18 July 2019

Trendy ideas

"Apart from technology, fashion is one of the means by which young people reserve the right to torment the old."   - Chris Fleming

A new post at The Chronicle, "The Tyranny of Trendy Ideas," describes/decries a longstanding issue for academia. And, while some of the specifics are hard to translate into GIS, landscape architecture or environmental planning, the essay captures some feelings that will be familiar to many of us.

As we are confronted with new terms and ideas and theories, we have to keep evaluating them to figure out which will linger and which are little more than vapor. But, as Fleming points out, some of them turn out to be useful. If you initially ignored urban agriculture or green infrastructure when the ideas first emerged, the penalty probably wasn't that high. But even if those ideas get renamed/rebranded/redirected over the next few years, you can see that they have been very useful. And for now, they have become important threads of conversation and practice.

Maybe it is because our fields place such heavy emphasis on application, but even conversations about ephemeral issues still often seem to be useful. I remember a couple academic papers that made way too much of a popular Malcolm Gladwell book. And, while their effort capitalize on the author's popular ideas may not have been terribly meaningful, the result was a reframing of some ideas in our field that sparked real conversations about our need to re-examine the assumptions and driving forces of GIS, landscape architecture or environmental planning.

For us, I think that the warning about chasing trends is real, but the dangers might be less than other fields where dead ends seem to collect far more people.

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