What if we were floral stars in the night sky, getting ready to bloom and shimmer, what kind of constellations would we make?

Phenomenological research, for me, is like stargazing with human stories. Each of us carries stories that may seem like mere specks of dust in the dark night of human existence, but together in groups, these stories become meaningful constellations.

person staring at a colourful starry sky

Hermeneutic phenomenology: Shifting paradigms through research

 

If our social goal is to bring healing to the world, then research at the collective level involves going back to the roots of why we desire knowledge. The ultimate reason: to know more about who we are (as human beings) and why we exist in this world. Therefore, at its core, re-search is the pursuit to re-discover what we already know but have forgotten as human beings. But since we can never truly share our personal experiences with each other, we can only learn about each other through the narratives of our experiences. Thus, to learn about humanity, we go through a process of storytelling and storylistening.

Traditional research, particularly approaches based on the scientific method, assumes that knowledge is objective, and researchers must remain unbiased. But human experiences can never exist in physical or psychological vacuums. We can communicate with each other and make sense of the world only because we already have preconceptions of the world within us (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 1960). Therefore, research, inevitably, is biased because human experience is biased. These biases are not flaws in the research process, but rather, they are the steppingstones to making paradigm shifts. To create new knowledge means to disturb old biases and re-establish new agreements of understanding.

 

Landscape as the mediator between our inner and outer worlds

 

Human experiences are always emplaced in a landscape. Therefore, to me, studying landscapes is also a part of disturbing existing narratives about our human existence. Through landscapes, we can evaluate our interpretations of nature and culture, consider the effect and limitations of language, acknowledge the reciprocity of life, and choose how to participate in the world. 

If the world was metaphorically a garden landscape, we would be the soil, the seeds, the plants, the designers, and the gardeners. We each play roles in all the processes of making the landscape a place we come to belong to. Our predicament: knowing when to take on a role, when to work with each other, and when to support another.

We can only clarify our ever-evolving roles by evaluating our past, present, and future participation in this landscape, individually and collectively. Our reflections are our stories: we can give space for more individual stories, especially our own, so that more of our collective narratives can be broken open.

 

magnolia on a stack of books

Knowledge from the fringes

 

Destructive paradigms are perpetuated by our society and our mind’s need to create knowledge hierarchies. That means, some forms of knowledge are validated and institutionalized, some forms of knowledge survive through resistance in mainstream culture or along the sidelines, while some forms of knowledge are ridiculed and maybe even persecuted out of existence. To see our lives beyond specks of dust in the matrix of these old paradigms and to turn them into glimmering starlight, we must learn to respect our own individual way of knowing and being in the world.

For example, I speak “academia” and “social politics” as much as I speak “New Age.” Decolonisation, neoliberalism, marginalisation, assimilation, crystal healing, law of attraction, twin flames, and chakras…these are all valid ways of seeing the world. I had once been afraid of revealing my affinity to different knowledge structures—afraid of what others would think of me if I didn’t stay in an “approved” box of knowledge—but we can’t flourish, individually and collectively if we deny our own knowingness.

Admittedly, some of these ways of seeing the world are more nurturing than others. So, at the end of the day, the way we want to see (and know) the world is still a choice—to see ourselves and others blooming and glimmering in an expansive universe or see ourselves and others as mere dust fading away into nothingness.

Upcoming Projects

 

The Passive Voice: Stories of women who leave landscape architecture

To disturb the dysfunction of historical patriarchy, as manifested in a gender gap in the case study of landscape architecture, this project seeks out the most “useless” stories in the eyes of its system: the stories of those who are not part of the system any longer. In honouring the stories of these women first and foremost before using these stories for the system’s agenda, what is of value for an old paradigm shifts into a new narrative and paradigm that recognizes every human’s unconditional worthiness.

 

Healing patriarchal knowledge systems: Liberating the vulnerability of being human by storytelling personal experiences in nature

As humans, we learn to judge ourselves and others through our stories of history and culture. These patterns of judgment plague our social systems in the narratives our minds create about what it means to belong, what it means to be successful, and what it means to be a good person. This project disrupts these old paradigms through a research study that contrasts institutionalized concepts of nature and gender with actual lived experiences of individuals. Vulnerability is the research theme because regardless of social identity, we inevitably must face our own powerlessness in nature.

 

Completed Projects and Publications

 

Nature, self, and being in the world: Revealing a flourishing ethics in landscape architecture through poignant landscape experiences  (PhD dissertation), 2021

What do poignant landscapes mean to landscape architects? How do landscape architects envision their own flourishing? This is a self-reflexive research study that involved the analysis of 15+ professional association documents, 53 survey participants, and 14 interviews. Read the full document or a summary from my winning LACF grant submission. A selection of excerpts from the research is also found in my book Poignant Landscapes.

 

The Romantic landscape: A search for material and immaterial truths through scientific and spiritual representation of nature, 2020

The interdependency between art, faith, and science in Romantic landscapes shapes our perceptions of landscapes today. The Romantics found Truth in Nature through religious and scientific interpretations of the world. The meaning of life was dependent on the search for revelation in the material and spiritual worlds, and landscape was a vehicle that allowed for this revelation. Read article

 

The landscape of the Void: Truth and magic in Chinese landscape painting, 2016

Using Heideggerian hermeneutics and Chinese Daoism, landscapes can be seen as the literal and metaphorical Void between mortality and divinity, earth and sky. Disturbing what is subject and object, what is visible and invisible, I discover that the magic of landscape lies in the paradox: the in-between state where logic is inversed, Void is nothingness, truth is sought, and belief is magical. Read article