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Landscape architecture and social responsibility: Emerging concepts from a a study of practice

Kyle Douglas Brown, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Professions such as landscape architecture have long laid claim to altruistic concepts of working for the betterment of society, as opposed to their own special interests. In recent time within the United States, such altruistic claims have come into question, as a skeptical public has challenged the true motivations of professionals. This dissertation examines commitments to social responsibility in the landscape architecture community, in an effort to understand the range of attitudes and ideas present in a profession that is highly diverse in terms of its work jurisdictions and context. Conclusions were drawn from an analysis of discourse in landscape architecture and related environmental design disciplines, a study of educational standards for accredited professional degree programs, and interviews with landscape architects practicing in the Los Angeles region. Findings suggest that many landscape architects believe in abstract notions such as stewardship, but that the interpretations of these notions vary widely. Respondents in the public sector often demonstrated different conceptions of their role in the planning and design process, and stronger connections to the land and its inhabitants, than was the case for most private sector respondents. Respondents in all work contexts also described conflicts that emerged in their practice as a result of obligations to clients, communities, employers, special interest groups that they may be affiliated with, personal values and well-being. These conflicts often presented challenges in terms of meeting abstract notions of social responsibility, and often appeared to shape their attitudes towards these responsibilities. This study confirms that professionals are presented with many conflicts of interest in daily practice, as a result of being firmly embedded in society. So challenges to cultural authority that question the motivations of professionals may be justified in many cases. The lack of explicit engagement of social responsibility issues in discourse and education makes it difficult to counter such challenges in the case of landscape architecture. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of implications for discourse, education and practice, including the need for a theoretical framework in landscape architecture and potential for discretionary action, drawing upon theories of communicative action.

Subject Area

Landscaping|Social structure|Urban planning|Area planning & development|Environmental science

Recommended Citation

Brown, Kyle Douglas, "Landscape architecture and social responsibility: Emerging concepts from a a study of practice" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3056202.