Changing Approaches to the Future in Swedish Forestry, 1850–2010

in Nature and Culture
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  • 1 Umeå University erland.marald@umu.se
  • 2 SLU erik.westholm@slu.se
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ABSTRACT

This article explores the changing construction of the future in Swedish forestry since 1850. The framework is based on three concepts: (1) knowability, addressing changing views of knowledge; (2) governability, addressing changing views of the ability to steer the future; and (3) temporality, referring to varying ways of relating to time. The results reveal that until the 1980s, trust in science-based forestry triggered other knowledge-based activities, such as education, surveys, and field trials. The future was seen as predictable and forecasts were expected to support increased forest production. In the 1970s, the environmental debate about the forest incorporated a pluralistic futures agenda. High-production forestry using intensive management methods was questioned. Futures studies shifted focus from predictions to scenarios, highlighting a less predictable future open to human agency. Paradoxically, with increased knowledge of forest ecology and forest markets with improved modeling techniques, the future horizon shifted to one of risks and uncertainties.

Contributor Notes

Erland Mårald is a professor of the history of science and ideas at Umeå University, Sweden. His research lies at the intersection between environmental history and the history of science and technology, including interdisciplinary research about forestry, agriculture, biofuels, and environmental thinking. Address: Umeå University, Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, 901 87 Umeå, Sweden. E-mail: erland.marald@umu.se.

Erik Westholm is a geographer, and professor at the SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) and at Högskolan Dalarna. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board on Sustainable Development for the Swedish Government and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Forestry and agriculture, KSLA. Westholm has been engaged in many roles in social environmental research, focused on long-term strategic issues at the Institute for Futures studies, Stockholm, then heading the strategic research platform Future Agriculture at the SLU. His current research explores the future itself as a scientific field: how it is used in the struggle over natural resources. Address: Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences, Department for Urban and Rural Development, Box 7070, 750 07 Uppsala, Sweden. E-mail: erik.westholm@slu.se.

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