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The Routledge Companion to Landscape StudiesReview - The Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies
by Peter Howard, Ian Thompson and Emma Waterton
Routledge, 2013
Review by Diana Soeiro
May 12th 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 20)

Board members of the Landscape Research Group edit this handbook, “a non-profit organisation set up in the 1960s to encourage […] the cooperation across academic frontiers, as well as to enhance the dialogue between researchers and practitioners”. (p.2) The Group also owns and produces the peer-reviewed journal Landscape Research, published by Routlege.

A quick index consultation makes it very clear on what the book is about and also the range it covers. It features four parts (Experiencing landscape; Landscape, culture and heritage; Landscape, society and justice; Design, and planning for landscape), 39 chapters and 51 contributing authors. We can easily grasp it is an ambitious book. But what is its goal and what does it achieve?

 

A TRANS-DISCIPLINARY APPROACH

We find the answer in Marc Antrop’s Introduction chapter, where he provides us a brief history of landscape research, highlighting that by the late 1990s we had different research areas working particular aspects of landscape and each seemed to have its’ “proper definitions, concepts and methods, but a full interdisciplinary integration was lacking”. (p.17) Early in the 2000s it became evident that there was a ‘landscape crisis’ and “a sole academic interdisciplinary approach was insufficient to cope with all issues related to landscape in society”. (p.17) Stakeholders, insiders and lay-people had to be involved and a trans-disciplinary approach grew. The importance of shared definitions and concepts is particularly relevant not only for a better legislative integration of landscape related issues, but also to promote and encourage policy-oriented research. The book, therefore, aims to contribute to create a full interdisciplinary integration on landscape. The fact that it does not present a nostalgic view of landscape is perhaps one of its most important features when manifested in its full trans-disciplinary approach.

The book aims to provide state-of-the-art information on each topic that has developed from a common subject: landscape. Its range and variety of topics, when put all together in one single volume makes it evident that what we are dealing with is perhaps bigger than we could ever imagine. Also, that landscape is a more complex and difficult subject since it is something that is not exclusively perceived, but more significantly, it is something that is managed.

 

PROPER DIAGNOSIS: AN OVERVIEW: HOW TO SOLVE A ‘LANDSCAPE CRISIS’?

This book helps us to prepare for the future by presenting us where matters stand when it comes to landscape. If previously we were confronted with a ‘landscape crisis’, that needs to be attended to and claims for a solution, then first, we have to make a proper diagnosis. To be confronted with a ‘landscape crisis’ is to realize that landscape urgently needs to be managed. How? Before finding a solution (that concerns to many), this handbook, aims to provide us with the material that will allow us to make a proper diagnosis, concerning each topic, indicating subsequently how can we move forward. It does not provides us with a synthesis of the multi-layered approach to landscape, on the contrary, it scatters and dwells on each of landscape’s many layers.

Still, what is at first perceived in the index as a scattering-approach on the subject of landscape, after reading all 39 chapters, many concerns, concepts, references and similar perspectives converge. The way in which they converge, and in what way does one want to shape that convergence, it is an important input that the reader should not renounce to, because this flexibility to adapt, and be useful to many, is one of the book’s strengths (whether you are an academic, policy-maker or concerned citizen). If you only read a few chapters, you are missing out on something that is relevant to your area — and not only to the area you think a specific chapter is relevant to.

 

PRESSING IDEAS FOR THE FUTURE OF LANDSCPAE STUDIES

In part 1, Experiencing landscape, I would highlight the idea expressed by Werner Krauss (Ch.6) that “landscape studies always had a more or less hidden environmental agenda” (p.79) and it has to step towards a greater pragmatism (p.84) establishing “which form of intervention is adequate for a specific problem, what is acceptable for the public and feasible for politics” (p.85). A similar claim is made by Sue Kidd (Ch.31) who states that there is a gap between theory and practice, claiming for landscape perspectives to be “formally incorporated into statutory development plans or influencing development control decision making” (p.378) Nevertheless, for this to happen, firstly, it is very important to acknowledge that there are different legal and administrative families in Europe and, secondly, that landscape is becoming more than statutory encompassing also ‘softer’ planning areas.

The reminder that there are different families in Europe when it comes to landscape is crucial in the sense that it is a cautionary reminder that there is a risk to generalize excessively landscape criteria and goals, turning them into prejudices that will be applied to all countries.  Therefore, there is a risk to apply those principles to non-European countries (as Divya P. Tolia-Kelly warns us, Ch.28, p.331) and also, for example, the risk to apply a UK/ Ireland landscape approach to a different administrative family (identified by Kidd) like Spain and Belgium. Eurocentrism and UK-centrism when it comes to landscape studies, is something to be aware of, due to Europe’s past imperial history and to the dominance of the English language in academic circles.

That is why it is crucial that each country is allowed to make its own evaluation process, in order to be able to build a solid ground in which theory comes to practice, case by case. What is it that is valued and which hierarchy is established in order to accomplish a determined goal, is crucial to take decisions that affect landscape. (Peter Herring, Ch.14) Landscape and value is an important relation that will allow each country to engage in its own process, free of prejudices.

This process of assessing value is highly relevant because as Gunhild Setten and Katarina Myrvang Brown state (Ch.21) landscape and social justice is an everyday experience. So there is a sense of justice in how space is ordered, that order should be in tune with a country’s values. (The relation between landscape and law finds an excellent approach in Kenneth R. Olwig’s chapter, Ch. 22). Public participation can perhaps take a role in this but, strangely enough, though public participation was taken within a Western context, having started initially in the South, in the West, it became “surprisingly undercritical and apolitical” (p.246). The authors therefore claim that there has been an excessive emphasis in the local and inward looking approach and that landscape should have a more in depth, relational approach. (Ch.29 also dwells on public participation).

Mattias Qviström (Ch.36) claims for a more in depth study of the concept of peri-urban (“griddle around the city outside its suburbs”, p.427) which I consider to be highly relevant to the future of landscape studies, connecting the rapid growth of cities and the need to maintain “natural” areas, whether it is for agricultural, recreational, conservational or ecological reasons. The author claims for a symmetrical city/ country analysis that considers the city as a driving force along with a “dramatic restructuring and globalisation of agriculture and forestry”. (p.435)

 

SUMMARY

The book does present state-of-the-art information on landscape studies, particularly when it comes to the United Kingdom and Ireland, and it is very persuasive in order to make us realize that in order to go forward, a trans-disciplinary approach is needed.  The most pressing ideas are relevant for any non-European country and for any administrative European landscape family: pragmatism and a claim for a closer connection between theory and practice; against Eurocentrism and UK-centrism in landscape studies; landscape as an everyday value and expression of social justice; and the use of the peri-urban concept in order to achieve a city/country symmetry. It is clear that landscape studies are key to assure our survival, physical and emotional well-being, and we hope that our high expectations on its’ results are fulfilled. Because it demands the development of complex management skills, and a trans-disciplinary approach, it is an area with a high potential for growth where there is much to be done.

 

© 2015 Diana Soeiro

 

Diana Soeiro. Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Philosophy at NOVA Institute of Philosophy /IFILNOVA at Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal). Updated information: www.linkedin.com/in/DianaSoeiro


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