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Comparing social representations of the landscape: a methodology

Carole Vuillot, CEFE, Univ. Montpellier, CNRS, EPHE, IRD, Univ. Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, Montpellier, France; CESCO, Sorbonne Universités, MNHN, CNRS, UPMC, Paris, France
Raphael Mathevet, CEFE, Univ. Montpellier, CNRS, EPHE, IRD, Univ. Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, Montpellier, France; French Institute of Pondicherry, CNRS, Pondicherry, India
Clélia Sirami, Université de Toulouse, INRAE, UMR DYNAFOR, Castanet-Tolosan, France; LTSER Zone Atelier «PYRÉNÉES GARONNE», 31320 Auzeville-Tolosane, France


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Social representations (SRs) are systems of values, ideas, and practices that characterize individuals’ and social groups’ relationships to both their social and natural environment. Comparing SRs between places, social groups, and through time is critical to understanding how social-ecological systems (SESs) and their diverse uses are perceived, interpreted, and understood. This knowledge needs to be taken into account to achieve efficient land use management of SESs such as agricultural landscapes. People’s perceptions of the landscape are increasingly studied in sustainability sciences and a growing number of studies use the SR framework for analyzing differences in SRs between stakeholders and localities or for detecting changes over time. Robust methodologies able to compare SRs are required for this purpose. In this paper, we propose a modular approach to studying SRs from words collected from free listing tasks. This approach relies on standardizing definitions of frequency thresholds commonly used to assess SR content, consensus level, and structure. We then illustrate the value of this methodological approach through a comparative study of farmers’ social representations of the agricultural landscape among four contrasted social-ecological contexts in France. We show how our comparative method allows for characterizing spatial variations in SRs and identifying social-ecological factors that influence the structuration and content of SRs. Finally, we discuss our methodological progress and the implications of our results for public policies aimed at managing SESs and in particular agricultural landscapes for conservation.

Key words

agricultural landscape; France; free-listing; mental models; quantitative analysis; regional environmental planning; social-ecological system; social representation

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087