A philosophical basis for the holistic study of landscape development in Geomorphology
The development of Geomorphology from two former major disciplines (Geography and Geology),makes it difficult for practitioners to accept a single major meta-paradigm as is the case with other earth sciences. It is also clear from current developments in the discipline, that the move away from the traditional qualitative research in micro-scale environments left a methodological gap in investigations into larger (meso-scale) phenomena. In this article, paradigms and science are examined with special reference to Geography as one of the parental sciences of Geomorphology (a view which is largely held in South Africa). After an elucidation of a meta-paradigm for Geomorphology, this meta-paradigm is then discussed in greater detail. Critical issues such as time and space and the way in which they are treated in Geomorphology are considered. Five social paradigms (functionalism, positivism, pragmatism, realism and the general systems theory or holism) used in Geomorphology are explained in as far as they have been applied to the discipline in the past. These are then linked to philosophical concepts and research approaches in landscape development in particular. The historical evolution of landscape development studies and principles of landscape development such as quantitative methods, antagonism, stability, equilibrium, catena’s, directedness, tectonics, and environmental variables provide the foundation from which the authors formulate a philosophical basis, “systemic realism”, for the integration of process and historic-genetic studies in Geomorphology. Several criteria are given for testing the proposed methodology, based on the components from which the approach was formulated. Results from a case study done on the Modder River catchment in the central Free State are compared with the suggested approach. Firstly, a conceptual model of the catchment is discussed. The identification of possible causal processes and environmental conditions is made from the conceptual model, previous studies and the spatial distribution of land forms and geological features in the catchment. Finally, some light is shed on the possible future development of the landscape. It is the authors’ contention that systemic realism forms a sound basis for future research in landscape development and, from there, provides a guideline to resource management.