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Naturecultures Dialogues: The theory of naturecultures integration

By Guest Observer June 28, 2020

Session 7 with Je-Hun Ryu and Fran Han

In our new series of naturecultures sessions that runs from May to September 2020, we followed a different format than before. Presentations are pre-circulated, leaving most of the dialogue session open for active discussion. In this particular session we had two separate presentations circulated under the theme Theory of Naturecultures Integration. The abstract, and link for each of these presentations are included below. 

As opening to the discussion Maya summarised the two presentations as follows: In both presentations, Je-Hun and Fran point at the problem of using the concept behind World Heritage “cultural landscape” in Korea and China respectively, because it follows a modern Western-European idea of nature, as separate from culture. They both explained the historical background in their own contexts of an undivided nature-culture paradigm, and where humans are understood as part of the natural world. Je-Hun points at a regional particularity of understanding landscapes in Asia, while Fran focuses on the environmental ethics as applied in a Chinese context. She recalls the Confucionist and Taoist philosophies which are complementary and underpin Chinese peoples’ relationship and interactions with the non-human. As opening question, Maya asked Je-Hun and Fran to share how they confront this Western naturecultures divide in their own work. When approaching it from a different cultural and philosophical background, how they reconcile these two worlds in their discourse and practice.

Abstract by Je-Hun Ryu: 

Bridging nature-culture dualisms in the conservation circles: A Perspective from cultural landscape 

Since 1992, those landscapes, which were thought to have outstanding universal values in terms of interaction between people and their natural environment, have been protected as World Heritage Cultural Landscapes. However, even if the term cultural landscape is now widely circulated internationally, its use in Asia still presents problems. There is a need to look closely at regional values and their inextricable connection to the continuing process of landscape creation in Asia. I will review “the rise of cultural landscape” as a means of bridging the nature-culture dualism in the conservation circle, while drawing an example from my research experience in an area called Wando Archipelago in Korea. Then, to conclude, I will propose several theoretical issues to be considered in recognizing and protecting the values of cultural landscapes within the Asian context. Theoretical issues to be proposed for our discussion are like the following: cultural ecology, environmental aesthetics, landscape as a way of seeing, and landscape phenomenology. 

Link to Presentation HERE

Abstract by Fran Han:

Cross-cultural confusion

The presentation aims to explore the root of the debates in the field culture-nature related conservation from environmental philosophical perspective. Five value-based central questions of environmental philosophy are interpreted and the philosophical and religious root of the dichotomy of culture and nature in the West are explored.  The Chinese traditional philosophy of Oneness with Nature provides an eastern perspective of culture-nature relationship and to understand the human-nature intertwined Chinese landscapes. The presentation calls for the awareness and understanding of the intrinsic and instrumental value of nature, and learning from each other through multi-cultural dialogue in naturecultures journey. 

Link to Presentation HERE


1Alicia Cahn (AC)13Ken Taylor (KT)
2Ana Bajcura (AB)14Leticia Leitao (LL)
3Brenda Barrett (BB)15Marike Franklin (MF) Dialogues Convenor
4Carlo Ossola (CO)16Mary Laheen (ML)
5Cira Szklowin (CS)17Maya Ishizawa (MI) Moderator
6Fran Han (FH) Co-chair and Presenter18Nora Mitchell (NM) 
7Gabriel Caballero (GC)19Nupur Prothi (NP) Co-Chair
8Greg de Vries (GdV)20Patricia ODonnell (POD)
9Jane Lennon (JL) 21Steve Brown (SB) Co-chair
10Jessica Brown (JB)22Tim Badman (TB)
11Je-Hun Ryu (JR) Presenter23Tomeu Deya (TD)
12Jon Weller (JW)  


Naturecultures integration/separation?  SB: Fascinating point that ‘interaction between nature and culture’ is predicated on the belief or philosophy that these things are separate in the first place. SB: I was fascinated in the discussion by the challenges to come to grips in all parts of the world with the need to understand what is meant by ‘interaction’ between people and the environment – as the basis for understanding the idea of cultural landscape. As I said in a ‘Chat’ comment, ‘interaction’ necessary presupposes that there are pre-existing separate entities (in this case of cultural landscapes, these entities are nature and culture). So, no wonder it is problematic in China and Korea to apply the notion of ‘interaction between nature and culture’ if, in these countries, these constructs are not viewed as separate. In my writing and thinking on naturecultures, I have promoted the idea of ‘intra-action’. Thus, while INTERACTION assumes that nature and culture are separate domains or ‘silos’ and agencies that precede their interaction; by contrast, INTRA-ACTION (or entanglement) recognises that distinct agencies do not proceed, but rather emerge through, their intra-action (i.e., naturecultures) (cf. Barad 2007, p.33)[1]. In other words, nature and culture are not separate or even linked domains, but rather they are mutually constituted; and nature culture have always evolved one with the other in ways that are so intertwined as to be impossible to meaningfully disassociate. I think the idea of intra-action may make more sense in conceptualising cultural landscapes in different cultural contexts.     A second point I would make is that the nature / culture separation is often framed as a Western construct, which it is. However, within the Western world this thinking or practice is not universal; and particularly in local contexts. Fabrizio Frascaroli and Thora Fjeldsted (2019) have a great chapter in this regard – looking at traditions of agriculture, animal husbandry, and craftsmanship in mountainous areas in Italy, where Christianity and spirituality are mingled with local folk beliefs and pre-Christian heritage. That is, the ‘spiritual values of nature’ are expressed in material practices and rituals by ‘local and rural communities – even those living in apparently modernised, Western settings’. I am sure many of us can think of and have observed other such examples. LL: What If we don’t always think of cultural landscapes as a symbiotic or harmonious relationship between humans and nature but as destructive? We have recognised many cultural landscapes in the World Heritage list, such as mining landscapes, that are actually the result of the destruction of the nature over the years.SB, LL
Different categories for the inscription of properties on the World Heritage list? PoD: For Korea – How is JeJu inscribed? As a Mixed Property? We might say that it is an inscribed cultural landscape. FH: Do you see the Chinese Scenic and Historic Scene Interest Areas as always equivalent to the WH construct of cultural landscapes? FH: Now in China many cultural landscapes are from ordinary landscape (rural landscapes…) GC: From my understanding, the classifications are sometimes also a practical question of challenges on inscription in world heritage. For some countries it is depending on what is easier to submit. The focus of a cultural landscape (mainly following the cultural criteria, with natural values) vs natural heritage (with some cultural values) are evaluated and written differently by the stakeholders who craft the message. JB: These examples you are citing (JR) might be categorized as IUCN Category V? Or consistent with this. Note that the definition of IUCN Category V- Protected Landscapes and Seascapes- includes specifically this element of interaction. An area of land, with coast and sea as appropriate, where the interaction of people and nature over time has produce dan area of distinct character with significant aesthetic, ecological and/or cultural value, and often with high biological diversity.Safeguarding the integrity of this traditional interaction is vital to the protection and evolution of such area.  JL: Australia was a major player in getting the 1992 change to criteria which introduced the cultural landscape categories. We had recognised by then, despite our colonial eyes, that as for Indigenous people there is no separation of nature and culture and the land is a living entity – it is them. So, our landscapes are deeply entangled and the Aboriginal English word is ‘country’ which signifies all this. This concept has been appropriated by government programs such as Caring for Country[2] and it helps us all here to do away with artificial boundaries, except for the legal titles of land as in private or public reserves.
    The spiritual value of nature through European immigrants agricultural and horticultural practice in colonial lands is another avenue of research in intangible heritage in South Australia, as is the Aboriginal-European interaction and adoption of each other’s practice in colonial Tasmania in the first two decades of 19th century with a kangaroo economy[3].     With the current lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic many urban people are longing to connect with nature -at least in wide open spaces and parks.
‘Western’ naturecultures Dualism SB: Important point about ‘high culture’. This is the situation in the Western naturecultures dualism. Things can be very different at local community levels.  BB: Agree with SB, so the struggles we have in wrapping our arms around the concept and management of rural landscape is so important.  ML: I feel that the question of dualism and non-dualism in our approach to cultural landscape is so much at the core of our work and our thinking, that it is a discussion which will permeate our discussions as we go forward into the summer with these on-line sessions. I appreciated hearing about the philosophical underpinnings of non-dualism in the approach of China and Korea to Nature-Culture. The concept of ‘cultural landscape’ may be a Western concept, but it is also true to say that ‘the West’ in this regard wears a multi-coloured coat, and there is diversity in the culture of the West with regard to Nature, which Steve and others have already touched on. Perhaps it would be true to say that Genesis and Descartes are at one end of the spectrum, and there are many calibrations in-between. I think of Shakespeare’s – Mid-Summer Night’s Dream – in which the spirits and the humans, the flowers, and the Moon herself seem to speak in a multiplicity of voices that are at the same time one voice, in a circular swirling motion that transports us from nightfall to morning. Or, St, Francis of Assisi who sang to the birds and wrote the Canticle of the Sun.      While 13th century Italy and Elizabethan England were at the heart of the European cultural world of their times, here in Ireland in those centuries we were at the edge of the world. The Celtic hegemony, which had once held throughout most of Europe, had continued in Ireland for more than a thousand years after it had been overcome elsewhere by the invading Romans. Consequently, and especially, when we look at our landscape, we see traces of the Druidic and Celtic culture that responded to Nature in a somewhat different way to the Classical World. It is a landscape that even today is ‘replete with field monuments’ from the Celtic past, and manifests a land division system devised, probably in the early Medieval period and perhaps before. Of course, the landscape also shows traces of the years of colonisation and more recently, modernisation, and therefore changing attitudes to the Nature-Culture amalgam. I suppose that as we work with landscape, we begin to realise that as Steve says nature and culture “are mutually constituted; and nature / culture have always evolved one with the other in ways that are so intertwined as to be impossible to meaningfully disassociate”     Here, in my study of Irish rural landscapes I have found the work of the Australians, learning from indigenous peoples and their relationship to ‘country’ which JL references, very helpful. That is not to say that Irish farmers and rural dwellers have the same relationship to the landscape as the Aboriginal people of Australia, but, neither are they Descartes! They live to a large extent with and from the land, and their relationship to it is different from city-dwellers like myself who come to write and think about it! I’m working with this now as I look at a rural landscape of upland hill farmers, which I hope to share with you later in the summer. POD: Thanks for your well stated and interesting commentary from an Ireland viewpoint with a complex Celtic, Druidic history. I find it interesting as well because my viewpoint is both urban and rural- city born, rural dwelling and land based. KT: I was hoping to offer some comments on country and culture and landscape and culture and that landscape is about people and ideologies, not things. SB, BB, ML, PoD, KT
Language and perspective CO: It would be interesting to know better the linguistic and translations of the term cultural landscapes. Even in European languages we have very different terms, that leads to incomprehension.  NP: On the point about language – There are different understandings for the word ‘cultural’ and ‘landscape’ in Eastern (Asia-pacific) and Western cultures. In Asia there is confusion about what Cultural Landscape really means (Han 2018, p70). Not being able to express a lot of the thinking, terminology and values that goes into our cultures, in many cultures it is complicated on a colonial layer as well. Here we have another layer to contend with, where we have to start thinking about nature about beauty. NP: What we see in practice because of our education is not what someone else sees stakeholder/community/dweller. A lot of times we see chaos, dirt and filth and they see something else. That has always been difficult- how do we learn from them.  MF: I was reminded of Tension 2 Observation/Habitation in the introductory section of John Wylie’s (2007) book: Landscape on page 4-6.  What also came to mind was a project we engaged with as students in an informal settlement in South Africa. We launched a ‘I Love Alaska’ photography competition, as an alternative analysis strategy (inspired by Nabeel Hamdi) to understand our site, and to eventually respond with an infrastructural development framework. We asked some of the youth that we met on the streets to take pictures (portable cameras) of what they saw as positive; ‘loved’ about Alaska. Alaska is the name of the informal settlement because it was so far removed from the main centre of Pretoria. What came back was a set of pictures that pointed to all the issues of the site. Dangerous, exposed overhead electrical cables, poor sanitation, litter etc etc. The one picture we thought reflected at least the one positive feature of the site (apart from those that had friends/people in them) was the beautiful view… When we engaged with this picture, we got a resounding ‘no’ it reminds us how far removed we are from any opportunity. This situation taught us about our own pre-conceived ideas (often involuntary) that we enter a site with and how important it is to always find a way to test/deconstruct our own perceptionsCO, NP, MF
Charters and diverse lenses FH: Chinese traditional perspective is only one cultural perspective in the world. All nations have their own perspectives. That’s cultural diversity.  AB: I think that it’s important to “meeting diversity”. Maybe it’s interesting to think that each one finds his one identity, his differences, looking inside his one naturecultures and based on this …. being able to explain the differences between European, Asian, African, pacific and American that make this an enormously rich world. If we can understand our differences, we can understand our coincidences, equalities, too. We can learn to walk between diversity. Latin-American people hasn’t the same occidental naturalcultural/ landscape concept that Europeans has. Because their indigenous/ European/ Spanish people, geography, climate, language, religion, etc. I am proud of Landscape Charter of The Americas, because it really identifies me. (and it isn’t the same of the European one).FH, AB
What should we take forward from these presentations? NP: What can this group do on their second life, building onto the presentation. What would the presenters like this group to take forward? NM: You both mentioned the importance of talking about value as- can you imagine a way forward that we can find ways to encourage mor of this dialogue? JL: My take-home points from our two presenters were:
Fran Han
Environmental lessons to be learnt from Indigenous people -live in harmony, return to the land to alleviate estrangement from nature
Je-Hun Ryu
Gap between international framework for universal CL values and the establishment of a set of regional values firmly embedded in rich SEA and EA cultural processes -rich heritage of CLs of Asia Experiment with set of theories to connect OUVs with regional values embedded in Asian CLs -cultural ecology, environmental aesthetics, landscape as a way of seeing, landscape phenomenology 

Circulated pre-reading:

Reading by Je-Hun Ryu: 

Je-Hun Ryu, 1998, “Regional Human Ecosystem and Cultural Adaptation in Rural Korea,” Journal of the Korean Geographical Society, Vol. 33, Special Issue, pp. 697-707. (Attached)

John Wylie, 2007, Landscape, London and New York: Routledge. (downloaded from, and the PDF attached)

Peter Howard et. al. (eds.), 2013, The Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies,London: Routledge. (an extract of Peter Howard attached)

Reading by Fran Han: 

Light, A. and Rolston, H. I. ed.  (2003). Environmental Ethics: An Anthology. Malden, MA, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Han, F. (2008) Cross-cultural Confusions: Application of World Heritage Concepts in Scenic and Historic Areas in China. In The Wilderness Debate Ranges On: Continuing the Great New Wilderness Debate, Ed. Michael P. Nelson, J. Baird Callicott, P252-263.University of Georgia Press. Georgia: USA. (Attached.

Han,F.(2018).World Heritage Cultural Landscapes: An Old or a New Concept for China? Built Heritage.No.3 Volume 2.pp68-84 (Attached). 

[1] Karen Barad, 2007. _Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Fabrizio Frascaroli and Thora Fjeldsted, 2019. Exporing spiritual and religious values in landscapes of production: lessons and examples from Italy. In: Bas Verschuuren and Steve Brown (eds), _Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in Protected Areas: Governance, Management and Policy_, pp. 264-277. London and New York: Routledge.

[2] ‘Caring for Country’ in Graham Fairclough, Ingrid Sarlöv Herlin, Carys Swanwick [eds], Routledge Handbook of Landscape Character Assessment: Current approaches to characterisation and assessment, 2018, Routledge, London, pp. 203-16

[3] See Van Diemen’s Land, James Boyce, 2008, Black Inc publisher. 

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