Special Issue: The Use of Semi-Quantitative Methods to Unravel Landscape Discourses and Imaginaries for Integrated Landscape Approaches

Recognizing that discourses – “a shared way of interpreting the world embedded in language” (Dryzek 2013: 9) – determine how people make sense of environmental problems and solutions, the importance of discourse analysis in nature conservation and landscape governance is broadly acknowledged (Schmidt 2008; Arts and Buizer 2009; Sumares and Fidélis 2011; De Koning et al. 2014; Patrick Bixler et al. 2015; Buizer et al. 2016; Van Assche et al. 2017). Discourses shape the narrative upon which people make decisions. As such, they help explain local buy-in for conservation and natural resource management initiatives or the absence thereof (Ludwig et al. 2012; Pecurul-Botines et al. 2014). Discourses are an intrinsic part of governance (Buizer et al. 2016). Yet, discourse analysis is still a largely unexplored area in the literature on landscape governance (exceptions include Arts and Buizer 2009, Arts et al. 2017, and Langston et al. 2019). This deserves attention since people’s way of perceiving and framing the landscape lies at the basis of identifying “common concern entry points” and a “negotiated change logic” to overcome trade-offs between conflicting land uses – two key principles in the implementation of integrated landscape approaches (Sayer et al. 2017). At the same time, we see a mushrooming of literature that applies semi-quantitative approaches to analyze discourses and mental models supporting or contesting conservation and sustainable management efforts. Examples are Q-methodology to uncover different perspectives on a societal issue and the extent to which these are shared (and contested) among stakeholders (Webler et al. 2009; Leipold et al. 2019); fuzzy cognitive mapping focusing on integrating different knowledges – scientific, expert, and local – to explore consensus across stakeholders on drivers of change or trade-offs and identify consensus of various opinions (Kok 2009; Jetter and Kok 2014); and multi-criteria analysis that makes trade-offs and stakeholders’ assumptions, underlying values and preferences explicit to achieve land-use plans to which most actors can agree (Sarkar et al. 2017; Sayer et al. 2017). What these methods have in common is their semi-quantitative approach. We postulate that this characteristic of making subjectivities “objective” makes their results more credible to policymakers and resource managers than conventional discourse analysis through, for instance, critical discourse analysis (Blommaert and Bulcaen 2000; Fairclough 2013) and other social constructivist approaches. This bridging function of semi-quantitative approaches is particularly important in landscape approaches and boundary work aimed at mobilizing stakeholders with different interests, values, and perspectives for achieving commonly desired future landscapes – while insights into opposing perspectives are equally important for understanding why “common concern entry points” cannot always be effectively addressed. By bringing together studies that employ semi-quantitative approaches to untangle different narratives and discourses about landscape issues, we aim to explore their potential for realizing inclusive landscape governance. As such, this special issue is a follow-up to earlier special issues in Environmental Management on sectoral approaches transitioning toward integrated landscape approaches (Ros-Tonen et al. 2018) and the potential of spatial tools for inclusive and integrated landscape governance (Ros-Tonen and Willemen 2021).


  • Mirjam A.F. Ros-Tonen

    Mirjam A.F. Ros-Tonen, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.

    Mirjam Ros-Tonen is an associate professor at the Department of Planning, Human Geography and International Development Studies of the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on integrated landscape approaches, inclusive value chain collaboration and knowledge co-creation, which she combines into a holistic approach towards inclusive and integrated forest and landscape governance. She thereby aims to merge political-ecological analyses with the more solution- and practice-based integrated landscape approaches.

  • James D. Langston

    James D. Langston, University of British Columbia, Canada

    James Langston is a lecturer at the University of British Columbia. His teaching and research centre on the patterns and relationships that shape development outcomes. He is dedicated to furthering the agenda of embedded science. He is interested in how people are affected by decisions and narratives that are endogenous vs exogenous to their landscapes. His goal is to increase the likelihood that spatial development initiatives lead to more inclusive, sustainable and prosperous futures for people and nature.

  • James Reed

    James Reed, Centre of International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Indonesia.

    James Reed is a scientist in the research theme ‘Governance, Equity, and Wellbeing’ at the Centre of International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Indonesia. He is interested in inter- and transdisciplinary research approaches that attempt to better understand the dynamics and potential synergies and trade-offs within tropical social-ecological systems.

Articles (10 in this collection)