Geography: made for adjectives?

31 Oct

or: The single-discipline geographer is nothing.

Out of our discussion last Friday, one thing Jess said stuck in my mind. She noted that while in feminism has a “lens” that is used to view things from a feminist perspective, this is something that is lacking in geography.  Our theory was that this was the void that critical geography was filling. Why else would we keep trying to tackle this shadowy spectre, ill-equipped as we might be?

A lack of framework is something I felt was missing from our Environment and Society class last semester. Although we learned the pros and cons of various issues past (the BP spill) and present (Fukushima), I felt unprepared to tackle issues that might emerge in the future. What are the tools in a geographer’s tool belt?

In the aforementioned article “What Makes Justice Spatial? What Makes Spaces Just?” (Brown et al. 2007), Don Mitchell is interviewed about spatial justice. He basically says that because “everything has to take place somewhere” (emphasis in original), studying space “forces us to look critically at power and control”. I distinctly remember him using the term “lens” or “prism”, but now that I’m trying to find the quote it seems that was just a figment of my mental paraphrasing process.

So spatial justice, lens for power systems… If critical theory is about criticizing power structures, then spatial justice is just another way of saying critical geography, right?

I’m currently in the middle of reading another article on spatial justice, but coming from a law perspective (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, 2010). As I read his analysis of spatial justice from my perspective as a potential/aspiring geographer, it became clear that not only is spatial justice a lens, geography is a lens. The implications of this have been unsettling for me. A lens is ultimately just a tool for seeing. Something more is required to produce anything beyond observation. If we want to move to the realm of action (is that an assumption I shouldn’t be making?), we to bring more into the equation, be it law or economics or journalism or politics (or linguistics or studio arts or…).

So this is where the heading comes from. Critical geography, feminist geography, urban geography…  geography is that much more satisfying with adjectives! The sub-heading is perhaps willfully ignoring all the forms of geography that have uses, and perhaps a little cruel to the remainder. Above all I am criticizing myself for choosing geography without supplementing it with another, more action-oriented discipline.

Brown, N., Griffis, R., Hamilton, K., Irish, S., and Kanouse, S. (2007). What Makes Justice Spatial? What Makes Spaces Just? Three Interviews on the Concept of Spatial Justice. Critical Planning 14, 7 – 28.

Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, A. (2010). Spatial justice: law and the geography
of withdrawal. International Journal of Law in Context, 6(3) 201–216.


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