“What is Where, Why There, and Why Care?”

Cultural landscape is a tangible imprint of human activity. As all human actions and reactions occur in space (geography) and time (history) the landscape can record their manifestations. In regard to conflicts, cultural landscape analysis—looking at land and people—allows us to better understand why people do what they do, comprehend their problems, and find answers and solutions.

Many types of conflicts exist in the world (can you think of any affecting you personally and professionally right now?), differing in origin and location, scale, and intensity. Below are some examples of the themes of landscape analysis under which conflict can be studied. These themes are not unrelated to each other—they do not exist independently, in isolation from one another. Geographic areas, after all, continuously experience conflicts related to more than one theme, further increasing the conflicts’ complexity and intensity.

Preservation of Identity

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Figure 1. Street scene in a town in Northern Ireland. Many residential areas in Northern Ireland are not sharply separated on Catholic and Protestant clusters and people must share living space. Attachment to a place and one’s sense of belonging to a specific community, for sake of identity preservation, are among the most essential cultural traits and are clearly manifested in cultural landscape. (Photo by the author)

Separation of Identity

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Figure 2. War trenches and minefields recorded in this photograph separated opposing sides during the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995). This country serves as an example that most conflicts stem from emphasizing physical separation based on barely existing cultural differences, while ignoring an overwhelming number of similarities among the people. (Photo by the author)

Economic Change and Development

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Figure 3. Areas polluted with trash and smog to some people represent symbols of degradation and cultural regression. To others they are symbols of progress and economic development, like here in northern Mexico. (Photo by the author)

Transition from Folk to Commercial Culture

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Figure 4. Urban landscape in Kabul City, Afghanistan. Culture change is a slow process and the preservation of cultural status quo is an imperative to groups of people living a traditional way of life. Transition from a folk culture into a modern market-driven environment, which requires an entirely different set of social norms and skills, is perceived as an existential threat in many corners of the world. Much of the ongoing conflict worldwide has its underlying causes in the attempts to preserve a way of life and groups’ internal social cohesiveness over perceived external cultural intrusions actively changing long-practiced lifestyle. (Photo by the author)

Agricultural Land Use and Environmental Preservation

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Figure 5. Look of the land and looking at the land, anywhere around the globe, together confirm that no places are immune to conflict about land use policies. Debates over land use policies frequently involve numerous opposing sides, ranging from land owners, local residents, the corporate world, environmental groups, and different governmental entities as in this instance in the western United States. (Photo by the author)

Opposing Ideological Value Systems and Beliefs

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Figure 6. Promoters of political ideologies have mastered the use of cultural landscape to preserve the thread of romanticized mythological legacy for generations to come. Deification of great leaders and liberators, from South Dakota’s Mt. Rushmore to President Tito’s museum in Kumrovec, Croatia, would not have occurred without their participation in conflicts over opposing value systems and beliefs. (Photo by the author)

Freedom and Liberties

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Figure 7. The definition of liberty and practice of an individual’s freedom of movement closely correlate to how society envisions the concept of living space, and how it authorizes law enforcement’s role. Worldwide, within any culture, the landscape illustrates how much freedom and liberty a society is willing to give away for the sake of protection of individual and collective freedom and liberty. For example, presence of military checkpoints in civilian areas and unreasonable search and seizure are common traits in many regions. Absence of such activity in the landscape is equally telling information about other regions. (Photo by the author)

Interrelationships

Conflicts are integral components of everyone’s daily life, whether on an individual or collective basis. They can be social, political, environmental, territorial, ideological, or simply over personal space. Landscape is a medium projecting their intensity and magnitude. Geography is the analytical approach that, in particular, allows us to better understand the interrelationships among conflicts existing within the same area, or between similar types of conflicts existing in different areas.

A study of the state of Israel, its creation and existence, is an excellent example of how looking at the land and people through spatial lenses improves our holistic knowledge of an area of interest. All landscape themes mentioned above apply to the issues existing in a particular turbulent region. They can be easily seen in the landscape, ranging from battles for preservation of identity, through conflicts resulting from cultural transition and economic change, economic development and land use, to conflicts of opposing values and belief systems that influence freedom, liberties, and movement through space.

Knowledge of conflicts’ spatial interrelationships has an immense range of benefits. The most important is that, by identifying spatial distributions and patterns in human action, more appropriately we can minimize the potential for creation and escalation of new conflicts.

Cultural Landscape and Geography of Conflict
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