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All over the world, rapid and fundamental human-made environmental changes are occurring. Correspondingly, a research focus in environmental management and sustainability science is placed on the interactions of society and environmental systems (Kates et al., 2001; Liu et al., 2007). However, despite wide consensus on the need to focus on human–nature relationships, there is much controversy about their concrete nature and how they should be conceptualised (Scholz & Brand, 2011).
We compare two approaches to the analysis and management of these relationships that are usually considered to be clearly distinct from each other. On one side is the resilience approach to social–ecological systems of the Resilience Alliance (2012), a highly influential approach in the currently emerging sustainability science. It is put forward as a novel, scientifically well-founded and unbiased, value-free approach with general applicability that is concerned with the goal to ensure sustainable development. On the other side is the original version of the cultural landscape concept, which forms the basis of classical geography and, for decades, has been very influential in nature conservation and landscape planning, particularly in Europe and possibly most strongly in Germany. This concept has been shown to be connected with a conservative ideal of the human–nature relationship and to be largely motivated by cultural, symbolic and aesthetic values of traditional cultural landscapes – notwithstanding that now it is often at odds with its supposed sustainability.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, environmental sciences and sustainability research efforts have been to conceptualize human–environment systems (HES). To provide an HES framework is one of the main objectives of environmental literacy, and of the Postulates and ideas put forward in Chapters 16 and 17. In this chapter we discuss the HES framework within the context of the international research community and compare it to three alternative approaches: the resilience approach, the Vienna social metabolism, and the Dutch transition management. The objective of this section is to show the strengths and limitations of the HES framework and the alternative approaches. Furthermore, this chapter highlights the value of the HES framework for both an academic perspective, to support better analysis of HES, and from an applied project or transdisciplinary perspective, to promote inclusive communication and collaboration between academia, legitimized decision-makers, and stakeholders.
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