Ken Olwig and landscape justice

Professor Ken Olwig, a geographer and philologist, is interested in the relationship between different concepts of law and different concepts of landscape, and the consequences for landscape justice.  He lives in Scandinavia, but his lecturing and research takes him all over Britain, Europe and the world.

This is Ken’s ‘take’ on landscape justice:

“As I write hurricane Irma is sweeping towards Florida across Caribbean islands where I have lived and worked, there is a tsunami warning for an area of Mexico where I lectured last year, and hurricane Harvey has just flooded Texas and parts of Louisiana where I once made a field visit.

As a geographer, married to an anthropologist, I experience many places first hand, and knowledge thus gained is important to the question of landscape justice.  Much landscape knowledge today is mediated, for example, by remote sensing and GIS technology that scales up landscape according to the abstract geometry of the globe and the (cadastral) map – the space of property.  In the top-down helicopter film footage of flooded and wind-smashed properties, and people who have lost their property, you don’t see the protective meadowlands, wetlands and woodlands that were there before the land was built over, or the often unwritten customary laws that may have governed these lands.  They often function as commons, the heritage perhaps of indigenous peoples or subsistence agriculturalists/fishermen, boaters, and naturalists who have become dispossessed of their customary landscape rights by ‘developers’.

Politicians openly debate ‘global warming’, but the hidden issue for them is whether this justifies interfering with the sacrosanct property rights of developers and others.  If more attention were paid to the common landscape rights of people and nature, it would be recognised that our catastrophes are not just natural, they are also societal, caused by socio-spatial development that deprives people, animals and plants of their landscapes.”

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Biography and publications

I was brought up in Staten Island, New York, but with a San Francisco, California mother and as a child of mid-20th century America, my interest in landscape is very much tied to the various autos that have motored through my life. The various family excursions took me to California, the American South, Michigan, New England and Canada as well as the ‘American grand tour’ focus on the landscapes of the great national parks (Grand Canyon, Yosemite, etc). And as a young adult, I then travelled extensively in Europe. As a result, I have gained an abiding interest in maps, geology, landscapes, places, European lands and history, so almost automatically had to become a landscape geographer, with a particular interest in words and literature.

After a junior year abroad in Denmark, I did a Masters in what might properly be called “Scandinavian philology” (language, literature, history and geography) at the University of Minnesota, before transferring to geography, where I was lucky enough to study with Yi-Fu Tuan (my thesis supervisor) and David Lowenthal (a former Chairman of Landscape Research Group). Given the wanderlust that had spread my family across several continents, it is also understandable that I have then lived and worked in places as varied as Washington DC, Leeds, Nevis, Stockholm and Trondheim. I now live in Copenhagen, Denmark and commute daily to Lund, Sweden where I am a Professor in the Department of Landscape Planning at the Swedish Life Sciences University (SLU).

I was appointed as a Director of Landscape Research Group in 2005. I have been an overseas Associate Editor of Landscape Research from 2006 to the present, and have also have contributed to organising various events.

Landscape justice publications:

Jones, M. and A. Schanche, Eds. (2004). Landscape, Law and Customary Rights. Diedut. Kautokeino, Nordic Saami Institue.

Jones, M. and T. Peil, Eds. (2005). Landscape, Law and Justice. Proceedings of a Conference Organized by the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Oslo 15-19 June 2003. Oslo, Novus Forlag.

Jones, M., Ed. (2006). Special Issue on Landscape, Law and Justice. Norwegian Journal of Geography, v. 60, nr. 1.

Olwig, K.R. and D. Mitchell, Eds. (2008). Justice, Power and the Political Landscape. London, Routledge. This is a compilation of articles largely from two special issues of Landscape Research:

Olwig, K. R., Ed. (2005). “Landscape Justice, Morality and the Law of the Land: Theme issue,” Landscape Research 30(3): 293-298

K.R. Olwig & D. Mitchell Eds. (2007) “Justice, Power and the Political Landscape: Theme Issue” Landscape Research 32(5).

Egoz, Shelley, Jalla Makhzoumi, Gloria Pungetti, Eds. (2011). The Right to Landscape: Contesting landscape and human rights. Aldershot, Ashgate

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