The Swedish word landskap can mean the same as the English landscape. It was also the word for the old counties of Sweden, administrative units that go back some thousand years. In the landskap people determined the laws and took decisions in the yearly thing. We find the same suffix -skap in words like äktenskap (marriage), vänskap (friendship), gemenskap (community), grannskap (neighborhood), medborgarskap (citizenship) and vetenskap (science, what we know). It is related to the old English ship as it is used for friendship. It signifies that what we have in common.
Land is also another word for nature. Landskap, therefore, is the nature we have together, where we live. The word expresses that we are part of the landscape and that the landscape is part of us. The ”us” in the landskap are the people living there, not the people owning property or mines there or a distant state claiming dominion. A landskap has certain properties and it is limited in geographic area and people are part of it. In living landscapes the divide between nature and culture is therefore meaningless.
The whole notion of landskap is in contradiction with the modern capitalist society in many, many ways. Profiteering and inequality are not only unfortunate by-products of capitalism but essential parts of it. But equally problematic, or even more so, is the rift between man and nature and between producer and consumer. They are not only separated in person but also in place, so that one person in one place commands resources in a totally different location and that one person in one place consumes stuff produced by someone else in another location. All this is mediated by a currency that makes all things interchangeable and therefore also deprived of meaning – money. In addition, the separation both in place and in context means that ecological cycles are broken. e.g. the humanure can’t be circulated back to the land from which the food came from or livestock manure is accumulating in feed importing countries while soils are mined in food exporting countries. In a rather similar way social cohesion is also broken. Of course, the even bigger cycle of carbon in the biosphere is disturbed even more through the extraction of fossil fuels, also an integral component of the capitalist market economy.
Conscientious consumers try to avoid cookies made from palm oil, mobile phones with conflict minerals or t-shirts made by semi-slaves in distant countries. But in the end, the only way to be a responsible consumer in a global capitalist society is to opt out of it as much as possible. And here the concept of landskap comes in handy.
Obviously, the post-viking age of landskap was no ideal world as power structures and power cultures prevented people from drawing the full benefits. Feudal societies were also often shaped around a landscape. It is clear that things will not be all rosy as soon we organize us according to landscapes. In the end, there will probably never exist a society that has no flaws. Nevertheless, the landskap-society has a good foundation for a socially and ecologically sustainable society where there is a direct relation between man and nature and between man and fellow humans. A landscape approach to our future society provides a frame for us to be grounded, rooted or terrestrial.
Some may see the promotion of localization as just one more expression of growing nationalism. But there is no reason at all to see it that way. To develop a local community is something very different than the nationalist project. While it is important to dissociate from xenophobia I believe we also need to realize that there is some value in the care for the local and close. Similarly, there are also values developed with individualism and globalization which we should honor and care for. Even markets and money may have some role to play in a localized world. The difference would be that they (again) becomes tools for accomplishments rather than radical monopolies that dictates life and death.
This post is part of a series of post inspired by our forthcoming book, The hippos of Pablo Escobar.
Teaser photo credit: Runestone, Av Hermann A.M. Mucke – Eget arbete, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2217785