Desire Over Damage

Brandon Yip
[Different] Landscapes
2 min readOct 7, 2020

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Professional degree programs aim to prepare individuals to work in a specific industry or career. A “MLA” program is very much within this vein of thinking, preparing us students to work in the field of landscape architecture. What we all do with our degrees post graduation is of course up to us but the hope is that if the program is successful the individuals who do continue on with landscape architecture will have had a solid foundation from their school.

In a recent reading for Anna Brand’s class titled Suspending Damage: A letter to Communities written by Eve Tuck an Associate Professor of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). She urgest those in the academy to recognize their intellectual distance from the communities they study and research. In the process of recognition she asks us to reconsider the flawed theory of change that “damage-centered research” is built on.

‘“damage-centered’ research — research that intends to document peoples’ pain and brokenness to hold those in power accountable for their oppression. This kind of research operates with a flawed theory of change: it is often used to leverage reparations or resources for marginalized communities yet simultaneously reinforces and reinscribes a one-dimensional notion of these people as depleted, ruined, and hopeless”.

As a counternarrative she offers us a different approach centering Desire instead of damage.

“desire-based research frameworks are concerned with understanding complexity, contradiction, and the self-determination of lived lives. Considering the excerpt from Craig Gingrich-Philbrook (2005), desire-based frameworks defy the lure to serve as “advertisements for power” by doc-umenting not only the painful elements of social realities but also the wis-dom and hope. Such an axiology is intent on depathologizing the experiences of dispossessed and disenfranchised communities so that people are seen as more than broken and conquered. This is to say that even when communities are broken and conquered, they are so much more than that — so much more that this incomplete story is an act of aggression”.

Desire as a epistemological shift, as a thirding, as a way to understand the complexities of the communities we claim to help. How can we instead of being reductive be wholistic and appreciative in the process of understanding.

Marin city’s narrative has often been damaged focused. Thought of in terms of what the community does not have, a deficit, a loss. But imagine what it would look like if we as designers emplored the use of a desire-centered framework.

More thinking on this to come.

One small thing I have learned anything from this reading it is that there are many ways to approach the questions we have as academics, as designers and as students but what needs to stay at the center and must be a given is the humanity of the subject matter itself. It cannot be lost in the process.

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