Landscape Forensics 2.0 | Part 1: Introduction + Exploring the notion of a landscape forensics

Type: Panel
Sponsor Groups: Cultural Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Madison A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Organizers: Joni Palmer, Joern Langhorst
Chairs: Joni Palmer

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First of 3 panel sessions: During the 2017 AAG annual conference, we gathered for a panel session to discuss landscape forensics. After the panel we retired to a fine Boston dining establishment to discuss how a landscape forensics might become a critical part of a landscape studies, design and/or planning curriculum. It occurred to us that we needed move beyond initial thoughts and propose means by which to engage students, faculty, scholars and practitioners in exploring the opportunities for what we believe is a viable alternative framework for the investigation, analysis and interpretation of landscapes, places and spaces.

“Landscape”, “Place” and “Space” are among the most contested concepts in numerous fields and disciplines (Jackson 1975, Tuan 1977, Meinig 1979, Williams 1983, Tilley 1994, Creswell 2004). The investigation of landscape has long traditions in various subfields of geography, as well as in planning, urban design, landscape architecture and architecture (in the latter, mostly in the form of “site analysis”). While there is an emphasis on assembling hard “data” within such investigations, it has become increasingly clear that the collection, analysis and interpretation of “facts” inevitably operates within various contexts, demands and via biases (lenses) that significantly influence what is found, perceived, engaged, investigated, understood and concluded. One of the most influential and insidious biases is the (explicit or implicit) intent of an investigation: The “reading” of past or current situations is frequently limited by ideas about, and arguments for or against, future change and a-priori value judgments related to preferred outcomes.

Therefore, we suggest “landscape forensics” as an alternative framework for the investigation, analysis and interpretation of landscapes, places and spaces. Analog to the approach forensic science takes, it foregrounds an investigation of “what happened here?”, avoiding a-priori hypothesization and emphasizing the events over time that lead to current conditions. While the concept of “evidence” is central to forensics, it also acknowledges that the social production of evidence refuses an easy separation of facts and interpretation. “Within these shifting relations are the (…) artifacts, material things that take up particular coordinates in time and space, and which have a strong degree of persisting continuity. In acting as a point of articulation for very different relations, the same material facts move between different constellations of goals and histories. In this way, the material presence (…) links different actors but can also intrude into evidential relationships and force them to recalibrate” (Crossland 2013: 131). Any “read” of “what happened” is never just located in material evidence alone, but also comes from the ways in which interpretations of that evidence are situated within interdependent relationships. The various demands on the quality of “evidence” would seem to leave “little space for reflexive and experimental field practices that entertain multivalency and dissonance or which encourage dialogue between conflicting viewpoints” (Crossland 2013: 127, see also Bender et al. 2007).

Landscape forensics attempts to create a framework for multivalent, dissonant, dialogic, experimental and reflexive practices and theories. We believe it suggests a means by which to deliberately and critically employ and assemble multiple practices, methods, media and interpretive frameworks, including the incorporation of local and non-expert knowledge. The goal is a thicker, deeper, slower and more expansive “read” (Marot 2003, Palmer 2012, Langhorst 2016) that reveals the hidden, invisible and unseen, as well as allowing new connections to be made within and across layers habitually separated by traditional analytical processes. These “reads” then may reveal multiple simultaneous perspectives, contestations, and conflicts over time, beyond past and current hegemonies of action and interpretation, while critical and central to the understanding of the various actors, processes, materials and agents that are part of the production and reproduction of landscape, place and space.


Type Details Minutes
Discussant Heidi Hausermann Colorado State University 20
Panelist Jeffrey Blankenship Hobart & William Smith Colleges 20
Panelist Joern Langhorst University of Colorado Denver, College of Architecture and Planning 20
Introduction Joni Palmer Geography & Environmental Studies 20
Panelist Tim Waterman University of Greenwich 20

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