Landscape, power and biopolitics : a Foucauldian analysis of Freshkills Park, New York City

  • Charles Philip Hutchinson

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis examines the value and role of landscape in the contemporary city. It examines the research question by exploring parks in New York City with a particular focus on a case study of Freshkills Park. Since 1996,Freshkills Park has been developed over the site of the world’s largest landfill: capped and sealed beneath the Park. The research has documented the process prior to decommissioning the landfill and considers the political, cultural and social aspects associated with the process to close the landfill and create the Park. The methodology to examine Freshkills Park adopts and adapts Michel Foucault’s concepts of power-knowledge, discourse and governance to interrogate the role and value of landscape in New York City from the time of Central Park’s creation through to the present day. The research argues that a discourse on parks in New York City emerged during the nineteenth century, but changed over time, thus presenting continuities and discontinuities in that discourse up to the late twentieth century. Freshkills Park is a product of that shifting discourse and was designed accordingly. This thesis found that the enormous financial and opportunity cost incurred in closing the landfill and creating a park, demonstrates the value that New York City places in parks. The Park can be considered as central to the proper functioning of the city as a social and economic entity in part because parks are connected to mechanisms of disciplinary power and biopolitics. That is, landscape within a city provides a location where biopolitics is revealed and where practices of self-discipline are evident. In Foucault’s terms, parks are a necessary component of the administration of the conditions of life, and necessary for the production of a docile and productive population. Entering the twenty-first-century, there were a number of events and contingencies specific to Freshkills Park and Fresh Kills landfill that changed the nature of the Park. Specifically Freshkills Park has come to represent the threats to New York in the twenty-first-century such as climate change, excessive waste production, even terrorism. Using Freshkills Park to remind citizens of these issues is considered in terms of the tactics of biopolitics. In this case, biopolitics has been extended beyond the scope envisaged by Foucault, and has become associated with the administration of the biosphere. Freshkills Park has altered the discourse on parks, broadening and changing the value of parks in the city, and the value of landscape. Freshkills Parks through its connection with biopolitics demonstrates how parks can be understood to exist within and contribute to systems of neoliberal governance. Through understanding a connection between landscape and processes of power and biopolitics, new constructs of the role and value of landscape in the contemporary city emerge. Landscape can be understood as intimately connected with political and economic spheres, and centrally located within systems of power and knowledge, biopolitics and governance.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorScott Heyes (Supervisor), Andrew Mackenzie (Supervisor) & Jordan Williams (Supervisor)

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