Better theory, better critique

Prominski, M., 2004, Better theory, better critique, in: ECLAS (Jørgensen, K. & G. Fry), ‘A critical light on landscape architecture’, ,

  • Author : Prominski, M.
  • Year : 2004
  • Published in Book : A critical light on landscape architecture
  • Abstract in English : In a response to the contributions of the 1990 CELA Conference panel “Landscape Architecture and Critical Inquiry”, Robert Riley gave a pessimistic comment: He defined criticism as “analysis and evaluation: analysis in terms of an explicitly stated framework” and “evaluation against explicitly stated standards”.. But: “Analytical frameworks and evaluative standards have not been developed for landscape architecture.. We lack not only consensus, we lack identifiable schools of thought.” (Landscape Journal, Fall 1991: 167f) This lack of critical ability is fatal if we see critique as “the improving, stirring, elevating principle“ (Thomas Mann). From this perspective, the vacuum described by Riley means nothing less than the inability of the profession to be an adequate participant in a progressing society. The question now, in 2004, is: Has anything changed? Is Rileys comment still valid today? On the basis of recent philosophy of science, I want to make the optimistic statement that a positive change is near. In the last decade, a new meta-theoretical body has been developed which can be adopted for landscape architecture to fill Rileys vacuum. A strong framework for analysis as well as standards for evaluation will evolve which are able to support a stirring critique for an innovative landscape architectural practice. The argumentation to prove this statement follows these steps: First, the relation between critique and theory is described. Critique, in its original sense as “art of judgement”, needs theory to provide the criteria, or in Rileys words, the explicitly stated standards, for judgement. But according to many academics or practitioners, landscape architectural theory is weak. The lack of critical ability corresponds with a lack of theory. This problem is discussed with identifying the almost unbridgeable width of the profession and its difficult status between traditional categories of art and science as one of the main reasons. Based on an analysis of current philosophy of science (mainly Nowotny Re-Thinking Science, 2001), the possibility of a theoretical body for landscape architecture is sketched which is able to bridge the width of the profession. The transdisciplinary and contextual “Mode 2” approach of knowledge production described by Nowotny gives a clear epistemological perspective for a profession that once got lost between traditional categories of science and art. A framework for analysis and standards for evaluation can be derived for a strong fusion profession with leadership potential. Finally, a discussion of landscape urbanism serves as an example to demonstrate how these new theoretical possibilities will help to build an identifiable school of thought with critical power.