Rethink Your Lawn!

The following posts document my interdisciplinary research and creative practice related to American lawns and landscaping, using the intersecting lenses of applied anthropology and art.

Week 6: Seeing Space

The lawn and the plants in it are not perceived by homeowners objectively or in a vacuum but through multiple layers of moral and symbolic understanding. Like most elements of a dominant culture, these understandings are often tacit and unexamined. They rest on dichotomies of good and bad that aren’t informed by any inherent qualities of the environment, but by competitive capitalist ways of relating to nature and other people. If people examined their beliefs through this lens, would they still find them valuable?

Week 5: Chemicals and Consumerism

American homeowners don’t make their lawn decisions in a vacuum, they’re connected to their neighbors in a moral economy that positions the traditional upkeep of their lawns as a way to support their neighborhood and contribute to the community. Chemical formulator companies are locked into a financial cycle that requires aggressive sales tactics and an expanding market in order to remain profitable, and therefore the companies cannot be depended upon to act in the best interest of anyone but themselves. Understanding the factors influencing people’s lawncare decisions can help problem solvers imagine healthier paradigms of lawn care that still meet consumers’ needs.

Week 4: People’s Relationships with their Outdoor Space

Multiple studies suggest that when people are engaged with their lawn or garden over the long-term, they develop an emotional attachment to the space, often accompanied by enhanced social relationships, mental and physical health benefits, and a deeper connection to the natural world. Gardens can serve as a place for people to practice self-sufficiency and emotional maturity while expressing their values, identity, and commitment to their community. Clearly, an outdoor residential space can be a powerful influence on someone’s quality of life.

Week 3: Art and Anthropology

What is the overlap between art and anthropology? Readings this week talk about the potential for cross-pollination between the disciplines, which both feature an immersive, creative, and transformative approach to building knowledge. What’s more, an anthropological cultural sensitivity can enrich an art practice, while an artistic orientation toward experimentation and ephemerality can open an anthropological practice to new possibilities.

Week 2: The Rise of the American Turf Lawn

In 2006, Americans spent about $40 billion on lawn maintenance, enacting a high price on our environmental health. This destructive fetishization of the lawn is a relatively recent development popularized by suburban housing developments looking for a cheap way to finish their building projects in the post-war era… and passing the true costs onto the American consumer.

Week 1: the Roots of the American Lawn

The turf lawn as we know it today is foreign to the North American continent; the aesthetic was imported to wealthy U.S. estates after becoming popular in Britain and France. Advancements in technology and building policy eventually allowed middle-class families to adopt the aesthetic, which was encouraged by social groups like the Garden Club of America, popularized by a new pastime called golf, and made feasible by research from the US Department of Agriculture.