“Natural beauty” as Fictitious Commodity: the roles and impacts of landscape aesthetics in commodification of privately owned protected areas in Quebec, Canada, by Olivier Craig-Dupont

Landscape aesthetics and land conservation go a long way in the history of protected areas. Social representations of “natural beauty” and the nation-states’ desires to exploit and conserve natural resources (be them crude as iron or subtle as landscapes) have intertwined through the history of governmental agencies in charge of nature consumption and protection. Historically bounded to governmental bodies, agency over the land and its protection is now more and more devolved to the private sector and civil society, with advantages and drawbacks regarding effective and equitable resource management. By exploring the emergence of a private conservation movement in Quebec (Canada), this paper addresses the territorial impacts of private landscape-protection devices such as landtrusts and conservation easements. The paper suggests that the focus private conservation initiatives have on the land’s forms (the “landscape lenses”) rather than its functions (Tim Ingold’s “dwelling perspective”) operates a disembodiment of human territoriality through visual and “green” aesthetical valuations. Using Karl Polanyi’s theoretical frame of The Great Transformation, those extracted “protected landscapes” act as disembedded  “fictitious commodities” with no relation to the land other than those promoted (and accepted) by the owners and stewards of private protected areas: relations of “environmental integrity”, “calm and peace”, “everlasting protection”, etc. As an aesthetical fictitious commodity, protected landscapes are now re-introduced in new market-driven rural dynamics of landscape consumption, countryside tourism, rural sprawl, with such side effects as booming land speculation, gentrification and, paradoxically, an amenity-based attractiveness and commodification of nature that undermine the very object that private protection seeks to frame: landscape aesthetics and biodiversity. Based on my ongoing doctoral research, this paper explores the paradoxes and tensions between the protection and consumption of “natural beauty”. It proposes considerations on the roles of the state in nature conservation and the normative relation it can (or should? or should not?) have with civil society’s multifaceted representations of landscape and biodiversity stewardship.

Olivier Craig-DuPont, University of Montreal, CA


Harvard Citation Guide: Craig-DuPont, Olivier. (2012) “Natural beauty” as Fictitious Commodity: the roles and impacts of landscape aesthetics in commodification of privately owned protected areas in Quebec, Canada, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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