Characterizing culture’s influence in land systems

Related GLP Member: Leonie Hodel, Yann le Polain de Waroux, Rachael Garrett

Editor's note: This project is a follow-up of a workshop at the Global Land Program Open Science meeting in Bern, Switzerland, in 2019.


Group-shared attributes, coded in cultural systems, heavily influence how land is used. Despite recent advances in behavioural theory, the central role of culture in land-use decision-making and linked sustainability outcomes is underexplored. We expanded on institutional analysis and system-dynamics frameworks to analyse 66 studies that causally link culture to land use. We found that most studies focus on norms, practices, values or meanings. These can lead actors to maintain a particular land use, which is coded into cultural systems, adding to the land system’s resilience. Internal group events or changes in structural factors can also lead to shifting norms and values, changing land use or destabilizing systems, leading to new system dynamics or resistance to new feedbacks. Our findings further link cultural underpinnings of land systems to positive and negative sustainability outcomes. We call for further research on the role of culture in land-system dynamics.