LRG Annual Lecture 2012

The second lecture in the new LRG Annual Lecture series was held on Thursday 6th December 2012 at the Landscape Institute, Charles Darwin House, 12 Roger Street, WC1N 2JU. The evening began at 6.30pm, and was followed by a wine reception at 8.00pm.

This year’s speakers were:

Prof Peter Howard, Visiting Professor of Cultural Landscape, Bournemouth University

Dr Ian Thomson, Reader in Landscape Architecture, University of Newcastle

Dr Emma Waterton, Institute for Culture and Society, University of Western Sydney

This year, the aim of the Annual Lecture was to celebrate the publication of The Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies (published by Routledge, 2012). This volume includes over thirty original chapters written by experts from the continents of Europe, North America and Australia. The book provides a critical review of the fields that study landscape, attending to the current state of knowledge in theory and practice. It was written with an intent to encourage dialogue across disciplines and amongst academics and professionals while informing policy in the UK and the EU, and was edited by Peter, Ian and Emma.

The presentation was divided into three parts:

Peter Howard opened with a personal attempt to comprehend the concepts of landscape among various disciplines, partly from an autobiographical perspective. From an understanding of landscape as historical revelation, the events of fifty years involved meeting the concept of aesthetic vision, and later with the concept of extensive scale. The European Landscape Convention attempted a reconciliation by its emphasis on landscape as a human right, and its extension beyond the visual. This has resulted in great emphasis on the ordinary meanings given to ordinary places by ordinary people. This developing concept of landscape is focussed on the activities of everyday life, experienced with all the senses. Contrasting intellectual writing with the landscape needs of communities, however, highlights the danger of the landscape concept becoming so intellectualised as to remove it from daily discourse. One challenge for the future is to find ways of balancing people’s rights to landscape not with the rights of landowners, as in the past, but with the agenda of landscape scientists and conservationists.

Emma Waterton followed with reflections upon post-phenomenological theories and an examination of those recent developments within the field that are concerned with those senses of ‘the now’ – the ‘onflow’ of everyday life, as Thrift (2008) puts it – often left neglected by conventional understandings of landscape. Here, the idea of ‘everyday’ performance was foregrounded as a series of sensory and affective acts that take place in the present. What this lends to the field is a vigorous and distinct way of conceptualising landscape in terms of the body, practice and performativity, together with an insistence that our engagements with it occur through a range of embodied dispositions and interactions. In other words, it insists that we, as researchers, become more attentive to different possibilities for knowing and doing landscape, including the ways in which it makes sense or answers back to a fuller range of people.

Ian Thompson offered the final part of the presentation, which considered three of the cross-cutting themes of the volume: performativity, the nature-culture hybrid and the sense of a world in crisis. Performance theory regards the landscape as process rather than object, which has implications for planners and designers. Landscape architects and urbanists see their role as preparing fields for action and stages for performances. Underlying all of this, is a sense that human beings are co-creators of the world. In the field of environmental ethics, the debate whether nature was valuable because human beings enjoyed it or was valuable for its own sake is largely over. We live in the anthropocene age where it makes little sense to distinguish between a natural and a humanized world. For better or worse, it is human destiny to shape nature and create environment. Stewardship is back in fashion. Adding urgency to contemporary debates is a prevailing sense of crisis with the terrifying spectre of climate change hanging over the whole issue. Producing, evaluating and articulating future visions is an enterprise in which all landscape researchers should be actively involved.

Links to videos of the lecture are  available below:

Part 1: Peter Howard

Part 2: Emma Waterton

Part 3: Ian Thompson

The lecture launched the edited collection, The Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies, the details of which can be found here.

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