Representations of the Alentejo landscape
This paper explores the ways in which the social representations concept, derived from social theory, may be employed in landscape research in order to survey which landscape physical elements or settings are used by people when communicating about the cultural landscape of Alentejo in Southern Portugal. Social representation is here understood as the elaboration of a social object by either the individual or its community for the purpose of behaving and communicating ( Quétier et al., 2010) . The concept of representation has been developed within psychology to explain the many ways humans create and relate to their social worlds. Representations are used to communicate a discursive image (language or code) with a goal to legitimate a discourse (Vepsäläinen and Pitkänen, 2010). Therefore, a representation expresses different ways in which people communicate their interpretations and self-creations. It is thus likely that when people are asked to communicate about a known landscape they will draw on features that best convey their relations to that specific landscape. So, the study presented in this paper builds upon other studies which relate to the manner in which landscape meaning has drawn on the concept of social representation in order to gain insights into the meanings that specific landscape features have for people by analyzing their descriptions of it (della Dora, 2009; Quétier et al., 2010; Vepsäläinen and Pitkänen, 2010; Buijs et al., 2011). The work was developed by: 1) surveying the ways in which people communicate about their surrounding landscape to others, through an assessment of their representations, and 2) exploring the ways in which people´s representations can be mapped and ultimately integrated into policy and decision making. This study shows that there are, at least, 9 different aspects of the Alentejo landscape over which respondents were willing to communicate to someone from outside the region. Those encompass heritage and cultural patrimony, the landscape on the interface between the rural and urban areas, natural and environmental aspects, the montado agro forestry system, aspects related to traditional farming systems as well as the topography of the region. Further, the paper also explores the ways by which enhancing and safeguarding the most refered physical landscape components associated with farming and the scenic rural countryside, but also the land cover compositions most mentioned, can be used in both framing and targeting policies and decision making .
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