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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