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Michael O'Flaherty I was trained as a social anthropologist and am now working as an independent consultant, mostly helping First Nations with research and land use planning. My interests tend to gather in the neighbourhood of applied social sciences, including how tenure relations and knowledge influence the way people make decisions about how to behave. In particular, i have always had a fascination with how commons are negotiated, not just in the literature but also in practice, in my own life. The greatest limitation in learning from the literature is knowing how it can all be used -- great idea, now how can we use that? If our ideas are of value, then they need to be shared with our own children and put into practice at home.

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Wherever people have travelled they have entered the land into their imagination and, insofar as this has been a collective endeavour, into their culture. But actually delimiting an area of influence for a specific culture, where it begins and ends in time, space and imagination can be a very difficult task; it requires we define who are the members of such-and-such a culture. The complexities of defining the spatial boundaries of a cultural landscape are discussed with reference to south-eastern Zimbabwe.

The first thing that strikes anyone looking at the Alberta oilsands developments in Northern Alberta is the scale. Everything is big. The equipment is big, the social and environmental impact is big, the profits are big. The sustained impact on Aboriginal people struggling through the madness is most troubling. As the earth itself, or in mining terms, “overburden”, is removed, the life it sustains is gone too. The Athabasca oilsands production region provides a fascinating yet lurid display of the clash between two kinds of cultural landscapes: the homeland of First Nation and Métis peoples, and the source of raw materials for industrial capital accumulation.

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This is a follow-up to an earlier post on paths (). The full article discusses the value of the cultural landscape concept in understanding the inter-relationship between paths and health. Paths can be read as a reflection of cultural values of health, and they can also be advocated as routes to good health, in all it’s physical, social and spiritual aspects.

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Pathways, such as portages, trails and roads, are an excellent representation of the ongoing process of accretion of layers of meaning in a cultural landscape. Over time, the appearance and meaning of paths change in response to natural and cultural cycles. Layers of meaning shift in their tangibility, in part depending on the perspective of who is remembering or interpreting the land.

Read the full pdf version.

Nature says stop – a winter trail awaits the snowfall
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Nature says go – a stopline in the city falters