By Ágnes Balázsi
How were social and institutional shifts of the last century perceived by communities of rural areas in Transylvania and how have those changes influenced the connectedness of locals with nature and their landscapes? – These were the starting research questions in our case studies carried out in 2017 in Erdővidék and Aranyosszék. The answers were revealed to us because locals shared stories about their perceptions on landscape changes and confessions about inner connections to nature.
In our recently published paper we distinguished four major governance eras that have influenced human-nature connections:
(1) formal and informal institutional governance after the World Wars and before socialism (before 1947), (2) top-down governance during socialism (1947–1989),
(3) during sovereign state governance and transition to European Union (1990–2006), and
(4) multilevel governance since European Union accession (after 2007).
The two areas were similar at the beginning of the 20th century, but developed differently in their intensity of landscape management in the 21st century.
Fig. 1. Timeline of social-ecological system changes as described by local interviewees. The figure shows big events in Romanian history above the timeline. Below, we outline the four eras that our respondents talk about, and summarise the perceived broad changes in social-ecological systems.
Our conclusions of this study were that material connections have weakened as a result of changes in food production and rising consumerism. Experiential and emotional connections were influenced by socio-economic and landscape management changes. Cognitive connections reflected changes in the knowledge system on the environment. Philosophical connection was influenced by changes in ideologies and globalization. Our findings highlight the central influence of social and institutional change on perceived human-nature connectedness. Understanding this influence provides important pointers for how to reconnect humanity to nature in the coming decades.