Temporality of the Landscape and Storying
Ingold (1993) reflects on something he calls the ‘temporality of the landscape’, which essentially works to make sense of how the natural world and human culture/activity (what Ingold calls ‘taskscape’) are an integrated whole. Ingold posits that the landscape and taskcape cannot be understood as separate entities because they work together shaping one another. As humans interact and operate within a landscape, they cause various changes that mold their surroundings. However, these surroundings also impact human activity, shaping how culture and behavior form. For example, consider the differences between agriculturalist and pastoralist livelihoods that are largely dependent on environments that promote and support such activities. The temporal aspect for Ingold is important, not so much in terms of historical sequential patterns, but as a way of conveying a progressional relationship that exists between the landscape and taskscape. Ingold states: “it is from the relational context of people’s engagement with the world…that each place draws its unique significance” (p.155). He then goes on to imagine watching the landscape in a ‘fast-forward’ manner in which the land changes and responds to numerous human generations over time. While these past generations cease to exist, their imprint on the landscape remains as they have left something of themselves. This allows one to see how the “rhythmic pattern of human activities nests within the wider pattern of activity for all animal life…which nests within the life-process of the world” (p.164).
From this perspective, Ingold goes on to reflect a particular ontology in which truth is conveyed through the act of storying. Different cultures have different ways of experiencing a relationality with their surroundings, and therefore have particular ways of conveying these perceptions, often through the act of storying. In many instances western technocratic approaches to environmental management have dismissed ‘stories’ from indigenous groups. However, Ingold warns that: “we should resist the temptation to assume that since stories are stories they are, in some sense, unreal or untrue, for this is to suppose that the only real reality, or true truth, is one in which we, as living, experiencing beings, can have no part at all. Telling a story is not like weaving a tapestry to cover up the world, it is rather a way of guiding the attention of listeners or readers into it” (153).
Therefore, indigenous perspectives represent novel ways of perceiving the environment that may have profound significance for present-day environmental decision-making. While much research and global efforts have been made to acknowledge indigenous perspectives, much work is still needed. Misrepresentation of such knowledge and biased scientific narratives continue to marginalize these perspectives. Some of the research I have been involved in works to advocate these perspectives. For example, in a manuscript submitted for publication (Montes, Tshering, & Phuntsho, forthcoming), I have presented the story of Rigo Tsho, a famous lake in the hill country of Haa Dzongkhag (district), Bhutan. In this story, a fantastic cosmological battle ensues that incorporates deities, landscape features, humans, and historic saints. What is important about the story is not necessarily the historicity, but rather the relationships portrayed between the various actors. How are humans positioned within larger cosmological hierarchies with deities and elements of the landscape? What is found is that humans do not have the advantage of power in which they practice dominance over their surroundings. Rather, humans are at the bottom of the hierarchy, relying on the landscape and spiritual beings to protect them. How does such a perspective change environmental management behaviors? First of all, it does not prioritize ‘management’ as a primary task of humans. Instead power differentials are inverted, humans are at the mercy of other natural and spiritual forces and they adopt a new ethic/moral towards their surroundings. What this novel positionality promotes is a set of attitudes towards the environment that contrasts hegemonic perspectives placing humans over and rather places humans within the environment.
Ingold, T. (1993). Temporality of the Landscape. World Archaeology, 25(2), 152-174.
Montes, J., Tshering, S., and Phuntsho, T. (forthcoming). Cosmological Subjectivities: exploring ‘truth’ environmentalities in Haa Highlands.