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  • Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State by Gareth Doherty
  • Florian Wiedmann
Paradoxes of Green: Landscapes of a City-State, by Gareth Doherty. Oakland: University of California Press, 2017. 216 pages. $29 paper.

Paradoxes of Green by Gareth Doherty is an insightful work about the Kingdom of Bahrain that uses an innovative approach to study perceptions of a color and all its cultural associations to shed light on complex issues such as loss of identity, political conflicts, and an endangered ecosystem. The book combines multiple anthropological approaches to the investigation of human perceptions and urban studies with a particular focus on landscape architecture and its role in connecting inhabitants to their surrounding environment. The color green has always had a special meaning and impact on cultures in arid regions, and the author explores this relationship by carefully choosing a very particular case in the Gulf region, an archipelago of 33 islands and a city-state of more than 1.4 million inhabitants today.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is known for its ancient history and its significance as a place where fresh water has been found in extraordinary abundance, given the surrounding region. This led to an ancient agricultural tradition and a special relationship to gardening, which has been sustained until the present day. Today, as the author emphasizes, the main paradox can be found in the strong attachment of the population to greenery and the accelerated modern urbanization with its excessive use of water, threatening and essentially destroying the fragile desert ecosystem of these small islands and their coasts. The author bases his observations on long-term ethnographic fieldwork exploring a variety of key landscapes to establish diverse insights as to how the color green represents an integrated complexity due to its impact on human values and thus its significant role in shaping society and its everyday environment.

Notably, the book follows the tradition of Henri Lefebvre in exploring the representational space and, thus, key factors producing places and their components. The originality of the book stems from its structure around the main theme of one color and the special context of a Gulf state known for its long-term social (or socioreligious) conflicts and geopolitical significance. The author thus introduces key facts about the context as a base for establishing a suitable backdrop for the subsequent essays exploring the multiple facets of how a single color can be used as a key entry point for investigating a complex space production due to its cultural and environmental dimension.

In the first chapter, "Green Scenery," Doherty explains his theoretical and methodological approach in mapping the landscapes of Bahrain by walking around and talking to inhabitants. The author thus states that any human landscape, in his view, can be continuously rediscovered and read to detect multilayered meanings, which can have direct implications for a conscious and responsive design practice. Therefore, the chapter concludes with a small summary of the emerging field of "design anthropology" and the approach to investigate a space by connecting the complex web of meanings of one place via his focus on a carefully chosen main theme. The author clearly identifies his book as being part of this scientific path and a multidisciplinary attempt to decode the meanings of produced landscapes to reveal new recognitions.

Following this framework chapter, the author decided to structure his book in seven essays with clear, but often vaguely defined and, often, combined topics, such as water supply, specific cultural contexts, and the contemporary planning practice. Therefore, the collection of facts, such as the detailed insights on water supply and waste, are accompanied with personal observations and impressions. This approach of continuously interweaving a narrative and analytical discourse on important topics avoids the danger of generating descriptive summaries instead of thoughtful and integrated reflections. After the first and most important conclusion that extensive greenery has an undoubtedly high environmental price in a rapidly growing desert nation, the book reveals another dimension reflected in the practice of local Islamic traditions. [End Page 152]

This sociocultural realm is mainly explored through personal encounters with various local customs and perceptions. The author investigates how the color green is interconnected with a deep symbolic meaning...


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pp. 152-153
Launched on MUSE
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