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Thinking Geographically. Peter Jackson Geographical Association Conference, April 2006. Thinking geographically. Geography is not just a gazetteer of place names and capital cities

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thinking geographically

Thinking Geographically

Peter Jackson

Geographical Association Conference, April 2006

thinking geographically1
Thinking geographically
  • Geography is not just a gazetteer of place names and capital cities
  • It’s a unique way of seeing the world, understanding complex problems and thinking about inter-connections at a variety of scales (global to local).
thinking geographically2
Thinking geographically
  • Drawing on David Lambert’s distinction between geography’s vocabulary (an endless list of places…) and its grammar or syntax (concepts and theories that help us make sense of all those places…)
thinking geographically3
Thinking geographically
  • Might be one way of addressing Geography’s “tired and dated content” (QCA, 2004)
  • Helping to reverse the apparently relentless fall in student numbers
  • Increase our confidence to take more risks in what and how we teach
key concepts
Key concepts
  • Space and place
  • Scale and connection
  • Proximity and distance
  • Relational thinking
other possibilities
Other possibilities?
  • Action Plan for Geography:
    • Place
    • Connectedness
    • Scale
    • Process
    • Skills
  • Inter-dependence, environment, sustainability, globalization…
space and place
Space and Place
  • “Space is like sex …it’s there but we don’t talk about it” (Edward Hall)
  • “Place is humanized space” (Yi-Fu Tuan)
  • Time-space compression (David Harvey)
  • Placeless planet, space of flows (Manuel Castells)
  • A global sense of place (Doreen Massey):
    • porous boundaries
    • connections between places
    • roots vs routes
  • Paradox of place (Noel Castree): unique but connected.
scale and connection
Scale and Connection
  • A hierarchy of scales (from the body to the world)
  • Connections between scales (Margaret Roberts: zooming in/zooming out)
  • Neil Smith’s essay on ‘jumping scales’ in Mapping the futures about homeless in New York (“Tompkins Square is everywhere”).
proximity and distance
Proximity and Distance
  • Not just physical distance (miles or kms)
  • Distant places made ‘closer’ (by TV or the internet) but can remain physically inaccessible, emotionally remote
  • Caring for ‘distant strangers’ vs a failure of the geographical imagination for those ‘closer to home’ (child poverty, spatial inequality, social exclusion).
relational thinking
Relational thinking
  • Geographies of difference (us and them, self and Other, East and West…): desire and dread, fear and fascination (Example: ‘racist soup’ vs the ‘couscous of friendship’ in Marseilles)
  • Geographies of connection (combined and uneven development)
  • Physical and human geography (nature and culture in a more-than-human world).
an example consumer ethics
An example: consumer ethics
  • Where thinking geographically can help resolve some of the complexities and contradictions of our everyday lives
  • ‘Ethical consumers’ as a self-conscious minority (Fair Traders) vs. the ethics that underlie all our consumption choices (cf. the language of ‘decent’ vs ‘junk’ food, eating a ‘proper meal’ etc).
ethical dilemmas
Ethical dilemmas?
  • Buying (imported) organic fruit and veg often leads to an increase in ‘food miles’
  • Reducing food miles (farmers’ markets) vs better regulation (high-street supermarkets)
  • Buying ‘local’ produce vs the needs of distant strangers (Third World producers)
  • Buying eco-friendly goods from the supermarket having driven there in a four-wheel drive…
thinking geographically about the oxfam goat
Thinking geographically about the Oxfam goat…
  • Initial reaction is positive – example of ‘caring at a distance’
  • Part of a wider social movement (Make Poverty History wristbands and rock concerts)
  • An alternative to self-centredness and the commodification of Christmas (“Am I bothered?”)
ethical complexity
Ethical complexity…

Buying a goat as just another commodity:

“Never mind the iPod, the surprise hit of the Christmas shopping season was the goat” (The Times 21 February 2006)

Other ‘bestsellers’ (Christian Aid): a fishing net for Mali £35, a water tap in Bolivia £24, two months’ salary for a teacher in India £30, two sheep in Senegal £80, a mosquito net for an Angolan family £11.

the commodification of charity
The commodification of charity?
  • A response to ‘donor fatigue’?

cf. immediate response to the Asian tsunami versus slower response to Rwandan genocide or Sudanese famine

  • Charity shops now increasingly like their commercial competitors
  • But charity was never ‘pure and simple’ (mixed motives: noblesse oblige, enlightened self interest, paternalism…)
charity begins at home
Charity begins at home?
  • Easier to be generous to distant strangers than to give practical help those closer to home?
  • Buying a goat as an impersonal and marketised relation vs giving your time and your self?
  • An opportunity to parade your generosity to family and friends?
ecological arguments
Ecological arguments?

The World Land Trust (patron: Sir David Attenborough):

“charities like Oxfam and Christian Aid have forgotten that goats eat everything. Camels, which Oxfam offers for £95, are even more destructive.”

John Burton (chief exec, World Land Trust):

“They haven’t thought this scheme through properly ... They don’t understand the connection between habitat degradation and poverty.”

“The goat campaign may be a pleasing gift and a short-term fix for milk and meat, but in the long term the quality of life for these people will slowly be reduced with devastating effect.”

geographies of responsibility
Geographies of responsibility

Doreen Massey (Geografiska Annaler, 2005):

  • against a ‘Russian doll’ model of care and responsibility (a nested set of loyalties from home and neighbourhood to nation and world)
  • just as we are responsible for the past because the past continues in the present, so are distant places implicated in our ‘here’
  • need to rethink ‘relations at a distance’
relating at a distance
Relating at a distance

“If the identities of places are … the product of relations which spread way beyond them (if we think space/place in terms of flows and (dis)connectivities rather than in terms only of territories), then what should be the political relationship to those wider geographies of connection?” (Massey, 2004: 11).

“A real recognition of the relationality of space points to a politics of connectivity…” (ibid: 17).

  • Thinking geographically as a uniquely powerful way of seeing the world
  • No ‘right answers’ to difficult ethical questions
  • But a language (set of concepts and ideas) that help us see connections and inter-connections that other may miss.