Conceptualizing Distal Drivers in Land Use Competition

  • Jörg NiewöhnerEmail author
  • Jonas Ø. Nielsen
  • Ignacio Gasparri
  • Yaqing Gou
  • Mads Hauge
  • Neha Joshi
  • Anke Schaffartzik
  • Frank Sejersen
  • Karen C. Seto
  • Chris Shughrue
Part of the Human-Environment Interactions book series (HUEN, volume 6)


This introductory chapter explores the notion of ‘distal drivers’ in land use competition. Research has moved beyond proximate causes of land cover and land use change to focus on the underlying drivers of these dynamics. We discuss the framework of telecoupling within human–environment systems as a first step to come to terms with the increasingly distal nature of driving forces behind land use practices. We then expand the notion of distal as mainly a measure of Euclidian space to include temporal, social, and institutional dimensions. This understanding of distal widens our analytical scope for the analysis of land use competition as a distributed process to consider the role of knowledge and power, technology, and different temporalities within a relational or systemic analysis of practices of land use competition. We conclude by pointing toward the historical and social contingency of land use competition and by acknowledging that this contingency requires a methodological–analytical approach to dynamics that goes beyond linear cause–effect relationships. A critical component of future research will be a better understanding of different types of feedback processes reaching from biophysical feedback loops to feedback produced by individual or institutional reflexivity.


Telecoupling Social space Systemic effects Competition as process Power/knowledge 


  1. Alexander, J. C. (1988). Action and its environments. Toward a new synthesis. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Appadurai, A. (1991). Global ethnoscapes: Notes and queries for a transnational anthropology. In R. G. Fox (Ed.), Recapturing anthropology: Working in the present. School of American Research: Santa Fe.Google Scholar
  3. Beck, S. (2008). Natur|Kultur. Überlegungen zu einer relationalen Anthropologie. Zeitschrift Für Volkskunde, 104, 161–199.Google Scholar
  4. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, N., & Michael, M. (2003). A sociology of expectations: retrospecting prospects and prospecting retrospects. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, 15, 3–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chan, K. M. A., Guerry, A. D., Balvanera, P., Klain, S., Satterfield, T., Basurto, X., et al. (2012). Where are cultural and social in ecosystem services? A framework for constructive engagement. BioScience, 62, 744–756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Creutzig, F., Baiocchi, G., Bierkandt, R., Pichler, P.-P., & Seto, K. C. (2015). Global typology of urban energy use and potentials for an urbanization mitigation wedge. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 6283–6288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Daily, G. C., & Matson, P. A. (2008). Ecosystem services: From theory to implementation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105, 9455–9456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Eakin, H., Defries, R., Kerr, S., Lambin, E. F., Liu, J., Marcotullio, P. J. et al. (2014). Significance of telecoupling for exploration of land use change. In: S. Kc, & A. Reenberg (Eds.), Rethinking global land use in an urban era. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  10. Foucault, M. (1972). Truth and Power. In C. Gordon (Ed.), Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings (pp. 1972–1977). New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  11. Friis, C., Nielsen, J. Ø., Otero, I., Haberl, H., Niewöhner, J., & Hostert, P. (2015). From teleconnection to telecoupling: taking stock of an emerging framework in land system science. Journal of Land Use Science, 1–23.Google Scholar
  12. Garrett, R. D., Rueda, X., & Lambin, E. F. (2013). Globalization’s unexpected impact on soybean production in South America: linkages between preferences for non-genetically modified crops, eco-certifications, and land use. Environmental Research Letters, 8.Google Scholar
  13. Granovetter, M. (1985). Economic action and social structure: the problem of embeddedness. American Journal of Sociology, 91, 481–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Guyer, J., Lambin, E., Cliggett, L., Walker, P., Amanor, K., Bassett, T., et al. (2007). Temporal heterogeneity in the study of African land use. Human Ecology, 35, 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hacking, I. (2006). Kinds of people: Moving targets. London: British Academy Lecture.Google Scholar
  16. Hannerz, U. (1993). When culture is everywhere: Reflections on a favorite concept. Ethnos, 58, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Haraway, D. (1988). Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist Studies, 14, 575–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kornienko, K. (2014). Waiting, hope, democracy, and space: how expectations and socio-economic rights shape two South African Urban Informal Communities. Journal of Asian and African Studies.Google Scholar
  19. Lambin, E. F., & Geist, H. (2006). Land-use and land-cover change: Local processes and global impacts. Berlin/New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Law, J., & Callon, M. (1992). The life and death of an aircraft: a network analysis of technical change.Google Scholar
  22. Law, J., & Mol, A. (2002). Complexities: An introduction. In J. Law & A. Mol (Eds.), Complexities: Social studies of knowledge practices. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Liu, J., Hall, V., Moran, E., Nagendra, H., Swaffield, S. R., & Ii, B. L. T. (2014). Applications of the telecoupling framework to land-change science. In S. Kc, & A. Reenberg (Eds.), Rethinking global land use in an urban era. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. Marcotullio, P. J. (2014). Globalization, economic flows, and land-use transitions. In K. C. Seto & A. Reenberg (Eds.), Rethinking global land use in an urban era. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  25. Marres, N. (2012). On some uses and abuses of topology in the social analysis of technology (or the problem with smart meters). Theory Culture and Society, 29, 288–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Martinez-Alier, J. (2008). Languages of valuation. Economic and Political Weekly, 43, 28–32.Google Scholar
  27. Niewöhner, J. (2014a). Ökologien der Stadt. Zur Ethnografie bio- und geopolitischer Praxis. Zeitschrift für Volkskunde, 110, 185–214.Google Scholar
  28. Niewöhner, J. (2014b). Raum aus anthropologischer Perspektive. In J. Oßenbrügge & A. Vogelpohl (Eds.), Theorien in der Raum- und Stadtforschung – Eine Einführung. Westfälisches Dampfboot: Münster.Google Scholar
  29. Ostrom, E., Schroeder, L., & Wynne, S. (1993). Analyzing the performance of alternative institutional arrangements for sustaining rural infrastructure in developing countries. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: J-PART, 3, 11–45.Google Scholar
  30. Ouma, S., Boeckler, M., & Lindner, P. (2013). Extending the margins of marketization: frontier regions and the making of agro-export markets in northern Ghana. Geoforum, 48, 225–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Palsson, G., Szerszynski, B., Sörlin, S., Marks, J., Avril, B., Crumley, C., et al. (2013). Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science and Policy, 28, 3–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Parsons, T. (1937). The structure of social action. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  33. Poteete, A. R., & Ostrom, E. (2004). Heterogeneity, group size and collective action: the role of institutions in forest management. Development and Change, 35, 435–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Roepstorff, A., Niewöhner, J., & Beck, S. (2010). Enculturing brains through patterned practices. Neural Networks, 23, 1051–1059.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sejersen, F. (2015). Rethinking greenland and the arctic in the era of climate change: new northern horizons. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.Google Scholar
  36. Seto, K. C., Reenberg, A., Boone, C. G., Fragkias, M., Haase, D., Langanke, T., et al. (2012). Urban land teleconnections and sustainability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109, 7687–7692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Strathern, M. (1991). Partial connections. Savage, Md, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  38. Strathern, M. (1992). Parts and wholes. Refiguring relationships in a post-plural world. In A. Kuper, (Ed.), Conceptualizing society. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Weber, M. (1922/2002). Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft - Grundriß der verstehenden Soziologie. Tübingen, Mohr.Google Scholar
  40. Werner, B. T., & Mcnamara, D. E. (2007). Dynamics of coupled human-landscape systems. Geomorphology, 91, 393–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Young, O. R., Lambin, E. F., Alcock, F., Haberl, H., Karlsson, S. I., Mcconnell, W. J., et al. (2006). A portfolio approach to analyzing complex human-environment interactions: Institutions and land change. Ecology and Society, 11, 15.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jörg Niewöhner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jonas Ø. Nielsen
    • 2
  • Ignacio Gasparri
    • 3
  • Yaqing Gou
    • 4
  • Mads Hauge
    • 5
  • Neha Joshi
    • 5
  • Anke Schaffartzik
    • 6
  • Frank Sejersen
    • 7
  • Karen C. Seto
    • 8
  • Chris Shughrue
    • 8
  1. 1.Institute of European Ethnology and Integrative Research Institute THESysHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Department of Geography & IRI THESysHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Instituto de Ecología Regional, CONICET-Universidad Nacional de TucumánTucumánArgentina
  4. 4.School of GeosciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  5. 5.Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Geography SectionUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  6. 6.Institute of Social EcologyAlpen-Adria Universität Klagenfurt-Wien-GrazViennaAustria
  7. 7.Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional StudiesUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  8. 8.Yale School of Forestry and Environmental StudiesYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations