Landscape wonder: a springboard towards an environmental transition?


  • Fabienne Joliet, L’Institut Agro-Angers / Pôle Paysage
  • Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde, Université Paris 2, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Institut Jean-Nicod
  • Thora Herrmann, Senior Scientist, Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Department of Ecosystem Services, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)
  • Chris Lukinbeal, Geography, Development & Environment, UArizona


We assume that the sense of wonder linked to the aesthetics of landscapes is a first step towards enhancing respect for the environment: 1) The aesthetic component of landscapes leads to an increased environmental awareness that modifies behavior, and attachment to iconic landscapes can transform certain ecological "dictates" into environmental benevolence. 2) In the face of the anthropogenic landscape change and the current environmental crisis, cultural diversity and multiple ways of seeing and interacting with the world can be mutually enriched by their complementary ontological approaches and contribute to the common goal of preserving the environment. In this project, two distinct human-environment/Settler-Indigenous experiences will be explored and brought together in order to investigate the resources of wonder and amazement attached to vulnerable and ancestral environments. Three questions guide these reflections: for whom and in which ways are the landscapes of the Colorado Plateau and the Arctic tundra a source of wonder? Can only national parks capture fragments of beauty in an environment transformed by resource exploitation and global warming? Do the Settlers and the Indigenous nations (Navajo, Hopi, Inuit) who live in these territories have a landscape aesthetic to share that can tend towards a collective environmental stewardship? The grand challenge of this research proposal relates in relinking the two sides of the same environmental reality (‘kosmos aisthêtos’, Berque 2008; The entire sensible world, Berléant 1999): to consider the aesthetics of landscapes as a lever for sustainable ecology. These two sides have been dissociated in Western culture, while they are considered as a whole in Indigenous cultures. 

Two PhD students will contribute to this grand challenge: two mythical archetypes of landscapes by their beauty and hostility, appreciated through the Western notion of “Wilderness” AND by Indigenous sensibilities: the tundra in Nunavik, Canada and the Colorado Plateau, USA; two archetypes of landscapes subjected to environmental global changes. The goal of the project is to find and digitally represent ways esthetics, perception, and experience enhances environmental stewardship of landscape as well as enhancing an ethic of care as expressed by different cultural groups in (dis)similar environments. A fundamental and applied goal through concrete examples of iconic landscapes is the identification of the ontological nature of the modalities of the feelings of well-being and good living provided by the aesthetics of landscapes (versus the ill-being engendered by the disappearance of landscapes). A secondary goal aims at the identification of how the values, feelings and aesthetic experiences can inspire a willingness to care for the environment and a motivation to participate in environmental stewardship action.

This project is the basis for a new collaboration between these two teams. The expertise of the teams are complementary insofar as they benefit from a common base of knowledge and skills, which is essential for a good disciplinary cross-comprehension in terms of the cultural geography of the environment. Thus, they have common expertise in cross-cultural landscape perceptions, and share a methodological interest in audio-visuals. The two graduate students involved in this project will gain a unique perspective as they get to participate in the forming of a new international interdisciplinary collaboration.