Retheorizing ecosystem services as cultural landscapes: Co-constitution, power relations, and knowledges

Jessica Budds, Margreet Zwarteveen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Originally proposed by ecological economists, the concept of ecosystem services has gained traction in demonstrating the importance of ecosystems for providing goods and services to society. While much work has sought to develop and operationalise the concept as the basis of scientific research and ecosystem conservation, most thinking and practice around ecosystem services is based on a view of ecosystems as biophysical systems that interact with, yet are separate from, people. In this article, we build on critiques that this conceptual separation of nature and society is problematic, both in theory and practice, because it overlooks the multiple ways in which ecosystems are shaped by, and shape, human processes over time and space, both materially and symbolically. We propose advances in two directions. First, we retheorize ecosystem services as co-produced by biophysical and social processes, both materially and symbolically and over space and time, by ontologically redefining ecosystems as cultural landscapes. By doing so, we recognise the power relations that underpin the co-constitution of ecosystems and their users, including the continued dominance of formal science in producing knowledge about them. Second, we explore the epistemological implications of this retheorization: acknowledging that ecosystems are also social implies that human influences and meanings are not external to, but part of, ecosystem services. This expands the types of knowledge that are needed to better understand socio-ecological interactions, and inform the design and effectiveness of policy interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-59
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2020

Cite this