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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

The shifting society syndrome: Values, baselines, and Swedish forest conservation in the 1930s and 2010s

Jonsson, Jimmy; Marald, Erland; Lundmark, Tomas


This study addresses a response to shifting baseline syndrome (SBS), a syndrome implying that land managers' acceptance of environmental change declines gradually due to lack of historical knowledge. Some actions to counteract SBS are haunted by methodological problems associated with measuring natural states and ignoring societal effects on ideas of naturalness. To balance methodological discussions of SBS, this study analyzes the social contexts of baseline demarcations historically. It compares baselines in two Swedish forest conservation debates-about the Fiby forest in the 1930s and the Ojnare forest in the 2010s-focusing on scalable and unscalable values. To operationalize shifting societal criteria for baseline demarcations, we introduce the "shifting society syndrome" concept. The study identifies several societal shifts and shows that Fiby's baseline was shaped by the scalable value of age and the nonscalable values of uniqueness and Swedishness, and Ojnare's by the scalable value of biodiversity and the nonscalable values of uniqueness and wildness. We argue that values, scalability, and historical change are crucial variables in the practice of demarcating baselines and that intellectual history is a useful tool for methodological self-reflection in SBS research.


Fiby; forest conservation; forest history; naturalness; Ojnare; scalability; shifting baseline syndrome; values

Published in

Conservation science and practice
2021, volume: 3, number: 10, article number: e506
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Jönsson, Jimmy
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Marald, Erland
Umea University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science

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