In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Human-Landscape Interactions

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Landscape Management and Governance
  • Landscape and Health
  • Natural Hazards

Geography Human-Landscape Interactions
Ashley Coles
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0155


Human-landscape interactions, also often described as nature-society or human-environment interactions, is a topic examined by multiple disciplines and subdisciplines, including but not limited to geography, anthropology, ecology, human ecology, cultural ecology, political ecology, environmental sociology, environmental anthropology, and earth systems science. The concept of “landscape” varies within and among disciplines, not to mention different languages. It is typically used to describe a distinctive combination of natural and cultural features, and often serves as the basic unit of analysis for social and natural science studies. Concerns that the term “landscape” prioritizes terrestrial places have led to increasing use of terms such as “seascape” and “airscape,” though their usage is minimal in comparison. Landscape approaches also tend to emphasize the visual, though places can be experienced through other senses. Major theories that link culture and landscape address how environments affect the development of cultures, how cultural activities impact environments, and how interactions in both directions are processed through perceptions and cultural values that are also linked to identity. The concept of landscape itself has long been associated with aesthetics, which is also linked to cultural values, and can be observed in artistic activities such as landscape painting or the development of or conservation of existing landscapes. These debates have also occurred in non-Anglophone literature and among non-Western cultures, only some of which can be addressed here. Humans depend on landscapes for resources, alter landscapes for myriad reasons, and face threats from landscapes, some of which were created or enhanced by human activities. Much environmental degradation has been attributed to a few overarching causes, such as population growth, economic activities, political systems, ethical systems, and social inequality. These causes and their implied solutions have been the subject of decades or, in some cases, centuries of debate. Natural hazards is a field of research and practice that increasingly views vulnerability and the impacts of hazards as resulting from both physical and social phenomena, and thus fundamentally a problem of landscape. The concept of vulnerability has also been applied to coupled human and natural systems, also known as social-ecological systems, which link human well-being to ecological functioning. To maximize both, there are increasing efforts toward developing methods for modeling complex interactions and governing complex systems.

Reviews of Landscape and Nature-Society Studies

The references listed below are reviews of the literature on landscape and nature-society relationships, especially within the field of geography. They identify different but related overarching themes, each of which is addressed in the other sections of this bibliography, as well as key debates. Horton and Kraftl 2014 provides an accessible overview and introduction to landscape studies in cultural geography. The authors categorize the scholarship along the themes of landscape as material shaped by physical and cultural processes, landscape as text that can be read as a display of representations of power, and landscape as performance/feeling that addresses which activities occur in certain landscapes and what emotions or experiences landscapes produce. Atkins, et al. 1998 also provides an accessible introduction to human-landscape interactions, but offers a broader range of landscape approaches and themes throughout human history. Zimmerer 2010 and Harden 2012 review nature-society relationships in the field of geography. Zimmerer 2010 focuses on publications in one of geography’s flagship journals, the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, and identifies six main themes and approaches: governance, hazards, land use and land cover change, human-environment interactions, environmental landscape history, and environmental management. Harden 2012 identifies the main themes related to the relationship between nature and culture, including environmental determinism, human ecology, natural hazards, human impacts on the environment, and sustainability. Braun 2004 takes a similar approach, but focuses on disciplinary divisions of cultural ecology, political ecology, cultural studies of the environment, and actor network theory. Each of these reviews addresses the big questions and debates about the relationship between humans and the environment that has driven research in landscape studies and fields such as geography and anthropology more broadly. They provide an excellent entry into these themes and debates, as well as a wealth of bibliographic references.

  • Atkins, Peter, Ian Simmons, and Brian Roberts. People, Land and Time: An Historical Introduction to the Relations between Landscape, Culture and Environment. London: Arnold, 1998.

    Comprehensive introduction to human-landscape interactions from preindustrial to postmodern eras. Addresses the impacts of humans on landscapes and landscapes on humans, including themes such as resource management, degradation, sustainability, and meaning. Discusses multiple meanings of landscape and approaches to landscape studies. Accessible and suitable as an introductory textbook.

  • Braun, Bruce. “Nature and Culture: On the Career of a False Problem.” In A Companion to Cultural Geography. Edited by James S. Duncan, Nuala C. Johnson, and Richard H. Schein, 159–179. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

    Divides post-1950s American geography on nature-culture into four categories: cultural ecology, political ecology, cultural studies of the environment, and actor-network theory. Excellent overview of how these categories thread together, as well as the degree to which they are “modern” in terms of the separation of nature and culture.

  • Harden, Carol P. “Framing and Reframing Questions of Human-Environment Interactions.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102.4 (2012): 737–747.

    DOI: 10.1080/00045608.2012.678035

    Categorizes the dominant ways of framing human-environment research within geography: environmental determinism, human ecology, natural hazards, human impact, and sustainability. Describes the contributions of each and emphasizes the changing concepts of nature-society theory. Suggests that separating humans and nature makes it more difficult to study complex interactions.

  • Horton, John, and Peter Kraftl. Cultural Geographies: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2014.

    See chapter 5 for an excellent introduction to landscape studies in cultural geography. Examines landscape as material shaped by physical and cultural processes, landscape as text emphasizing representations and power, and landscape as performance/feeling that addresses the activities within and the affective experience of landscapes. Undergraduate cultural geography textbook.

  • Zimmerer, Karl S. “Retrospective on Nature-Society Geography: Tracing Trajectories (1911–2010) and Reflecting on Translations.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100.5 (2010): 1076–1094.

    DOI: 10.1080/00045608.2010.523343

    Review of nature-society geography published in the Annals. Compares antecedents and recent decades. Identifies six main topics and approaches: (1) environmental governance and political ecology; (2) environmental hazards, risk, and vulnerability science; (3) land use and cover change science; (4) human-environment interactions; (5) environmental landscape history and ideas; and (6) scientific concepts and environmental management.

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