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The Interlacing of Words and Things in Gardens and Landscapes: Beyond Nature and Culture

Garden and Landscape Symposium, May 8–9, 2009

Organized by Beatrix Farrand Distinguished Fellow Stephen Bann

Over recent decades, debates about environmentalism, global warming and its consequences for life have triggered a questioning of the opposition between nature and culture. This has become particularly obvious in discussions among landscape architects and anthropologists. Yet there is little in common between these two areas of debate. Landscape architects tend to be concerned with ways of devising new roles for humans in the transformation of a natural world shared to a great extent with non-humans, thus endorsing the embeddedness of nature and culture, but perhaps falling short in the criticism of these dualistic concepts. Anthropologists have been largely concerned with describing and understanding the perspectives of non-Western peoples without seeking to impose the implicit dualities of nature/culture, emotion/reason, practice/ideology, mundane/ritual, sacred/profane, cosmos/society.

In this symposium, we attempt to bring these two areas of debate closer by proposing new modes for the description and understanding of gardens, whether in the context of history or in the present – as they have been, or are, experienced by those who make and use them across many different areas of the world.

Gardens are the result of a selection of plants, objects and animals for intentional purposes. This has led in turn to the transformation of those plants, objects and animals; that is to say, they have been appropriated for human communication, and become representations in poetry, imagery, religion and myth. The same process has taken place with features of the wider landscape. So, if we provisionally bracket off the categories relating to nature and culture in the western world, we find that the challenge of interpreting descriptions of gardens and landscapes impels us to rediscover the specific categories involved in constituting them as representations. The papers in this symposium cover in equal measure western and non-western traditions, and range from individual case studies to analyses of long-term historical developments. The aim is to show how garden and landscape studies illuminate the many different modalities of transforming the world in which we live and act.

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