A/Prof Kamarul Bahrain Shuib, AILAM
A/Prof Habsah Hashim, APPM
UMRAN conference 2009 “Healing the World”
25 and 26 March 2009
Kulliyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
The purpose of this paper is to present landscape values held by a rural community. The significance of rural landscapes as cultural heritage is dependent upon how people perceive them. Yet, very little is known about rural landscape perception. Because of increasing threat by land and technological development, an understanding of landscape perception will aid in the planning for landscape conservation strategies. A study was undertaken to map landscape values held by a community in Kedah, Malaysia. The perceptions of the community were studied using Qmethodology with photographs of the landscape. There was a distinct difference in the way the community perceived rural landscape. Some valued their place to earn a living while others chose places that were used for recreation, culture and nature space. While there were significant differences, there were also common values held by the community. Scenery, ecological systems and sustainable development were their shared values. Policy should recognise the differences and similarities in landscape values held by the public in conservation planning. The research shows that both tangible and intangible properties of rural landscapes are highly valued by people.
Keywords: heritage landscape, landscape values, Qmethodology.
The significance or otherwise of rural landscape as a cultural heritage is dependent upon people’s perception or values of such places. Yet there is a surprising lack of understanding of how peoples’ perception could help define the meaning of heritage significance for such places in conservation planning.
In the past, the process of identification of heritage values of a place is by inventorying the historical and visual material evidence of the landscape. Thereafter very specific kinds of planning and management guidelines are developed for their conservation. Often this type of heritage evaluation and assessment might involve looking at an individual element within a given place. While such an approach could offer important data on certain aspects of a historical site, their applicability on a wider scale such as rural landscape might omit hard-to-define values inherent in the broader landscape, which when looking at a setting would present a ‘sense of identity’ or distinctiveness about the place.
The study of landscape or place meanings can offer valuable insights about the tangible and intangible meanings of place attributed through human perception. Through the application of both physical inventory and the exploration of human perceptual models that is focused upon a place, information on heritage and cultural values can be identified, understood and compared. This initial step of understanding the values of rural landscape could reduce the risk of destroying the ‘sense of place’ that has evolved through the presence of humans in the landscape over time. What is even more surprising is the fact that management has tended to ignore this ‘sense of identity’ that has drawn visitors and outsiders to such landscapes in the first place.
Hence, an understanding of the perceptions of various people associated with rural landscapes will aid in the development of strategies for their conservation and integration into broad patterns of use.
2. Landscape perception research
Research on landscape perception and evaluation has engaged the interests of many professions and disciplines including psychology, environmental studies, landscape architecture, forestry, geography and recreation (Zube et al., 1982; Williams and Stewart, 1998; Williams and Patterson, 1999). These arrays of landscape research interests were mainly in response to the
legislative requirements brought about during the 1960s in the UK and the USA to mitigate impacts brought by humans on the environment. However, most of these legislations as Zube (1987) has previously argued have ignored the positive impacts of human-environment relationship. With improved knowledge and the multi-disciplinary nature and approach to landscape research has brought about better understanding of humans’ positive relationship with the environment. Thus landscape research has been brought into the mainstream of environmental management concerns that involve both humans’ negative and positive impacts.
Landscape meanings have been frequently discussed in the literature (Lennon, 2006), and some cultures do not even have a word for it (Phillips, 2002). Many scholars and researchers of landscape have since attempted to study the meaning of landscape and its relationship to their research disciplines. Within landscape research, there have also been attempts to study how humans shaped their environment and the resultant outcomes of the interaction between culture and nature. Here, humans have been accepted and viewed as an agent of change that has always shaped their environment in relation to their surroundings, place and time. One of the disciplines that do this is cultural geography. They have tried to identify and understand the environment from the perspective of how humans have impacted their landscape from the socio-cultural perspectives. According to a cultural geographer, Meinig (1979a) there is a difference between the term environment and landscape. He described environment as
− an inherent property of every living thing, it is that which surrounds and sustains; we are always environed, always enveloped by an outer world. In contrast he described landscape as
− less inclusive, more detached, not so directly part of our organic being. Landscape is defined by our vision and interpreted by our minds. It is a panorama, which continuously changes as we move along any route. Strictly speaking, we are never in it, it lies before our eyes and it becomes real only as we become conscious of it. (Meinig 1979a, p. 3).
One example of a recent international definition of landscape that has emerged to differentiate landscape from the environment was adopted in Europe. The European Landscape Convention (European Council, 2000) defines landscape as an area
− as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors. The term “landscape” is thus defined as a zone or area as perceived by local people or visitors, whose visual features and character are the results of the action of natural and/or cultural (that is, human) factors. This definition reflects the idea that landscapes evolve through time, as a result of being acted upon by natural forces and human beings. It also underlines that a landscape forms a whole, whose natural and cultural components are taken together, not separately. (European Council, 2000, p. 1)
There are of course other definitions of landscape depending upon the disciplines and research focus. Clearly, from the above examples, it can be said that landscape can be interpreted as a physical entity or landform that was a result of human occupation upon nature; that landscape is a social construction of the human mind about a place.
The study area is in Kedah, Malaysia. It is abundant in agricultural, natural and cultural resources (Figure 1). The landscape is characterised by a distinct flat plain in the middle ground, where paddies are grown and is surrounded by mangrove and nipah forests in the background. The kampongs are scattered throughout the area. The region is bordered in the south by the Muda River, in the north by the Merbok River and in the west by the Straits of Malacca. The two rivers from the mountain range, which forms the eastern boundary, meander gently through the landscape and into the sea.
Two different samples are relevant to this study. One is the sample of the landscape and the other is the sample of the respondents. For the research to produce valid results it was important to choose the correct or most appropriate sample of the landscape. It was also important to ensure that the respondent sample was sufficiently representative. This study has used Qmethodology. Q methodology allows the subjective information collected from the respondents to be quantified using statistical analysis that can then be described and interpreted in ways that reflect individual or group viewpoints about such experience (Brown, 1980; Mc Keown and Thomas, 1988; Van Exel and Graaf, 2005).
The Q process is designed for a systematic arrangement of responses in a format that allows respondents to input their answers into a structure similar to a Likert-scale. Somewhat different to the scaling method, where a respondent usually responds in a linear fashion from a numeric value of say 1 (lowest value) to 5 (highest value), this method replicates an inverted normal distribution curve.
A respondent has to place the photograph beginning from the left or the right side of the chart and follows through until he or she finishes in the middle of the chart. The responder can of course begin at any point he or she wishes. Another important dimension of this technique is that because of the nature of the force-distribution, so intended by the creator of Q-method (Brown, 1980), the respondents will have to discriminate their choices and make decisions relative to all photographs.
The criteria for IUCN’s Protected Landscape Guidelines of the World Conservation Union (Phillips, 2002) were used in the selection of landscape images. The final list of photographs is listed in Table 1.
There were 60 respondents who were recruited for the landscape perception study. The majority of the respondents were male (72%). In terms of age, more than a quarter of the respondents (27.4%) were between the ages of 40 and 49. The lack of representation from the younger generation from among the community, notably the age group of between 15 and 29 years old, was probably due to the way that this study recruited the respondents. The open invitation process and the willingness to participate were key factors in determining the responses from the younger residents.
All the respondents’ data have been analysed together. The methodological procedure that was employed enabled the photographs perception ratings to be subjected to Q analysis. This procedure allowed for a systematic output of diverse viewpoints or judgment of respondents into distinct factors or themes. These themes, for the purpose of this research, are described as ‘Valued Landscapes’ because they represent beliefs or perceptions of rural landscape that are similarly valued (positively or negatively) by the community.
Each of the themes is factorially distinct from the others. These themes are interpreted based upon the characteristics and selection of photographs as sorted by respondents, detailed interviews about the choice of photographs and additional information they provided in the survey sheet.
Valued Landscape of the Community
Theme 1: Historical and Past Meanings
Theme 2: Sustenance Meanings
Theme 3: Broad Landscape Setting
Theme 4: Links Nature and Culture
This theme that comprises 18 respondents has selected as their top-five photographs the old fortress in town, the typical Malay house, the historical feature in town and the house that was converted into a heritage museum (Figure 2). The theme also contained a photograph that showed the paddy field, kampongs and hill setting, which was a common feature in a rural landscape.
The group also strongly believed that the remnants of history must be conserved and protected. Interviews with them have confirmed that this group most valued the landscape because of the historical elements, archaeological relics and strong rooting of their past. For example, they suggested that the local history is to be made available by presenting it to the public.
Demographically, there were 13 males and 5 females’ respondents who were associated with Theme 1. In terms of employment, the males were involved in a variety of occupations while 4 of the females who belonged in this group were housewives and one was an ex-teacher. For the male respondents, there was no distinct occupation type, with approximately equal numbers who were farmers, fishermen and ex-army category. The ages of the males varied but most of them were in the upper bracket between 40 and 70 years old.
Theme 2 represented another dimension of rural landscape meanings as expressed by the second group of respondents. Interpretations of their top-five photographs selection suggested that this group valued tangible properties like the fish market as a point of interest to the local community and also as a symbolic feature for the local community (Figure 3). Other examples of tangibility were the traditional form of marketing, fishermen returning from the sea and the drying of salt fish. The interpretation of this last photograph suggested that whatever fish that were left over could be dried and sold to supplement the family’s income.
Despite using the local resources to make ends meet, they perceived the local heritage to have an important value for present as well as future generations. They suggested that it was important to keep the traditional Malay house and the local sport alive.
Individuals who were closely aligned to this perception consisted of twelve (12) males and eight (8) females. Six (6) of the male respondents were fishermen while seven of the female respondents were housewives.
Theme 3: The third group has chosen their top-five photographs as those that defined landscape values in broader and general landscape settings. Interpretation on their choice of photographs suggested that this group valued scenery of large landscape or panoramic view.
For example, they highly valued photographs that showed a landscape scene with kampongs and hills (Figure 4). Photograph scene of the forest mangroves along the shoreline was also highly rated by this group.
Demographically, there were seven local residents who were represented in this group that consisted of 6 males and 1 female. The males were of mixed-type jobs like taxi driver, farmer, ex-army, self-employed and security guard while the only female in the group was a housewife.
Figure 4 Theme 3: Broad Landscape Setting
The final theme was defined by the cluster of individuals who characterised the rural landscape by their strong liking or values of both the natural and cultural features. All 15 respondents aligned to this theme have chosen the top-five photographs that showed nature, recreation and the past as their most valued landscapes (Figure 5).
Statistically, this group comprised of 12 males and 3 females. Fifty percent (50) of the male respondents were farmers and fishermen while another fifty percent has a mixed-type of occupations. Two (2) females were housewives while the other one was a trader.
Shared Landscape Values
Although the process showed distinct differences in the value orientation of the 4 sub groups there was also total agreement about six landscapes represented by the photographs. This is to say that all respondents perceived those photographs similarly and thus are considered to share similar values about the six landscapes. Therefore the six photographs were not represented in any of the groups themes.
For example, interpretation of results suggested that all 60 respondents chose the photograph of paddy field during growing season among their top-rated photographs. They all viewed positively that the paddy field was a state and local identity that should not be destroyed.
Summary of Valued Landscape Properties
The results of this study show that there were different properties and ways on how people are attracted to and valued their landscapes. For example, as a distinct cultural group who lived and worked in rural environments for a long time, the community value local history and the past, landscapes that provide a source of living, broad rural landscape setting and some aspects that link nature and culture. Clearly these landscapes that they value represent both tangible and intangible properties of rural landscape. Therefore these landscape types that are mapped by the four distinct groups within the community represent their most significant and valued landscapes (Table 2).
In addition to the above findings, the results have also shown that all 60 stakeholders that represent the four themes of the community valued the photograph that showed the scenery of the rice field during growing season. This aspect of rural landscape (traditional farm settings which were the results of the work of humans upon nature) is a shared value agreed by them.
There are differences and similarities in the way rural community perceive the Kuala Muda landscape. They believe in the need to maintain and where degradation has occurs to restore rural landscape characteristics together with its natural and cultural values. Looking at the intergroup perspective, the findings showed that all 60 permanent residents highly valued the scene of large expanse of rice fields during growing season. The Q analysis showed that this image is represented as a shared value of all of the intragroups within the community. They perceive that this landscape property symbolises the state and Malay identity and that this property must be maintained.
At the same time one group generally believes that rural community must be seen to be given better access to the use of natural resources to sustain their living. The group also believes that the use of natural resources will not significantly impact their landscape. Although this perception is not commonly shared in intragroup perspective, this group strongly believes that local resources provided them the opportunity to continue living and working in rural landscape as fishermen, livestock breeders and farmers. The fact that 20 respondents represented Theme 2: Sustenance Meanings - the largest group within the survey group strongly suggests that they value their landscape mainly as a living and working place. They also felt that opportunities for access to resources have been dwindling in recent years. This was probably due to the lack of government support and unclear directions of agricultural, rural and regional development policies.
The concept of ‘place identity’ as reviewed in the literature (Kaltenborn and Bjerke, 2002; Brown, 2005) relates landscape perception to actual places where people have interacted with and give meanings to such places. What the community perceived as valuable were in fact landscape properties that constitute the identity of Kuala Muda rural landscape. Despite the community’s value orientation that distinguishes them from, or associate them with, one subgroup with the other the landscape values and meanings they bring to rural landscape needed further understanding, evaluation and attention by the government. This is because if rural landscape is to have any significance as a cultural heritage as discovered by the National Physical Planning Council (Malaysian Government 2005) the authority needs to understand what makes rural landscape special and valuable. By understanding these various landscape meanings from stakeholders the government is better prepared to mitigate negative impacts and promote positive values to sustain rural identity.
Cultural landscape conservation researchers as such Hamin (2001), Villalon (2004) and Lennon (2006) have cautioned that this ‘sense of place’ is a holistic concept that binds rural landscape in its form and function. Much like its urban counterpart, there are problems and challenges in understanding its ‘sense of identity’ as Lynch (1960) argued in his book, The Image of the City.
Rural landscape must therefore need community support and government backing in terms of interpretation, definition and legal mechanism if rural characteristics are to be maintained and presented for conservation, tourism and sustainable development. Villalon (2004), citing the World’s first cultural landscape site in Asia as an example, warned that despite attaining World Heritage status for cultural landscape, the Philippines’ rice terraces and the native tribal rural villages, north of the country, faced considerable management problems because the authority and the community have different understanding of the cultural landscape conservation terminology. Secondly the villagers in the World Heritage site have given up their rural lives and wanted to migrate to urban areas for better living.
By discouraging rural communities to participate in their day-to-day living runs counter to the positive activities that have created this core landscape value.
The community has their special landscapes and what they believe are properties that are under threat. These perceptions of important landscapes are dependent on the way certain issues are being brought up and presented in the media and the impact these issues have on the community and landscape. For example, the community highly valued mangroves along riverside and nipah trees along coastline. This is not surprising as these tangible landscapes were seen to be very effective as a natural buffer from the tsunami waves in 2004.
The research finding highlights the need to apply both the physical landscape assessment method and the landscape perception method in landscape conservation studies, particularly with regards to rural heritage landscape protection. In developed societies where information on perceptions that are held by cultures is published continuously, there might not be a major problem to conduct a landscape assessment study. For example, perceptions that are derived from historical records, paintings, published works, influential persons, artists, the arts and literature could informed and shaped public landscape perceptions. Therefore, the landscape assessment process is the dominant approach in studies of landscape conservation.
However for countries where they were once under a series of colonial rules like Malaysia, public landscape perceptions were influenced by imported events or brought in by colonial thought. Thus, when these nations gained independence, research must begin to understand societies’ perceptions through empirical studies such as community perception of landscape values.
Media report has shown that people tend to become vocal and will communicate publicly when certain properties of the landscape that have strong values and identities to them are under threat (Zuraina, 2006). Similarly the significant emphasis on natural landscapes given by the stakeholders suggests that they have strong memories of recent events and experiences on the tsunami disaster and how natural vegetation has helped reduce the impact of tsunami on the villages. The diversity of rural landscape values (themes) as perceived to be significant by the community suggests that, in the past, such diversified landscape values would not have been possibly perceived through an issue/goal-directed approach (Lennon, 2006). This approach, as discussed in landscape perception research as one of the four landscape paradigms (Zube et al., 1982), usually responses to only one specific goal or issue.
Therefore this finding supports previous studies that the significance of a place is better understood by approaching the landscape through a value- or experiential- based (Tuan, 1977; Zube and Pitt, 1981; Taylor, 1999; Lennon, 2006). This approach is necessary because many significant properties of the landscape would have been ignored and recede in the background if a landscape (place) is viewed through a goal-oriented approach, for example, if the goal is to provide for recreation opportunities.
This study has also found rural community value both tangible and intangible properties of landscape such as historical elements, archaeological sites, and strong rooting of their past. These properties are valued as important landscapes that need protection if they are interpreted as threatened. What the findings could not identify is that how much value stakeholders place upon tangible properties over intangible ones and vice verse.
The findings have also highlighted that stakeholder’s landscape values whether they are most or least valued are tied to actual places. The past practice of identifying heritage values of a place by mainly inventorying the historical and visual material evidence of the landscape is therefore challenged. The findings have demonstrated that through the application of a human perceptual model based on a place, information on heritage and values of rural landscape can be identified, understood and compared.
Overall, the findings of the study expand the current conceptualisation of ‘sense of place’ and ‘place attachment’ and suggest that the current measurement of significance or values in heritage conservation practice may not do justice to the complexities of rural stakeholders’ connection to rural landscapes.
The results of this study emphasised the connection through the meanings and values stakeholders placed on rural cultural landscape. However, the research findings cannot necessarily be inferred to a larger population. This is because, as this research has demonstrated, landscape values are very much dependent on the perception of the stakeholders and that ‘landscape’ is not a static but is a dynamic entity. Although landscape has specific properties that are shaped by humans they are the product of human social construction.
This research supports the findings by other researchers (Taylor, 1988; Lennon, 1997) that rural landscape values extend beyond tangible individual sites and components in the landscape. The notion that landscape can be interpreted as the sum total of components of the whole is rejected. The findings show that the community have characterised the cultural landscape as a complex entity imbued with meanings that transcend individual backgrounds.
The study concludes that landscape has a social construct. The findings have indicated that people can ascribe meanings to landscape and those meanings have shared values along definable themes or dimensions. This study was designed to uncover meanings and values out of people’s diverse perception or values about a phenomenon.
While this result was consistent with other studies with specific goals such as on public perception of rural landscapes for ecosystem management (Stein et. al, 1999) and community values of high country landscape for resource management (Fairweather and Swaffield, 2004), this study can be described as the ‘end of the beginning’- the initial understanding about the role of community values in conservation planning and management. Thus it is concluded that such investigations will be helpful in determining approaches to landscape conservation planning.
Brown, G 2005, 'Mapping spatial attributes in survey research for natural resource management: methods and applications', Society & Natural Resources, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 1-23.
Brown, SR 1980, Political Subjectivity: applications of Q methodology in political science, Yale University Press, New Haven.
European Council 2000, European Landscape Convention, updated 30 May 2006, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, viewed 13 June 2006,
Fairweather, JR & Swaffield, SR 2004, Public perceptions of outstanding natural landscapes in the Auckland Region, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand, p. xiv+83pp.
Hamin, EM 2001, 'The US National Park Service's partnership parks: collaborative responses to middle landscapes', Land Use Policy, vol. 18, pp. 123-135.
Kaltenborn, BP & Bjerke, T 2002, 'Associations between landscape preferences and place attachment: a study in Roros, Southern Norway', Landscape Research, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 381-396.
Lennon, JL 1997, Case study of the cultural landscapes of the Central Victorian goldfields, Australia: state of the environment technical paper series (natural and cultural heritage), Department of the Environment, Canberra, p. 53.
Lennon, JL 2006, 'Cultural heritage management', in Managing Protected Areas: a global guide, eds. M Lockwood, GL Worboys & A Kothari, Earthscan, London, pp. 448-473.
Lynch, K 1960, The Image of the City, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Malaysian Government 2005, National Physical Plan, Federal Department of Town and Country Planning Ministry of Housing and Local Government, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
McKeown, B & Thomas, D 1988, Q Methodology, Sage Publications Inc., Newbury Park, CA.
Meinig, DW (ed.) 1979, The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes, Oxford University Press, New York.
Phillips, A 2002, Management guidelines for IUCN category V protected areas: Protected landscapes/ seascapes, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
Stein, TV, Anderson, DH & Kelly, T 1999, 'Using stakeholders' values to apply ecosystem management in the Upper Midwest landscape', Environmental Management, vol. 24, no. 3, Online date: Feb 19, 2004, pp. 399-413.
Taylor, K 1988, 'Cultural landscapes: meanings and heritage values', School of Environmental Planning, unpublished Master of Landscape Architecture thesis, University of Melbourne.
Taylor, K 1999, 'Reconciling aesthetic value and social value: dilemmas of interpretation and application', APT Bulletin, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 51-55.
Tuan, Y-F 1977, Space and Place: the perspective of experience, Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd., London.
Van Exel, N & Graaf, Gd 2005, Q Methodology: a sneak preview, viewed 8 June 2005,
Villalon, A 2004, 'World Heritage inscription and challenges to the survival of community life in Philippine cultural landscapes', in The Protected Landscape Approach: linking nature, culture and community, eds. J Brown, N Mitchell & M Beresford, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK, pp. 93-105.
Williams, DR & Patterson, ME 1999, 'Environmental Psychology: mapping landscape meanings for ecosystem management', in Integrating Social Sciences with Ecosystem Management: human dimensions in assessment, policy and management, eds. HK Cordell & JC Bergstrom, Sagamore Press, Champaign, Il, pp. 141-160.
Williams, DR & Stewart, SI 1998, 'Sense of place: an elusive concept that is finding a home in ecosystem management', Journal of Forestry, vol. 96, no. 5, 1 May 1998, pp. 18-23.
Zube, EH & Pitt, DG 1981, 'Cross-cultural perceptions of scenic and heritage landscapes', Landscape Planning, vol. 8, pp. 69-87.
Zube, EH, Sell, JL & Taylor, JG 1982, 'Landscape perception: research, application and theory', Landscape Planning, vol. 9, pp. 1-33.
Zube, EH 1987, 'Perceived land use patterns and landscape values', Landscape Ecology, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 37-45.
Zuraina, M 2006, 'Bok House lost authenticity for heritage listing', New Straits Times, 25 Dec 2006.
Note: Tables and Photographs has been removed due to incompatble formatting.