pre-existing cultures, and which many American cultural geographers in the Sauerian tradition have sought to reconstruct. The southwest United States and Mexico, whose stark physical environments have been radically and violently reshaped more than once in recorded historical time by a succession of distinct cultural groups (Native American farmers, Spanish colonial missionaries, Anglo ranchers, water engineers), may offer a more ready medium for Sauer\'s approach to cultural landscape than the more subtly and slowly modified regions of western Europe or Southeast Asia. More recent studies in cultural ecology of colonial impacts and exchanges over the past half millennium have deepened our understanding of the complexities of cultural landscape change (Crosby, 1986; Butzer, 1992), while post-colonial theory has prompted significant re-evaluation of those \'alien\' introductions into the existing cultural landscapes, for example in the Pacific North West or Malaysia (Willems-Braun, 1997; Sioh, 1998). In both these revisions, greater attention is given to \'political ecology\' and to the active role played by the subjects of colonization, so that Sauer\'s idea of a climax cultural landscape swept away by a rejuvenated one and remaining only in relict or remnant form has been replaced by notions of a more mediated, hybrid and trans-cultural landscape in which various protagonists play active roles in shaping a distinctive cultural geography.

Such studies of cultural landscape may be genealogically related to the Sauerian concept, but they demonstrate also the impact of theoretical criticisms made of the Sauerian model. Writers such as Cosgrove (1992) and Duncan (1990) sought to introduce a more fluid conception of landscape into cultural geography by emphasizing social construction and representation, power and contestation as significant considerations. Daniels and Cosgrove (1988, p. 1) claimed that

a landscape is a cultural image, a pictorial way of representing, structuring or symbolising surroundings. This is not to say that landscapes are immaterial. They may be represented in a variety of materials and on many surfaces — in paint on canvas, in writing on paper, in earth, stone, water and vegetation on the ground.Here the emphasis remains on the visual character of landscapes, but is not restricted to morphological consideration and visible features: all aspects of landscape are regarded as representational, thus cultural signifiers, the interpretation of which reveals social attitudes and material processes (see iconography). This approach to cultural landscape draws upon British and European social and cultural theory with minor concern for ecological and environmental considerations. It also bears comparison with the approach to vernacular cultural landscapes in the United States pioneered by Jackson (1984) and discussed by Meinig (1979), which also emphasized the communicative and representational rather than the ecological aspects of cultural landscapes. A semiotic, and often explicitly political, approach to cultural landscape (Walker, 1995) finds its most extreme expression in the treatment of cultural landscapes as texts and their discursive consideration through the language and methods of literary analysis (Duncan, 1990; Mondada et al., 1992).

Some geographers have been concerned that the emphasis on representational and semiotic qualities of landscape has led to the disappearance of the \'substantive\' aspects of landscape, its materialities and roots in the lifeworlds of communities whose local attachments and territorialities are regularly expressed in activities and rituals and given distinct expression, remaining a meaningful term in local administration in Nordic countries for example (Olwig, 1996). By contrast, Mitchell (1994) examines the cultural landscape as an expression of colonialist power, referring to landscape as the \'dreamwork of empire\' insofar as its picturesque appropriation acted to naturalize massive social and economic inequalities (cf. imperialism), while Mitchell (1996) makes the same point in terms of labour history, arguing that the visible landscape of California\'s fruit farms and irrigated fields is mendacious, its visible Arcadian scene obscuring the social and cultural struggles over exploitation of the surplus labour that went into its production. Schein (1997), while seeking to retain the identification of cultural landscape with the \'tangible, visible scene\' (Lewis, 1979), draws upon Massey\'s (1991) idea of places as \'moments\' in a continuing networked process of social relations that stretch across space (see sense of place): \'Landscapes are always in the process of “becoming”, no longer reified or concretized — inert and there — but continually under scrutiny, at once manipulable, always subject to change, and everywhere implicated in the ongoing formulation of social life\' (Schein, 1997, p. 662). This moves beyond the claim that cultural landscapes are purely discursive: they are materialized, as Schein seeks to demonstrate in an examination of an American suburban landscape in Lexington Kentucky.

In the aftermath of often heated debate over the definition and methods for studying cultural landscape within geography, the concept itself has been rejuvenated; a wealth of substantive cultural landscape studies are appearing, and while the genealogy of the Sauerian concept remains fertile, the usage of the term cultural landscape within cultural geography no longer implies filial attachment to a narrow Berkeleyan model. (DEC)

References Butzer, K., ed., 1992 The Americas before and after 1492: current geographical research. Annals, Association of American Geographers 82: 343-565. Cosgrove, D. 1992: The Palladian landscape: geographical change and its cultural representations in sixteenth-century Italy. Leicester: Leicester University Press. Cronon, W., ed., 1995: Uncommon ground: toward reinventing nature. New York: Norton. Crosby, W. 1986: Ecological imperialism: the biological expansion of Europe 900-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Daniels, S. and Cosgrove, D., eds, 1988: Iconography and landscape. In idem, The iconography of landscape: essays on the symbolic representation, design and use of past environments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-10. Duncan, J. 1990: The city as text: the politics of landscape interpretation in the Kandyan kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jackson, J.B. 1984: Discovering the vernacular landscape. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Lewis, P. 1979: Axioms for reading the landscape: some guides to the American scene. In D. Meinig, ed., The interpretation of ordinary landscapes. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 11-32. Livingstone, D. 1992: The geographical tradition: episodes in the history of a contested enterprise. Oxford: Blackwell. Massey, D. 1991: A global sense of place. Marxism Today, June: 24-29. Meinig, D. 1979: The interpretation of ordinary landscapes: geographical essays. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Mitchell, D. 1996: The lie of the land: migrant workers and the California landscape. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press. Mitchell, W.J.T., ed., 1994: Landscape and power. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Mondada, L., Panese, F., Söderstrom, O., eds, 1992: Paysage et crise de la lisibilité. Lausanne: Institut de Géographie. Olwig, K. 1996: Rediscovering the substantive meaning of landscape. Annals, Association of American Geographers 86: 630-53. Sauer, C. 1925: The morphology of landscape. Reprinted in J. Leighly, ed., 1963: Land and life: selections from the writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 315-50. Schein, R. 1997: The place of landscape: a conceptual framework for the American scene. Annals, Association of American Geographers 87: 660-80. Sioh, M. 1998: Authorising the Malaysian rainforest: Ecumene 5: 144-66. Walker, R. 1995: Landscape and city life: four ecologies of residence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ecumene 2: 33-64. Willems-Braun B. 1997: Buried epistemologies: the politics of nature in (post)colonial British Columbia. Annals, Association of American Geographers 87: 3-31.

Suggested Reading Béguin, H. 1995: Le paysage. Paris: Flammarion. Olwig (1996). Schein (1997).



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