Land Use Competition: Ecological, Economic and Social Perspectives

  • Jörg NiewöhnerEmail author
  • Antje Bruns
  • Helmut Haberl
  • Patrick Hostert
  • Tobias Krueger
  • Christian Lauk
  • Juliana Lutz
  • Daniel Müller
  • Jonas Ø. Nielsen
Part of the Human-Environment Interactions book series (HUEN, volume 6)


This chapter introduces competition as a heuristic concept to analyse how specific land use practices establish themselves against possible alternatives. We briefly outline the global importance of land use practices as the material and symbolic basis for people’s livelihoods, particularly the provision of food security and well-being. We chart the development over time from research on land cover towards research on drivers of land use practices as part of an integrated land systems science. The increasingly spatially, temporally and functionally distributed nature of these drivers poses multiple challenges to research on land use practices. We propose the notion of ‘competition’ to respond to some of these challenges and to better understand how alternative land use practices are negotiated. We conceive of competition as a relational concept. Competition asks about agents in relation to each other, about the mode or the logic in which these relations are produced and about the material environments, practices and societal institutions through which they are mediated. While this has centrally to do with markets and prices, we deliberately open the concept to embrace more than economic perspectives. As such competition complements a broadening of analytical attention from the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘when’ to include prominently the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of particular land use practices and the question to whom this matters and ought to matter. We suggest that competition is an analytically productive concept, because it does not commit the analyst to a particular epistemological stance. It addresses reflexivity and feed-back, emergence and downward causation, history and response rates—concepts that all carry very different conceptual and analytical connotations in different disciplines. We propose to make these differences productive by putting them alongside each other through the notion of competition. Last not least, the heuristic lens of competition affords the combination of empirical and normative aspects, thus addressing land use practices in material, social and ethical terms.


Relational perspective Land cover Global change Scaling Interdisciplinarity 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jörg Niewöhner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Antje Bruns
    • 2
  • Helmut Haberl
    • 3
  • Patrick Hostert
    • 5
  • Tobias Krueger
    • 5
  • Christian Lauk
    • 3
  • Juliana Lutz
    • 3
  • Daniel Müller
    • 4
  • Jonas Ø. Nielsen
    • 5
  1. 1.Institute of European Ethnology and Integrative Research Institute THESysHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Governance and Sustainability Lab, Trier and IRI THESysTrier UniversityTrierGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Social EcologyAlpen-Adria UniversityViennaAustria
  4. 4.Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Development in Transition Economies, Halle (Saale) & IRI THESysBerlinGermany
  5. 5.Department of Geography & IRI THESysHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany

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