Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

The Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of a Rural Landscape" the Yucatec Maya K'ax

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

The Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of a Rural Landscape" the Yucatec Maya K'ax

Article excerpt

Introduction

For most of the past century, academic descriptions of different types of rural landscapes primarily focused on the various material elements that comprised these areas. Such landscapes have mainly been interpreted by outsiders, who have paid limited attention to the processes and mindsets of the people who created them. This neglect does not deny that there is a long tradition of sensitivity to the role of culture in affecting the form and character of rural landscapes, notably the 'landscape school' of Carl Sauer (Sauer 1925; Matthewson and Kenser 2003). More recently, the pioneering work of Cosgrove (1988) and others (Bender 1993; Mitchell 2000; Robertson and Richards 2003) have made it clear that it is necessary to go beyond the description of empirical conditions. Instead, these contemporary scholars have argued that these landscapes are cultural constructions that have meaning for their inhabitants and are intimately linked to the social reproduction of the societies that created them. Indeed, landscapes embody material, social and cultural (meaningful) elements of these societies, and play a role in the transmission of values and environmental practices through the generations. Hence, the physical manifestation of landscape should be understood as a cultural expression of values and meaning systems. Advocates of this approach, known as the New Cultural Geography, have contributed to the study of rural landscapes by providing four innovative arguments. First, it is proposed that agricultural landscapes should be seen as 'text', with the individual elements having meanings that can be read in the landscape and which have specific roles in the transmission of cultural values. Such interpretations parallel the work of Duncan (1990) who showed how the urban landscape of historic Kandy did not simply reflect societal values but that aspects of it were actively created as representations designed to reproduce particular values and beliefs, themselves linked to specific power structures in the regimes that created these urban landscapes. Second, cultural features should not be viewed as objects, of a series of products, but understood as evidence of a process (Mitchell 2000, 294). As summarized by Davies and Gilmartin (2002, p. 18) emphasis is placed upon 'why the object was created, what agencies were involved, the alternative forms that could have been taken, the struggles over which form or trait was chosen, the power that conditioned the final choice, and the inevitable inequalities that result, among individuals, groups or spaces where the objects or activities are found'. Third, study of the use of the local environment by rural societies reveals the presence of specific environmental values that influence how areas are used, for the use and/or modification of the natural environment frequently plays a significant part in the cultural distinctiveness of various groups. That is, the new approaches offer a more holistic view, one that contrasts with a conventional Western dichotomy into 'nature' and 'society' that were embedded in earlier understandings. Fourth, the new approach stresses the need to create concepts and interpretations of landscapes that are not culture-specific or culturally dominant, and in which a more focused understanding of indigenous values and practices in the description and evaluation of these landscapes is an integral part of the interpretation.

Many recent studies have shown a growing self-consciousness of the researcher as positioned and privileged which, in turn, has led to a new sensitivity to indigenous organizational principles (e.g., Basso 1996; Escobar 1998; Steinberg 1998; Dove 2003; Duvall 2003; Hunn et al. 2003). The concern to understand local spatial concepts is salient when comparing landscapes across cultures, or in areas where competing principles for resource definition and use produce contested landscapes. In such a comparative framework, there is a heightened need to be cautious about applying concepts and labels emerging from the outsider if specific indigenous landscapes are to be properly understood. …

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