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Rural landscaping and urban wilderness: On the making of Swedish ‘nature’ in the era of landscape management

Conference paper
Authors Katarina Saltzman
Published in 1st World Congress of Environmental History, 4-8 August, Copenhagen/Malmö
Publication year 2009
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Language en
Subject categories Nature conservation and landscape management, Ethnology


According to Bruno Latour (2004), the categories of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ conceal rather than clarify the complex and multiple interactions between categories that have commonly been understood as mutually exclusive. ‘Nature’, in his view, is always highly political, and his actor-network theoretical approach presents an alternative analytical framework that reaches beyond the nature/culture divide. Inspired by Latour’s approach, this paper discusses how ‘nature’ is produced and defined in two quite different Swedish contexts. During the last decades of the 20th century, the concept of landscape management (in Swedish landskapsvård) was introduced into agricultural policy and rural land-use in Sweden. Referring to a set of practices for maintenance and restoration of biotopes and human-made features characteristic of pre-industrial farming, rural landscape management evolved as a new niche within agricultural production. With the help of economic subsidies, Swedish farmers were taught to regard the positive effects of their work on the currently-valued biodiversity and cultural landscapes as products in their own right. In this process, landscape elements such as pastures, cairns, stone walls and pollard trees were integrated into national and international (EU) administrative systems for a monitoring of landscape values. These systems encouraged the making and maintenance of certain varieties of ‘nature’. While rural landscapes have been going through a process of official acknowledgment for their specific ‘nature values’, the rather wild and unplanned ‘nature’ that is developing in many pockets and corners of the urban landscape has not attracted the same kind of attention. More or less neglected biotopes can be found for example in areas awaiting future urban developments, abandoned industrial sites and many varieties of temporarily unused areas, especially in the urban fringe. This kind of urban ‘wilderness’ challenges the conventionally associated nature-culture and rural-urban dichotomies, and is seldom understood in terms of ‘nature values’. For urban residents – both human and non-human – such patches of ‘wilderness’ can, however, be very valuable, and by the human users, these sites are often understood in terms of ‘nature’. This paper presents an examination of the different connections and networks through which ‘nature’ is produced within rural landscape management in southern Sweden and urban fringe landscapes in the Swedish cities of Malmö and Gothenburg. In both cases it is obvious that the concept of ‘nature’ conceals rather than clarifies the connectivity and dynamics of landscapes constituted by complex human/non-human relations. Reference Latour, Bruno, 2004. Politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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