Back to Basics

To be productive, and to mix things up, like a mixologist, this I’ll take a look at a guide to how to do landscape research. Of course, it’s not the only guide there is, nor should it be taken as the guide to landscape research, but I like it because I find myself more or less in agreement with its contents. Anyway, so, this time I’ll be looking at Richard Schein’s book chapter that’s called ‘Cultural Landscapes’.

Schein (222-223) opens up by explicitly defining (cultural) landscape, noting that, on one hand, it is very much material, dealing with all these things, and, on the other hand, it’s also “simultaneously a way of visually and spatially ordering and organizing the world around us”, “a way of seeing and knowing”, “an epistemology that has long been central to human geographical traditions of observation, interpretation, and analysis[.]” This is very much in line with how, for example, Henri Lefebvre conceptualizes space as a triad in ‘The Production of Space’, connecting the material aspects and the thought/conceived aspects in everyday life, and how Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari conceptualize landscape as an abstract machine or a diagram that connects the form of expression (discursive formation) and the form of content (non-discursive formation) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’.

Schein (223) points out that (cultural) landscape is a polyphonic concept (in reference to Paul Groth and Chris Wilson, who mention that in their book chapter ‘The Polyphony of Cultural Landscape Study: An Introduction’). While you could say that there is some degree of agreement regarding its meaning, different people in different disciplines, such as geography, anthropology, art history and architecture, do tend to have their own definitions that differ in some degree from the definitions of people in other disciplines. He (223) points out that this is largely the result of different disciplines having their own trajectories, their own developments which are not necessarily shared by other disciplines. He (223) likens the issue to nations that share a common language, yet are separated by it. This is a source of great deal of confusion, as he (223) goes on to point out:

“Landscape enthusiasts of many stripes may use the same words, all with slightly different meanings, and this often can be confusing, if not downright exasperating.”

I agree. I think this is very much the case among (socio)linguists who, as discussed in the previous essay, fail to grasp what’s the deal with landscape in other disciplines. I understand that it can be quite confusing and exasperating, as Schein (223) points out. I consider myself lucky to have engaged with both sociolinguistics, including discourse analysis and pragmatics, and geography already as an undergraduate. I was actually initially ridiculed by some for such unorthodox combination in my undergraduate studies, but already then, albeit more now than then, I found it a combination that can be turned into a useful mixture. I’ve been a happy mixologist for quite a long time in my life, crossing various boundaries, so I don’t really mind the confusion, as tedious as it may be, at least initially. It has certainly been detrimental to progressing in my doctoral studies (which also affects my life in general), but it has only made me more and more dauntless. The more the dogmatists discipline me, the more determined I become in opposing them. I know how discipline works, so I’m quite amused when people try to discipline me. I turn it into something productive, something that works for me. Anyway, back to the topic. Schein (223) further comments this confusion and likely exasperation:

“The trick when coming up against this potential communicative obstacle is not to withdraw into the parochialism of your own discipline, or your own pedantic definitions of landscapes or interpretive and analytical preferences[.]”

This comment is highly relevant to my previous essay where I pointed out that I agree with the comments made by Joshua Nash in his review article ‘Is linguistic landscape necessary?’ regarding linguistic landscape studies as being old (socio)linguistic wine in new bottles, albeit only inasmuch as there is this disciplinary parochialism, as the comments made by David Malinowski (63) in response to Nash seem to indicate, as discussed in his book chapter ‘Learning to Translate the Linguistic Landscape’. I reckon this is not the way to handle the issue and the consequent criticism. I think Schein’s (223) proposal is much better and much more productive:

“The trick … [is] … to search for ‘common ground,’ in realizing that we all are interested in some aspect of the tangible, visible scene. Once past the immediate problems of terminology, there is much to be said for the cross- and inter-disciplinary practice of cultural landscape study.”

Now, I’ve drawn parallels between the landscape research conducted in the early 1900s, as exemplified by the work of Carl Sauer, as well as J. G. Granö, Siegfried Passage and Paul Vidal de la Blache, and linguistic landscape research, so it’s only apt that Schein (224) comments on the Sauerian cultural landscape tradition which “posited the physical landscape as the medium, ‘culture’ as the agent, and the cultural landscape as a result” and thus approached landscape as merely a matter of ‘uncovering’ the ‘truth’ about this and/or that region or delimited area of land through empirical observation. As Schein (224) points out, this tradition became a conceptual foil for rethinking and reimagining the importance of landscape in geography once the influence of other disciplines, namely sociology, continental philosophy (phenomenology, Marxism, post-structuralism) and cultural studies, started to be felt in geography. What comes after the empiricist tradition originating in the early 1900s is thus known as the post-empiricist tradition. The label is, of course, just a label as, at this stage, at around late 1970s and early 1980s, there are bunch of different movements or strands of landscape research that emerge in competition with one another in what Schein (224) calls the ‘Civil War’. Without going into detail with regard to that time (as you can read about it yourself, just look up articles from that time and you’ll notice the heated debates), Schein (224) summarizes the subsequent developments, what came out of it:

“The (re)theorizing that took place through those debates has enlivened cultural landscape study to the present day. It has mandated attention to the imbrications of class, race, and gender in and through the landscape, to the place of landscape in power relations and questions of identity at a variety of scales[.]”

I agree with Schein’s summary. These are central concerns in most landscape studies. You won’t find many ‘naïve’ geographic landscape studies these days, that’s for sure, unless what Schein (224) goes on to mention next are included:

“It has [also] mandated attention … to other broadly socio-spatial concerns of human geographers including, most recently, a renewed phenomenological interest in our everyday experience with landscapes.”

Now, as I mentioned in my previous essay, I’m fine with phenomenology, inasmuch as it is an engagement with the world and thus focuses on everyday experience, as indicated by Schein (224) here, but, for me, and, I would argue, for many geographers, as well as sociologists, phenomenology is not well suited to addressing social issues because it tends to lapse into giving primacy to the subject, despite its goals to bridge the gap between the Cartesian subject-object split. In simple terms, if the intentional and autonomous thinking subject is retained, à la Descartes, then we end up doing more of that naïve research that may well actually contribute to the aforementioned social issues.

Schein (224) lists what we got out of the ‘Civil War’:

“As a result, our interest in the landscape as the tangible, visible impress of human action has been extended to asking questions about the place of cultural landscapes in constituting the world – through their symbolic qualities and material presence, through their normative qualities, through their capacity to mask social process, through their role as a site of action and intervention into the everyday world.”

Note here how he indicates that we are talking about the landscape as a matter of constituting a world, not just simply something that is out there, for us to ‘uncover’. In other words, the point here is that landscape is a construction of the world, the way it appears to us, at any given moment. Unlike in the old empiricist tradition, it’s not separate from us, something that we can simply catalog alongside other landscapes and then be done with once that project is complete.

Again, I reckon this is very much in line with how Lefebvre defines social space and how Deleuze and Guattari define landscape. I believe this is exactly what Crispin Thurlow wants researchers to take into account when he states in his article ‘Semiotic creativities in and with space: binaries and boundaries, beware!’ that linguistic landscape researchers tend to treat space as a given, as a mere container or a backdrop, when it should be treated as a central (albeit not the only) concern in any landscape study because it functions “as a[] distinctive resource for creative semiotic action in its own right.” It’s also worth noting how landscape functions to mask the various social issues that geographers and sociologists, as well as sociolinguists, seek to address. I keep mentioning this in my manuscripts, yet I get bewildered comments about it, along the lines of how is this relevant to what I do? I mean, you’d at least think that addressing the masking of social issues would be pretty much central to investigations that focus on social issues.

So, right, Schein (222) reminds the reader that landscape can be understood as the “tangible, visible impress of human activity on the surface of the earth – the everyday ‘stuff’ of the material world”. That said, he (222) warns the reader not to think of it as a mere accumulation of material objects because parts of it are from different times. Simply put, some bits and pieces persist for a long time, while others perish quickly. He (222) also adds that landscape does not merely pertain to the grand landscaped features such as designed gardens but also to all kinds of everyday features, such as “common houses and fences and public buildings and parks and backyards and fast food restaurants and light poles and streets and public squares and so on.” As you can see, the list is supposed to be endless: and … and … and … ad infinitum. That’s because it is. There’s always more to it as the world doesn’t stay the same (and neither do you).

In summary, Schein (222-223) points out that landscape can be treated as “a material record of our activity, and as such we can gather information on its creation and meaning, through many sources, but especially through historical records collected in archives.” Here already, linking this to the first point about the various bits and pieces, the palimpsest, we can see how Schein (222) operates on two levels or planes, one on the ground, doing the observations, and the other in the archives, looking at records related to what can (and cannot) be observed in the field. This will be further elaborated. In his (224) words:

“We can, at once, study cultural landscapes as material artifacts, with traceable and documentable empirical histories and geographies, and simultaneously use cultural landscapes to understand and question ideas about and ideals of everyday life.”

So, yeah, neither the palimpsest nor the archive rule out one another. It’s rather the opposite. To understand what’s right in front of us, be it common or rare, ordinary or extraordinary, unremarkable or remarkable, boring or fascinating, one needs to be aware about the various ideas and ideals. Again, this is very much in line with the views of Lefebvre, as well as those of Deleuze and Guattari.

Related to the earlier point on masking social issues, Schein (224) explains why landscape matters:

“[L]andscape study is important to critical human geographies if we see the landscape as discourse materialized, the tangible and visible scene serving to normalize or naturalize social and cultural practice, to reproduce it, to provide a means to challenge it.”

Note how, for Schein (244), this is a twofold issue. Firstly, to reiterate the point made earlier, landscape matters because it functions to mask social issues. To be specific, technically it doesn’t hide anything, in the sense that it covers a ‘true’ reality but rather constructs or orders reality in a certain way, hence his (223) earlier point about landscape as “a way of visually and spatially ordering and organizing the world around us.” In short, it provides us a certain sense of reality that is neither true or false. It’s only true, or false, in the sense that we take it to be true, or false, hence his (223) earlier comment it being “an epistemology that has long been central to human geographical traditions of observation, interpretation, and analysis[.]” Secondly, landscape matters because understanding how it works provides us the possibility to challenge it. As landscape is a visual concept, it can be investigated in a number ways that pertain to vision, including but not limited to “content analysis, semiology, psychoanalysis, and various forms of discourse analysis which take seriously ideas of textuality, intertextuality, and context”, as he (225) goes on to elaborate. I reckon the choice of methods really depends on the problems that you are facing and on the questions that you are asking. That’s my Bergsonist take on methodology.

Schein (225) acknowledges that there is no right or wrong way of doing landscape research. In practice, you need to find your way, what works for you. However, to be productive, and because this is a chapter in a research methods textbook, he (225) goes on to elaborate how he approaches landscape:

“[M]ost, if not all, good cultural landscape study begins with the material thing or set of things that we identify as the landscape, and draws a fine, if heuristic, line between finding out empirical information about a landscape and asking questions about what the landscape means or how it works.”

That’s, of course, impractically broad, so he (225) further specifies his take on landscape:

“First we must be able to describe the landscape and its particular history, documenting when and where the landscape was created, by whom, why, how has it been altered, and so on.”

In other words, as I’ve discussed in my past essays and keep emphasizing in my own articles, agency, the question of who, is particularly important in the study of landscapes. As a side note, or, rather, a further specification, for me this question of who is not be answered in the form of a specific name. It doesn’t interest me who specifically made this and/or that item or who it was that wrote this and/or that text. I couldn’t care less about that. This is actually a very Nietzschean point.

In ‘The Will to Power’, Friedrich Nietzsche (301-302) notes that the question of who, as in, for example, who did this and/or that, who said this and/or that, who interpreted this and/or that, is malformed if it is assumed to be answered by an existing being (a subject / an individual because the being is always a becoming and thus itself a mere effect). This is the point about how one is always many, as I pointed out in my previous essay. In Nietzsche’s (302) parlance, “[t]he properties of a thing are effects on other ‘things’: if one removes other ‘things,’ then a thing has no properties, i.e., there is no thing without other things, i.e., there is no ‘thing-in-itself.’” As Nietzsche (301) also puts it, “[t]here are no ‘facts-in-themselves,’ for a sense must always be projected into them before there can be ‘facts.’” In other words, when we ask the question of who, when we focus on agency, we are not interested in any actual individuals or subjects because starting from the subject, the individual, ignores the real question, the question behind the superficial question, how did the subject/individual become the way it is or appears to be, at any given moment. I like how Michel Foucault (221) explains this in ‘What Is an Author’:

“How, under what conditions, and in what forms can something like a subject appear in the order of discourse? What place can it occupy in each type of discourse, what functions can it assume, and by obeying what rules? In short, it is a matter of depriving the subject (or its substitute) of its role as originator, and of analyzing the subject as a variable and complex function of discourse.”

Now, these ‘one is many’ type of formulations do not negate the subject, nor its creativity. The subject is rather displaced (not given primacy) because the subject is always already an effect when the person acts, that is to say affected by other subjects or objects that are, like that person is, one but also many. So, when we investigate something, we are always interested in the conditions of this and/or that, whatever it is that is at stake, and how it has come to be, not the subject or the object, in itself, even though we do acknowledge its existence and often start by examining it and other subjects and objects in relation to it. Simply put, we are dealing with discourse, which Foucault (49) defines in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ as:

“[P]ractices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.”

So, again, as pointed out by Nietzsche (302), we are not dealing with things-in-themselves, no matter how we like to think that whatever the thing (object) is, even a human (subject), this distinct given entity. In his (302) words:

“The ‘thing-in-itself’ nonsensical. If I remove all the relationships, all the ‘properties,’ all the ‘activities’ of a thing, the thing does not remain over; because thingness has only been invented by us owing to the requirements of logic, thus with the aim of defining, communication (to bind together the multiplicity of relationships, properties, activities).”

This is the way I approach things. Therefore this is also how I define the units of analysis in my studies. To me, the objects are discursive. Sure, they do have materiality but that’s beside the point. As argued by Nietzsche (302), we can’t start our project by assuming that the things are just there, in themselves, waiting to be analyzed by us. In other words, we must dispense with this nonsensical idea. As expressed by Nietzsche (203), “‘[t]things have a constitution in themselves’ – a dogmatic idea with which one must break absolutely.”

As a side note, in case you happen to wonder, this one and/or many, multiple or multiplicity business is age-old, going back to the pre-Socratics. It’s probably an even older discussion than that. It just happens to be that we happen to have evidence from the pre-Socratics (not much, but enough for us to make this point). For a difficult (it is really a chore to read it), yet thought provoking discussion of this, look up Plato’s ‘Parmenides’ where Plato presents a dialogue that (supposedly) took place between Parmenides, Zeno of Elea and Socrates. The gist of this is that the first two are, as the second name suggests, Eleans, that is to say members of the Eleatic school of philosophy (named after the then town of Elea in what is nowadays called Southern Italy), who subscribe to a line of thinking in which everything is truly one (oneness, unity, the one). Therefore they stand in opposition of dualism (duality, such as mind/body, ideal/material) and pluralism (multiple, for example the elements air, earth, fire and water), that is to say anyone who subscribes to more than one (dualism being, in a sense, minimalist pluralism, the best known case being René Descartes). Dualism then also stands in opposition of not only monism but also pluralism because it is not only divided once (hence dual, not one) but not divided more than once (hence dual, not more than dual). We can, of course, say the same thing about pluralism, how it isn’t one or two because it’s always more than two, which is, in itself, more than one. They also subscribe to a static understanding of the world (unchanging). This is in opposition to those, namely Heraclitus, who a subscribe to a dynamic understanding of the world (flux).

With regard to the issue of monism, dualism and pluralism, Deleuze explains how dualism stands in opposition to both monism and pluralism in the second session of his secpmd seminar on ‘Anti-Oedipus’, dated March 26, 1973. To make this contemporary (I know, how contemporary indeed, but think it as not ancient Greek or Roman), he explains how this works for Descartes. Provokingly, he states that:

“Dualism always wants to deny the essence of thought, namely, that thought is a process.”

Which is caused by how the subject is rethought, in process, so that it ends up denying the thought process. He elaborates on this:

“[T]he subject is split into a subject of the statement and the subject of enunciation.”

Here we get the split, that is to say the dualism. On one hand, we get the person who enunciates, the (supposed) originator of a statement. On the other hand, we get the person who is referred to in enunciation, who can’t be verified as the (supposed) originator of the statement. Therefore, as explained by Deleuze, for Descartes, there is a difference between, let’s say asserting “I see a unicorn” and “I think I am seeing a unicorn.” As you can see, there is this split between doing and thinking (about doing). As Deleuze points out, in this case it is false that one sees a unicorn, hence the silly example, but it true that one thinks that one sees a unicorn. Get it? In other words, as he goes on to state:

“At this level, a kind of disengagement of a subject of enunciation occurs, and thereby all the subjects of possible statements. Whence he will say to you: I cannot say ‘I walk, therefore I am,’ for from a subject of the statement I cannot conclude a being of enunciation, or the being of a subject of enunciation; but I can say ‘I think, therefore I am,’ because from a subject of enunciation I can conclude the being of this subject.”

Now, evidently, this clearly gives primacy to thought, but not as a process, as Deleuze points out. With regard to thinking otherwise, that is to say like a monist or a pluralist, he argues that:

“Monism and pluralism: it’s the same thing, because, in a certain manner, it seems to me that every opposition, even all possibilities of oppositions between the one and the multiple[.]”

Okay, so, dualism is opposed to monism and pluralism but, as he’ll go on to add, because of how it incorporates them into the dualism, rethinking them, hence rethinking the subject, as he points out. In his words:

“This is because the source of dualism is precisely the opposition between something that can be affirmed as one, and something that can be affirmed as multiple, and more precisely, what signals it as one is precisely the subject of enunciation, and what signals it as multiple is always the subject of the statement[.]”

In other words, the subject of enunciation, the originator, what is ‘true’, is always the one, and the subject of statement, what cannot be verified as ‘true’, is always many. Clever! This is how we get transcendence, mind over body, idealism over empiricism, while neatly retaining the notion of both (the one and the many), albeit in an underhanded, relegated form which gives primacy to the one over the many. This (seemingly) allows you, the thinking subject, to start from yourself, to treat you (the ‘I’) as a starting point. It’s presupposing oneself, really, which, to get back on track here, is exactly what Nietzsche is opposed to, albeit in a slightly altered (Kantian) context (as Kant is just more of the same, really, just slightly altered to account for certain issues, yet, nonetheless, retaining the dualism). Anyway, Deleuze does not buy into this, as you might know if you’ve read … well … any of his works. In this text, it’s particularly evident when he states that “things become botched” at a certain time in the “history of desire” and that calls it a rotten conception.

Right, back to Schein (226) who provides a concise summary of what landscape studies tend to deal with: landscape history, the meaning of landscape, what landscape facilitates/mediates and the materialization of discourse. The first angle deals with documenting whatever is there, really, and who is responsible for its (continuing) presence and, conversely, what’s not there and who is responsible for that. The second angle deals with how people identify with a landscape, how they see it as this and/or that, reflecting their values. For example, we might be interested in why people consider a certain landscape as valuable, authentic, particularly important and, conversely, why some other landscape is not considered important. The third angle is related to the two previous ones as the focus is now on how landscape operates to facilitate or mediate various “political, social, economic, and cultural intentions, and debates.” So, for example, as I’ve discussed in my previous essays, people are in the habit of appealing to landscape, how it should be valued (by everyone), in order for them to benefit from it somehow, like boosting land value of their property by not letting others alter the view. The fourth angle deals with how landscape acts like a node, a nexus or a hub of discourses that flow through it and become materialized. The focus is on how the material form, what you can find out there (or not), pertains to normalizing or naturalizing “social and cultural practice, to reproduce it, to provide a means to challenge it.”

At this stage, I reckon it’s worth clarifying that, yes, you could argue that it is unnecessary to speak of materialized discourses because, in a way, you could state that all discourses are material, in the sense that they require people who have actual material bodies (just to even think). That said, people do differentiate between, the act of doing something, let’s say farming or grazing, and the products of those acts, let’s say farm produce based on plants (grains, fruits etc.) and animals (livestock). In an earlier essay I discussed this matter in reference to Ron Scollon’s book chapter ‘Discourse itineraries: Nine processes of resemiotization’. I won’t go into detail, but, in summary, discourses, i.e. systematic practices that create the objects of which they speak, as Foucault (49) defines it in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’, may undergo changes because, well, they are tied to those practices. Scollon (234) notes that one possible point where such changes may occur is in materialization, when, for example, a certain agricultural practice, such as organic production, is presented in the form of a bag of rice. It does not contain just any rice, mind you, but organic rice. The gist of this is that we end up thinking about a discourse, in this case organic agricultural practice, as a non-discourse, as a material object, as manifested in the seeds of rice. Now, of course, rice, the way we understand it is certainly discursive, but the point here is that their materiality (non-discursiveness) plays a part in all this. Anyway, this, is turn, can facilitate shifting the discourse, in this case organic, from one systematic practice, in this case from certain form of agricultural production, to another systematic practice, in this case to consumption of certain agricultural products. So, in short, materialization of discourses does matter, albeit for different reasons than what one might initially think.

Now, of course, what Schein (226) lists is not all there is to landscape studies, as already mentioned. For example, one might opt for a phenomenological approach in order to focus on different questions, ones not listed above. That’s fine. Schein’s listing is not all encompassing and you really need to delve into prior studies to get a grasp of the various approaches and how they are suited for answering different research questions and solving different problems. There is no one way to do landscape research. Moreover, as noted by Schein (226), many studies tend to have multiple angles, so it’s really up to you what you want to do, what you seek to achieve.

Schein (226-227) moves on to discuss his own take. He emphasizes the importance of knowledge, not general knowledge but particular knowledge as what you are dealing with is always local. In other words, you need to know what you are dealing with, what you are encountering. This is the point I made in the previous essay about parachuting people into some far off land to study the local landscapes. In practice, one will encounter various landscape features, that is to say materialized discourses. Of course, they don’t have to be grand features, like large buildings or gardens, as already mentioned. They can be anything really, houses, city parks or even something as small as historical plaques (something which certainly ought to be of great interest to sociolinguists). Anyway, it is hard to say much about such landscape features if you have little background information. Schein (227) provides some examples in the US context:

“[T]here are scholarly literatures on house types; on the origins, forms, and functions of American public parks and Frederick Law Olmsted’ s role in their evolution; or on slavery and public memory and historical commemoration that will push you to see your particular landscape as linked to other spaces, other places, other landscapes, other ideas.”

In other words, in order to examine materialized discourses, you need to do the hard work of doing archival research on the relevant discourses, which, in turn, may necessitate that you familiarize yourself not only with them but also other discourses, inasmuch as they are related to those discourses.

In my case, when I examine certain particulars in the Finnish context, or, let’s narrow it down to the context of Western Finland, or, even better, the city of Turku, I need to be aware of the discourses that are relevant to everyday life here. In some cases they can be very specific local discourses. That said, they can also be discourses that are set on the state level, so I can’t ignore them either. For example, when I encounter road signs that contain language, in most cases they contain Finnish and Swedish, in that order, top to bottom, giving primacy to Finnish over Swedish due to the majority of Turku population being Finnish speakers. Swedish is included because a large enough a minority of Turku inhabitants are speakers of Swedish. This requirement is set on the state level, so you’ll find the relevant discourses in the legislation where all this is explained in minute detail. When you familiarize yourself with the relevant pieces of legislation, you’ll notice that there are certain jurisdictional exceptions that effectively create pockets where this expectation of two languages won’t be met. For example, certain institutions, such as schools, are provided in parallel to these two population groups. So, if you are not aware of such exceptions, you might be fooled to think that, perhaps, a school is intentionally ignoring the requirement to provide signage in both languages. That’s not the case as the various particulars, i.e. materialized discourses, do actually reflect the way things are expected to be done. Then again, you may still encounter plenty of Finnish and Swedish, in tandem, in such places. For example, you may notice that fire extinguishers carry instructions in both languages. That’s because they fall under different discourses pertaining to health and safety. Again, you can find plenty of information on this by doing the hard work, reading through relevant pieces of legislation pertaining to health and safety.

The point is that you need to be familiar with what you are dealing with and if you are not familiar with what you are dealing with, you should familiarize yourself with what you are dealing with. So, as getting to know about things tends to take time and effort, I wouldn’t recommend the parachute approach, as I already pointed out. Of course, I provided just some examples and not everything has to do with legislation. Schein (227) further elaborates on this in the US context:

“Highway engineering bulletins, the in-house journals of fast – food franchises, meeting minutes of the local planning commission, and architectural and landscape architectural journals are full of information about the making of American landscapes. These kinds of periodicals are especially useful for gaining the view of those who actually make or produce specific landscapes.”

He (227) adds that:

“While getting at landscape consumption is a bit more difficult, there are available popular fashion and taste magazines … that contain clues about the manner in which we have adopted certain preferences for particular landscapes, especially the more personalized landscapes of home and garden that are the most easily manipulable by the average person.”

Again, in summary, get to know what you are dealing with. Schein (227) notes that at times you’ll struggle with finding the relevant information … as if it was missing. For example, as he (227) points out, contentious issues such as slavery might be not included in official records, nor found materialized in the landscape. Why? Well, because they were erased from the records and/or the landscape, or they were never included in the records and/or the landscape in first place. Why? Well, why would people keep records of something like that? It can backfire on you later on, that’s why. For example, if we focus on something like those grand palaces or designed gardens, you’ll come to notice how they have this grandeur to them, but there’s no indication of who built them or who maintains them. Those who built them probably lived somewhere close, but, of course, their hovels were swiftly removed from sight once things were built. Contemporarily, the people necessary for maintaining them probably aren’t the same people who own the property. They only work there during certain hours and are not to be seen as part of the landscape. This is why Schein (227) notes that, at times, we have to look at proxy sources, including something probably as blasphemous in ‘scientific’ circles as, literature, such as slave narratives which provide indications that the official records likely contain quite sanitized accounts of what went on back in the day.

Schein provides examples of erasure in ‘Teaching “Race” and the Cultural Landscape’. He (189-190) notes that in Lexington, Kentucky, where he (to my understanding) resides and works, the history of slavery is not as nearly as visible in terms of memorialization as something like thoroughbred racing or notable members of the Confederate. Why? Well, we need to think who are and were in position for that to be the case. He (189-190) points out how promoting something like the area’s history of horse racing is not, in itself, problematic. It’s rather the way it’s done, as he (190) goes on to elaborate:

“The imagery employed in the [Thoroughbred Park] speaks only to the elite of the horse industry, and no mention is made of black jockeys or the personnel who staff the local tracks, one of which previously sat only 1,000 yards behind the park.”

In other words, certain features or aspects are not included in the landscape. They are effectively erased, which is, probably, highly convenient to the interests of some people. He (189-190) points out that certain aspects of past do not necessarily have to be removed or demolished, like in the case of urban renewal (which typically results in gentrification due to the increase in land value). Instead, it is possible alter the view in such way that certain landscape features are no longer seen by the many. This is (or least was) apparently the case with Thoroughbred Park where a hillside was constructed, thus effectively masking certain features that are on the opposite side of the hillside from where most people drive. In summary, as you can see, landscape has a lot to do with politics, which, in turn has a lot to do with who gets to decide and on what. Of course, money is also involved.

Schein (228) turns his attention to data gathering. As already pointed out a couple of times, he (228) states that we can look at the records (the archives), including but not limited to “fire insurance maps, city directories, or deed records”, as well as to engage in participant observation, interviewing or surveying to drawn information from people as not all records are necessarily written. People might be able to provide information on issues that are or were not kept record on. As already discussed, sometimes records were intentionally not kept. Of course, that’s not always the case. In many cases the information that we might be looking for simply wasn’t kept because it wasn’t considered important enough to warrant keeping a record about it. There are, of course, also budget limitations as keeping records does cost money. In addition, at times records may be lost, intentionally or unintentionally. Schein (228) adds that some of the information that we might be looking for is not necessarily kept in official public records, but in private possession. These private entities can be, among others, historical societies, museums, clubs, corporations, as well as private individuals. For example, something as mundane as personal photographs taken for personal reasons can provide us with valuable information about landscape features that are no longer there.

Following a short discussion of the obstacles or hurdles that one may face with regard to gaining access to various archives, both public and private, and being allowed to make use of the archived materials, Schein (229) warns not to be uncritical of the archived materials. As pointed out a number of times already, all records are selective, at times highly selective and intentionally so. In his (229) words:

“You should try to be aware, as well, of information that is missing from the archives. It is a truism that the winners of history write the stories, and that goes especially for historical geographical records. You are more likely to find records of the rich and powerful than you are of the poor and marginalized, or of men than of women, in most cases, or of white people rather than people of color.”

There’s also the related issue of keeping records in the first place, as he (229) points out:

“After all, records are kept for a specific reason (they are not value neutral), and that reason is seldom the same as the one that brought you to the records in the first place.”

Now, neither of these things are not necessarily bad things, because the records might be of use to you for that exact reason. They may well be valuable to your project because they focus on only certain things, including this but excluding that, which is, in itself, telling of something. In addition, it can be beneficial that those who kept the records couldn’t even think of anyone using them the way you seek to use them and thus they couldn’t sanitize them accordingly. This is, of course, the same thing with local informants. They may well provide you the information they want to provide and not the information you are looking for. They may also provide you what they think you want to hear and not what they have to say about something.

Schein (229) also adds that you have to be highly sensitive to your data, familiarize yourself with it, not only because may it be misleading, and even contain fabrications, but because it can also be challenging to assess, especially if you are dealing with historically or geographically distant matters. Simply put, you should approach them in their own terms, not in the terms in use currently, as otherwise you risk imposing yourself on your data. Of course, that does not mean that you should be uncritical of your work.

He (229) also makes the same point as I did earlier on, how it is important to also consider not only the local discourses, the local practices, but also on a broader, national or federal level as not all relevant materials are kept in local records or known about by the locals. As I pointed out, sometimes you have to look at matters that pertain to a larger area than what is considered local. This, of course, depends on what you are looking and where you conduct your investigation. For example, Finland is largely based on a unitary system where the state has a lot of say in things and the municipalities only have limited leeway to do as they see fit. This might not be the case elsewhere, such as in the US. Again, this emphasizes the importance of knowing what you are dealing with and familiarizing yourself with the relevant aspects pertaining to your research.

For those who are interested, Schein (230-237) elaborates on various archives, what might be of use to you, at least in the US context, but I’m going to skip these parts and move on to the conclusion. I’m sure you can take a closer look at that part of his book chapter on your own. He (237) concludes the book chapter by stating that:

“Collecting data on cultural landscapes is not hard. It simply requires a basic sense of what you are after, where you might get started, and a little diligence and perseverance.”

I agree. I know some of my peers might not agree with this, but I do. Sure, you need to know a lot and be willing to spend countless hours on what you are dealing with, to get to know what’s necessary, but that’s about it. Yes, it’s tedious as hell to go through it all, to track down what might be of use to you in your project even before you get to collect the relevant data. That said, I don’t think anyone should expect the research to be, quite literally, just a walk in the park. What’s actually hard is to figure out what you want to do with the data, what you want to find out, as Schein (237) points out:

“The harder part is figuring out what to do with the information you collect once you have it, for the most important lesson to remember when collecting ‘data’ about a landscape is that the data and the landscape do not speak for themselves.”

So, indeed, it’s not just a walk in the park (in the sense that you’d be assessing a park). In this discursive approach you need to be aware of various discourses, that is to say various systematic practices, in order to assess the various landscape features, the various materialized discourses.

For example, you need to know about the official language policy in Finland in order to understand why you’ll keep encountering Finnish and/or Swedish in most parts of Finland and not something else. I remember a non-Finn, that is to say someone who cannot understand either of these languages, pointing out to me that it’s highly impractical for outsiders that all the relevant signage tends to be in either in Finnish and/or Swedish, and not, for example, in English. Of course it is, but it is the way it is because of politics. In itself, when we limit the discussion to just Finnish and Swedish, it’s already a political issue and way more contentious than an outsider would ever think without knowledge of the relevant discourses. Simply put, because the particulars that we encounter in our surroundings are actually discursive, it’s simply not enough to go for a stroll, make some notes and/or take some photos and then write something about it for others to read. Schein (237) explains this issue:

“Even simple landscape histories and descriptions require a point of view, and the best landscape descriptions and interpretations and analyses require a basic understanding of the empirical particulars of a cultural landscape in order to ask questions about what that landscape does, about why it is important, about how people live in and through that particular landscape and to what consequence.”

Firstly, note how he points out that there is no such thing as simply observing something and making a record of it as the observer is never a universal observer that sees the world exactly the same way as everyone else. It’s naïve to think otherwise. Secondly, to understand the palimpsest, the empirical particulars, the discourses that are materialized in the landscape, requires us to understand what it is that we are dealing with. There are, of course, countless of discourses and there’s no way that we can pay attention to all of them.

For example, I reckon my knowledge of forestry is rather limited, so when facing a forest, it’s just a forest to me, with some trees, shrubs etc., but a forester or a biologist can probably easily detect all kinds of discourses that are manifested in the landscape. They may be able to detect certain patterns of land use which explains why things look the way they do. I’d be completely oblivious to such (unless I train myself to match their understanding, which is unlikely).

To provide another example, recently a family member of mine pointed out to me that if you look at the railways in Finland, you’ll notice that they are built 1524mm gauge, also known as the 5 feet gauge, which was used in the Southern United States, having been implemented in Finland because the engineer, George Washington Whistler, was brought over to then Imperial Russia to help with designing the railways. Finland was then part of Imperial Russia, which led to its implementation. The Russians have subsequently altered their tracks to 1520mm gauge, which, apparently makes Finland the only country to have that gauge that was brought over from the Southern United States. Oh, and yes, I know, this is the type stuff that no one has ever said, or so to speak, yet to a railway enthusiast this is obvious because they know their track gauges. This is one example where it’s evident that discourse matters, even though, I acknowledge that for many this is a most trivial example.

When it comes to statues, one of the examples discussed by Schein (a hot topic in the US these days, by the way), I once took part in a geography field trip to Dublin, Ireland, where we passed by a number of statues. We crossed the O’Connell Bridge and made our way up O’Connell Street, all the way to Parnell Street where we stopped to have a talk by adjacent Parnell Monument. The member of the staff leading us asked us students about what we had seen on O’Connell Street. We had passed a number of monuments on the way. The question we were asked was intentionally unspecific, so that we had to figure out what the deal was. No one had anything to say, so I volunteered to point out the obvious, that none of the monuments were dedicated to women. Now, the point here is not to say that wrong people have been commemorated but to point out that maybe, just maybe there is a certain undue emphasis on men in this central location.

I also like the inclusiveness promoted by Schein in this book chapter. He (237) notes that we can ask all kinds of questions, many of which are hard and may require considerable expertise to answer them. This necessitates either cooperation between researchers in different disciplines or, alternatively, spending one’s time learning from others in other disciplines. This is a reiteration of the earlier point about parochialism. In his (237) words:

“[I]n answering those questions you are likely to employ any number of social science or humanities methodologies[.]”

Again, there’s no predefined set of tools or a right approach to landscape study. It all really depends on what you are looking for, what problems you seek solutions to and what questions you wish to answer. Following the conclusion, he (238-239) goes on to list various resources in different disciplines that may be of use to you. I recommend taking a closer look at his own work. I particularly like his article ‘The Place of Landscape: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting an American Scene’ and his article ‘A Methodological Framework for Interpreting Ordinary Landscapes: Lexington, Kentucky’s Courthouse Square’. They both involve examining the relevant discourses, going through the archives, and the materialized discourses, going through the particulars in the landscape.

My own approach differs from this, but only because what I’m looking at differs considerably from he is looking at. I reckon I focus more on the palimpsest, the various particulars that can be found in the landscape, whereas he focuses more on the archive material. That said, I’m not sure if that holds though. I mean, I spend considerable number of hours browsing through all kinds of archive material just to make sense of the palimpsest. I’m the guy who, for example, not only looks up pieces of legislation but also checks on the amendments, as well as the preparatory draft documents for those pieces of legislation and their amendments. It just rarely shows in my articles because much of that background research is just so that I understand what I’m dealing with. Also, I’d be more than happy to explain more of that but, in my experience, there isn’t much appreciation for such detailed discussion of relevant discourses. For me that’s at the heart of discourse analysis, but I’m often forced to do something else because others seem to find any detailed examination to be tedious reading. Anyway, my approach or conceptual framework is arguably very similar to Schein’s framework(s). If I were to focus on something similar to what he focuses on in his articles, I probably would be doing it the way he does it, more or less (more evident emphasis on the archive material than on the particulars in the landscape).

I may be a bit more cynical about the inner workings of landscape (how it functions and how it can thus be utilized for certain purposes) than Schein, but I like how he (397) reminds in ‘A Methodological Framework for Interpreting Ordinary Landscapes’ not to consider landscape a mere disciplinary mechanism that limits our thinking and capacity to act by providing us certain sense of reality. The point here is that it can indeed function as a disciplinary mechanism, and, arguably, often does function as such, but that’s not the whole story. In other words, the way landscape functions is actually productive. That said, it can produce any kinds of senses of reality, ones in which one is disciplined to reproduce the existing states of affairs. Importantly, this opens up the possibility to intervene, to change things. Of course, not everyone wishes that things change and not everything has to be changed, but the point is that they can be changed if people just come to desire the change. So, in summary, understanding landscape is important because it helps people to understand how it operates to create a certain visual order of things, as Foucault might put it, which, in turn makes it possible to advocate for change. In Schein’s (398) words:

“The point is not to close down the landscape through historical description or interpretation of its meanings, but to see the landscape for its role in facilitating and mediating social and cultural practice, whether intentional or not, to see the landscape as part of broader social and political and economic and cultural discourses that are at once disciplinary through the landscape’s place as a tangible visible scene/seen, even as those discourses are open to challenge in and through the landscape itself.”

Well put, well put. While I have my own quirks and therefore the way I understand landscape might be slightly different, I nonetheless agree with this.


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