Shadow forests – Re-thinking dominant forest cultures in times of emergency

Last changed: 08 September 2023

The purpose of the project is to explore and identify the socio-cultural factors that makes it difficult, and the ones that enables a conversion of Swedish forestry in a transformative direction. And also bring recommendations for how legitimate and fair change processes can be organised.

We are in the middle of a climate and biodiversity crisis where the forest is an important part of the solution. Within the UN's scientific knowledge platforms and in the EU's forest strategy, transformative land use (nature-based forestry such as selective logging) is highlighted as an important solution to the double environmental crisis.

In a country rich with forest, like Sweden, where clear-cutting forestry dominates, the discussion of natural management methods does not only mean that strong economic interests are challenged. It also means that established forestry practices, knowledge, identities and norms are called into question. This arouses concern and resistance, but it also creates new opportunities for landowners and forest-based companies to spread the risks associated with a changing climate, create new income, as well as conditions for a better balance between social, economic and environmental values in the forest.

The project takes its starting point in critical social science environmental research, and the idea that the way we use the forest is a result of socio-cultural structures. Structures that shape and are shaped by the outlook and actions of forestry practitioners; who can make their voices heard; whose knowledge counts, and who has interpretative priority. At the same time, the choice of forestry methods has consequences for people, animals and plants, and creates winners and losers. In this way, forestry is a political practice and a result of power relations there change requires that established approaches, relationships and practices be illustrated and challenged.

Illustrating different experiences and perspectives is important for understanding resistance to transformative forestry, identifying synergies, possible priorities and trade-offs between different forestry perspectives and interests. This knowledge is important in the designing of legitimate and fair change processes where the social, environmental and economic dimensions of the forest are balanced not only rhetorically, but also in forestry practice.

To increase the knowledge about socio-cultural barriers and opportunities for transformative forestry, the project focuses on three specific groups of practices that have a potentially important role in the change process, namely:

  • the young people who work in the various branches of the forest industry (eg machine operators, timber buyers, nature conservation specialists) who can drive change from within their respective organisations;
  • forestry innovators (people who already practice alternative forestry today, or run companies based on, for example, clear-cutting forestry) whose experiences and perspectives as norm-breakers are important to highlight and learn from;
  • forest journalists who write about, for example, alternative forest management methods or review the forest industry in various media (daily press, industry magazines). This group has, through their professional position, the capacity to publicly challenge established socio-cultural structures and influence public opinion. 

The project contributes with in-depth knowledge of how transformative forestry is understood, experienced and can be practised; and it will lead to concrete proposals on how legitimate and fair change processes can be designed. This knowledge is important to identify synergies and legitimate trade-offs between different approaches and forest values, to respond to resistance in a constructive way, and to create acceptance for change. In this way, the project is expected to contribute with important pieces of the puzzle regarding challenges and opportunities with transformative forestry. Puzzle pieces that are essential in order to find new ways out of the climate and biodiversity crisis.


Project leader

Sara Holmgren, Researcher, Division of Environmental Communication, SLU, +4618673804, +46730562619
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Project participants

Ann Grubbström, Associate Professor, Researcher, Division of Environmental Communication, SLU, +4618671848, +46768366280
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Stina Powell, Researcher, Division of Environmental Communication, SLU, +4618672509, +46736291418
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Kornelia Johansson, Doctoral Student, Division of Environmental Communication, SLU, +4618671000
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Project time


External funding

Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development - Formas