The reenchantment of geomorphology

V. R. Baker, C. R. Twidale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Much of modern Geomorphology lacks the enchantment that the science possessed a century ago. Practical and philosophical impediments are thwarting modern attempts to achieve a satisfying understanding of landforms and their genesis. In recent years, even the security of geomorphologists' academic bases has been threatened within the cognate disciplines of Geography and Geology. During the 1960s these fields experienced so-called "scientific revolutions," which many geomorphologists either uncritically embraced or assumed to be irrelevant. While commendable in spirit, progressive initiatives to establish research traditions in landscape evolution, climatic geomorphology, and process studies all encountered fundamental limitations as unifying themes. More disturbing are ideological impositions that advocate geomorphological concentration on timeless, theoretical, or utilitarian problems. While facilitating precision of explanation and prediction, various geoideological bandwagons may stifle creativity, insight, and intellectual satisfaction. Most insidious is the substitution of elegantly structured methodology and theory for spontaneity, serendipity, and common sense. Hope for the reenchantment of Geomorphology lies in a new connectedness to nature that will facilitate the identification of anomalies and the formulation of outrageous hypotheses of causation. In the words of William Morris Davis, "...violence must be done to many of our accepted principles." Examples of such ideas may be found in fringe areas of the discipline, including planetary geomorphology, tectonic geomorphology, and denudation chronology with emphasis on ancient paleosurfaces. Geomorphologists should consider inverting their belief that they are achieving progressive (timebound) understanding of invariant (timeless) laws in nature. Rather, they may choose a geophysiological view in which the richness of natural history is revealed in a timeless conversation with the Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-100
Number of pages28
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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