Justice

Landscape and justice are fundamentally and inextricably linked. Landscapes are struggled over and are the means of struggle. In order to demonstrate this relationship between landscape and social justice, we lean on a landscape conceptualization where landscape is a site of such contention and struggle, claims and contestations. Social struggles not only shape landscapes but crucially also involve attempts to naturalize them, making them seem inevitable, ordinary, and even necessary. Social struggles are also attempts to resist such naturalization. Landscapes, then, work to (re)produce certain identities and ways of life, and become a spatial configuration of particular people’s legitimacy and moral authority.
In this way landscape speaks explicitly to social justice, or rather injustice, particularly through social processes of contestation, oppression and resistance. Social justice is a real world issue, produced and reproduced socially, rather than bound in theoretical constructs and universal truths. Generally, theories of social (in)justice have been concerned to explain the (re)production of equity, distribution and redistribution in society, although taking different approaches to the achievement of socially just outcomes. Much effort has, however, been devoted to demon- strating that one can only with difficulty ‘arrive at a socially just end without changing the production system’. This Marxist perspective on (in)justice is key to the theories of, for example, Harvey and Mitchell. Crucially, however important the production system is, post-structuralists, including feminists, have pointed at the fact that many groups would still be oppressed even if economic injustice was eliminated. There are, hence, differing notions of justice. Useful here is the distinction O’Connor draws between distributive (who gets what and where), procedural (mechanisms of distribution and their fairness) and productive justice. Social justice is hence fundamentally a relational question.

Following this logic, Iris Marion Young, in her influential book Justice and the Politics of Difference, offers a cultural politics concerned to explain (in)justice also beyond ‘equitable distribution of life’s necessities, comforts, luxuries and burdens, to include the potential for people to participate fully in the conditions, situations and decision processes that give rise to particular distribution in the first place’. Young’s theory is important because she demonstrates how injustice or oppression is always social, contingent and systemic. This allows her to identify more than one source (i.e. the economic, distributive system) of oppression. In outlining five facets, or ‘five faces of oppression’ – exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence – Young draws attention to the multifarious ways (in)justice is (re)produced.

Gunhild Setten, Katrina Myrvang Brown, Landscape and social justice (2013)

Gaeta Springall Architects, Linear Park Cuernavaca Railway (2016)

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Clue to Culture

For him, aesthetic judgments about the landscape were secondary. Primary was the question of why the landscape looked the way it did. What clues did the landscape itself present as to its own making?

To answer that question, [Peirce] Lewis suggested seven axioms:

Landscape is a clue to culture. It “provides strong evidence of the kind of people we are, and were, and are in the process of becoming”. By reading the landscape we could glean important insights into “who we are.” As a corollary, Lewis argued, if landscapes looked different, it was because there were significantly different cultures at work. If they were growing more similar, it was because cultures were growing more similar. Moreover, both the diffusion of landscape items across space and local cultural “tastes” were central in giving landscape its particular look and feel.

●  Nearly every item in the landscape “reflect[s] culture in some way”. We need to pay attention even to what at first glance might seem commonplace, trivial, or just plain haphazard and ugly. At the same time we need to make judgments about when an item really just is the idiosyncratic whim of an indi- vidual and thus truly is unique.

 Landscapes are difficult to study “by conventional academic means”. Rather, scholars need to turn to “nonacademic literature” (like trade journals, journalism, promotional literature, and advertisements). Most of all we need to train ourselves to “learn by looking”: we need to train ourselves to pay attention to the visual evidence. (Lewis gives little idea of what constitutes “conventional academic means” but the sense is that it is limited to reading scholarly books).

●  History matters to the structure and look of a landscape. We inherit a landscape which forms the basis for any changes or developments we subsequently make. Change itself is uneven (historically “lumpy”). Both technological and cultural change comes in great leaps forward, perhaps more so than as gradual evolution.

●  Location matters too: “Elements of a cultural landscape make little cultural sense if they are studied outside their geographic (i.e., locational) context.” Indeed, “to a large degree cultures dictate that certain activities should occur in certain places, and only those places”. Thus “context matters”.

●  So does physical environment, since “conquering geography’ is often a very expensive business.” Physical geography may not determine, but it does establish the limits of possibility and the costs of exceeding those limits.

●  Finally, while all items in the landscape convey meaning, they do not do so readily: meaning can be obscure. Even so “chances are” any disagreement over meaning “can be cleared up by visual evidence”.

Don Mitchel, New Axioms for Reading the Landscape: Paying Attention to Political Economy and Social Justice (2008)

Peking University + Kongjian Yu + Turenscape, Shenyang Architectural University Campus (2004)

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