Relational landscape studies of urbanisation

Conference, 12–14 June 2014

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp, Sweden

Relational landscape studies of urbanisation

This conference aims to explore the potential of relational landscape studies as a means to gain more nuanced understanding of the messy processes of urbanisation and peri-urbanisation. The conference organisers invite landscape scholars, political ecologists and environmental historians in the first instance for interdisciplinary discussions on landscape theory and relational geography and their potential to provide critical accounts of 20th and 21st century urbanisation.

Tracing relational phenomena goes against the grain of conventional research. Viewed as a relational phenomenon, landscape does not make sense in a research and planning community that is still largely based on modern categories (e.g. nature – culture, subject – object). Instead of theorising the relational approach of landscape studies, there is unfortunately a tendency to “tame” and tailor conventional studies according to the well-known black boxes (i.e. studying scenery or land-use, representation or life), thus reducing the relational power of landscape studies. This conference aims to counteract such dismissals of the potential of landscape research by acknowledging the relational character of landscape.

For the conference, we are therefore looking for landscape studies which contribute to a relational, anti-essential understanding of the process of urbanisation through rich cases and/or conceptual elaborations. Since the turn of the millennium, such studies have proliferated in at least three related fields of research: landscape studies inspired by relational and critical thinking, political ecology, and urban environmental history. Despite intrinsic differences, we believe that further collaborations between these fields can provide more differentiated conceptualisations of urbanisation, enhance knowledge of the complex relationships between planning, environmental change and everyday life in the shadow of an expanding city, and nurture discussions on alternative urban (or peri-urban) futures.

The conference is organised within the project The Metropolitan Corridor Revisited: tracing rural/urban hybrids as a base for sustainable development, funded by Formas.


Potential topics and themes of interest might include, but are not limited to:

  • Landscape histories of urbanisation, maintenance and repair
  • More-than-human perspectives on the contested landscapes of urbanisation
  • Assembling landscapes at the urban fringe: mobility, matter and everyday life
  • Portable landscapes: mobile planning discourses of urbanisation and the importance of place
  • Relational reading of landscapes of transport infrastructures
  • Landscape theory vs. political ecology
  • Landscape studies as ‘matters of concern’
  • Tracing landscapes of urbanisation: methodological discussions
  • Modernity, peri-urban planning history and hybrid landscapes
  • Symmetrical analysis of rural-urban divides within planning



Mattias Qviström

Professor in Landscape Planning

Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

In my eagerness to reject Chicago and embrace the rural lands around it, I had assumed that there was little chance of confusing the two. I had only to look at any midwestern map to see the same reassuringly sharp boundaries between city and country I had experienced so strongly as a child. And yet the moment I tried to trace those boundaries backward into history, they began to dissolve.”

(William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis, 1991, p. 7)


"Much discussion about cities adopts a conception of urban change as little more than the conscious design of a few individuals: the oscillation between architect, engineer, and planner is replicated in an urban troika of buildings, infrastructure, and urban design. The city is conceived as no more than an agglomeration of its parts derived from the fragmentary Cartesian-Lockean world view transposed to the analysis of urban form. Yet two critical dimensions are missing from this formulation: history and nature.”

(Matthew Gandy, Concrete and Clay, 2002, p. 6).

© Mattias Qviström, 2014

Last update: 8 June 2014