2001 volume 33(1) pages 161 – 179

Cite as:
Robbins P, 2001, "Fixed categories in a portable landscape: the causes and consequences of land-cover categorization" Environment and Planning A 33(1) 161 – 179

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Fixed categories in a portable landscape: the causes and consequences of land-cover categorization

Paul Robbins

Received 30 May 2000; in revised form 28 September 2000

Abstract. In this paper I explore both the causes and the effects of defining land-cover categories for the mapping of landscapes. Utilizing a participatory remote sensing technique in a case example from Rajasthan, India, I demonstrate that local and expert characterizations of the environment are qualitatively and quantitatively divergent. Satellite imagery, I therefore conclude, is not an impartial tool for the settlement of debates about land cover but is instead the result of prior debates about the character of nature. Moreover, such imagery acts as a force in the transformation of the environment; by fixing certain interpretations of the environment and forcing certain forms of management, technology changes on the land through a process of reverse adaptation. I conclude, therefore, that bureaucratic efforts at mechanical objectivity serve to institutionalize and therefore create measurable, quantifiable, and aggressive land covers through the practice of ecological modernization.

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