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Land-use change in a telecoupled world: the relevance and applicability of the telecoupling framework in the case of banana plantation expansion in Laos

Cecilie Friis, IRI THESys, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; Geography Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Jonas Østergaard Nielsen, IRI THESys, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; Geography Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


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Land-use change is increasingly influenced by complex socioeconomic and environmental interactions that transcend spatial, institutional, and temporal scales. These interactions challenge classical place-based land system analysis and require new analytical approaches equipped for tackling processes, flows, and feedbacks over distance. The recently proposed telecoupling framework offers interesting perspectives for bringing place-based and process-oriented research together in the study of land-use change. However, few studies have explored the influence and implications of telecouplings in local land-use changes. One reason for this is that the framework still faces challenges for application in empirical research. Here, we offer a qualitative operationalization of the telecoupling framework to explore its relevance and applicability in a case of local land-use change. Investigating the case of a recent boom in commercial banana cultivation in Luang Namtha Province, Lao PDR, we use a grounded empirical approach starting with the observed land-use change at the village level. We then trace flows and distal processes influencing the conversion to banana cultivation from the perspectives and experiences of the local actors involved. The results identify four prominent material and immaterial telecouplings at various spatial and temporal scales, as well as some potential feedbacks. This complexity points to the need for interdisciplinary research because the processes involved in creating telecoupled land-use change transcend the boundaries of any one discipline. Overall, however, telecoupling presents a strong heuristic lens for examining and describing distal causal relations in land-use change in a manner that does not favor a specific analytical scale or type of interaction.

Key words

case-study research; Chinese investments; distal flows; feedbacks; land systems; land-use change; Laos; qualitative research; telecoupling

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087