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Understanding the spatial relationships that link social communities to their ecosystems and biophysical landscapes

Aim of the resource

The objective of the resource is to understand socio-spatial relationships in order to integrate and strengthen participatory and more inclusive policy formulation. Given the importance of the participation of local people in programmes of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems, it is crucial to recognise that there are variety of types of socio-ecological space through being endowed with significance, meaning and multiple social relationships.

The overlapping character of symbolic, pragmatic and conceptualised spaces shows that sociospatial differences and their interrelationships are valuable inputs for planning and land management. Recognition of those spaces might contribute to help break down barriers, increase public engagement and transform environmental conflicts. One effort to render compatible the goals of good quality of life and better protection of nature at different scales is acknowledging the existence of tangible and intangible relationships with landscapes. They should be an essential part of broader management policies to conserve biomes in the pursuit of more sustainable ways of living together.

Using the resource
Requirements for using the resource:
<p>Land use and cultural relationships with biophysical landscapes can be examined and understood by application of local ethnographic fieldwork. Depending on both monetary resources and group members' availability and time, the findings of detailed, local studies at individual level can be combined with information on group-based deliberative processes. Some details of individual and deliberative methods are described in the following paragraphs:</p>

<p>(i) Participant observation is one type of data collection method typically used in qualitative research.&nbsp;Its aim is to gain a close familiarity with a given social group (e.g.&nbsp;a religious, farmer or other occupational, sub cultural group, or a particular community) and their agro-ecological practices through an intensive involvement with people in their cultural environment, usually over an extended period of time.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

<p>(ii) Semi-structured interviews with key actors:&nbsp;Questions are flexible in the sense that farmer could provide further explanation in case of responses with interesting/useful information. The questions have to be comparable across different zones and local contexts, while also accommodating site-specific differences.&nbsp;To triangulate institution-related data reported by farmers, institution/agency officials&nbsp;can be also interviewed.&nbsp;Communication skills include the ability to clearly structure questions, listen attentively, pause, probe or prompt appropriately, and encourage the interviewee to talk freely.</p>

<p>(iii) Informal dialogues with different actors related to the subject of analysis. Giving careful attention&nbsp;to what is happening, so that it is likely to notice any element to help identify sociospatial relationships with landscapes.</p>

<p>(iv) Participatory mapping: it enables communities to articulate and visualise their relationships toward the biophysical landscape. Hence having better representation of local communities is crucial. People can map out in detail the places of historical and symbolic significance, the resources they depend on, who uses them, how is the access to them, how they manage them, and the role/characteristics/ qualities they attribute to these resources. Governance factors may arise from analysing the exercise of authority or management of resources through&nbsp;institutions, policies, traditions, cultures, and societal norms. It is also important to acknowledge the value of local knowledge. Thus group discussions are likely to elicit different types of knowledge (some from their roles/jobs as farmers, stakeholders, academics, scientists, conservation and landscape professionals, planning officials, community groups/leaders etc.; some through their interests such as environmentalism, aesthetic appreciation, or&nbsp;angling; some from perspective as ethnic group; some from experience of living close to a meaningful place, a&nbsp;river, etc.).</p>
Potential benefits from using the resource
Recognising symbolic and pragmatic spaces can inform fruitful dialogue about rationalised spaces in order to strengthen participatory and inclusive policy formulation.
The analysis of socio-spatial relationships is a suitable conceptual basis to fully recognise the voices, attitudes and values of a wider diversity of people toward the landscape.
Contribution to a more comprehensive understanding of planning situations.
Approaches such as this could enhance the success rate of integrated solutions that are socially equitable, ecologically successful and hence more sustainable.
The use of findings about sociospatial relationships are useful to help break down barriers, increase public engagement and create spaces for conflict resolution.
Potential limitations from using the resource
Ethnographic, detailed studies at individual level require more resources and time compared to participatory group activities.
Ethnographic research requires more time and resources in the field due to it involves the process and products that documents what people know, feel, and do in a way that situates those phenomena in relation to the subject of study.
Assessment of effectiveness of the tool or instrument
<p>Indicators allow identifying changes and trends over time so managers can assess whether implemented activities are achieving goals of sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems. In this arena, based on the triad of social spaces, the following indicators can be useful:</p>

<p>-&nbsp;Changes in understanding/ acknowledgement of symbolic and pragmatic spaces by decision makers.</p>

<p>- Extent to which local community feels involved in management at different levels (e.g., decision-making, consultation, etc.).&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p>

<p>- Extent to which community participates and agrees with agro-ecosystem management approaches.</p>

<p>- Change in level of knowledge exchange among scientists and local stakeholders about agro-ecosystem management.</p>

<p>- Number of awareness programs/activities undertaken and/or number of educative institutions visited, as part of a campaign in favour of highlighting sociospatial relationships of a wider diversity of people toward the landscape.</p>

<p>- Status of monitoring information management system.</p>

<p>- Outputs involved in promoting and disseminating the work widely (e.g. maps, toolkits).&nbsp;</p>
Sub/region where used:
Scale of application:
Practical information
Development stage:
Concept only
Contact details
Liliana Bravo-Monroy

The aim of this resource is contributing a theoretical and methodological approach to the cultural and social valuation method section of the online catalogue. The analysis of socio-spatial relationships is suggested as a suitable conceptual basis to fully recognise the voices and values of a wider diversity of people. The resource follows an anthropological perspective in accordance with the work of Henri Lefebvre (in the volume The Production of Space [1991]). There is growing evidence for the importance of interpretation of Lefebvre’s conceptual triad for building a more comprehensive understanding of planning situations that involves recognizing sociospatial differences. 

Mountain ecosystems cover around a quarter of the world's land area and encompass a large portion of global biodiversity as well as cultural richness. Following the conceptual triad of social space, three dimensions of high mountain ecosystems are lived by Colombian coffee farmer communities. Symbolic spaces embody coffee plots as sacred spaces where production modes cohabit with religious symbols of Catholic Church (e.g. crosses of different size with or without flower ornamentation). Similarly, stories are attached to particular places such as the home of the village elders and the first coffee growers in the area. Pragmatic spaces embrace production modes, land-uses, the particular locations and spatial sets characteristic of each farmer community. Production crop space is dynamic and changing due to farm sizes are reduced by property inheritance or trading. Farms have also increased the extent of crop fields because coffee profits promote the purchase of new plots. It is therefore likely that family groups are neighbours with different ties of kinship. Conceptualised spaces are discursively constructed by foreign agricultural institutions and coffee certification agencies (e.g. organic farms, conventional crops, agroforestry systems). Institutions have played a key role in increasing the area of coffee land-use by providing extension programs to farmers in order to improve agricultural practices. In addition, the arrival of organic certification agencies caused strong changes on daily practices and yield levels e.g. the decline in the amount of yield during the period of transition (up to three years) to get the certification.

Recognising symbolic and pragmatic spaces can inform fruitful dialogue about conceptualised spaces in order to strengthen participatory and inclusive policy formulation. This triad of spaces shows that the challenge for management relies on taking account of the diversity of socio-spatial relationships by capturing multi-actor values and attitudes toward the landscape.


Subregions covered