I seem to have spent a lot of time in the past year writing pieces for book review forums – pieces about other people’s books, and pieces about things people have written about my book, The Priority of Injustice. The first of these forums to go public, a series of commentaries on Linda Zerilli’s wonderful A Democratic Theory of Judgment, is perhaps the most interesting (and easily accessible), in so far as it takes the dialogic form that book review forums seek to perform in print/text, and extends it through an online medium. Syndicate is described as a ‘living network of scholarship in the humanities’, and their symposium on Zerilli’s book is now live, through to mid-September – the format involves one commentary being published a week, with a response from Linda, and further comments added as and when. My commentary is due to be published next week (it focusses on Zerilli’s contribution to a series of critical debates about ‘affect theory‘).
There is another newly published title in the Routledge Research Series in Place, Space and Politics – Migration in Performance by Caleb Johnston and Gerry Pratt. For a full list of the books in the Series, look here.
Here is the book description:
“This book follows the travels of Nanay, a testimonial theatre play developed from research with migrant domestic workers in Canada, as it was recreated and restaged in different places around the globe. This work examines how Canadian migration policy is embedded across and within histories of colonialism in the Philippines and settler colonialism in Canada. Translations between scholarship and performance – and between Canada and the Philippines – became more uneasy as the play travelled internationally, raising pressing questions of how decolonial collaborations might take shape in practice. This book examines the strengths and limits of existing framings of Filipina migration and offers rich ideas of how care – the care of children and elderly and each other – might be rethought in radically new ways within less violently unequal relations that span different colonial histories and complex triangulations of racialised migrants, settlers and Indigenous peoples.
This book is a journey towards a new way of doing and performing research and theory. It is part of a growing interdisciplinary exchange between the performing arts and social sciences and will appeal to researchers and students within human geography and performance studies, and those working on migration, colonialisms, documentary theatre and social reproduction.”
Another title in the Routledge Research Series in Place, Space and Politics has been published, Geographies of Postsecularity – written by Paul Cloke, Chris Baker, Callum Sutherland and Andy Williams. A full list of the books in the Series can be found here.
Now available as a hardback book, the special issue originally published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers on the theme of Social Justice and the City. As before, my chapter, as it is now, works through the relevance of the arguments made in The Priority of Injustice for fields of geographical research. It might also be one of the only chapters which addresses in any substance the original book of the same title. Not sure what to make of that.
The latest edition to the Place, Space and Politics monograph series is now available, Matt Hannah’s Direction and Socio-spatial Theory: A Political Economy of Oriented Practice – an important contribution to debates in geography and beyond about embodiment, practice, one might even say intentionality (my word not, I think, his).
Details of soon-to-be-published titles in the series, as well as a full list of already published books, are available here.
The report last week by the Royal Historical Society on Race, Ethnicity and Equality into the discipline of History in UK higher education, as well as some of the attendant press coverage, has reminded me of a train of thought I have been following, in my own head, since the summer. It was prompted by the #ChooseGeography hashtag, which has been a medium for sharing various reasons to affirm why Geography Matters, as they used to say.
The stream of tweets reminded me that I, and a number of other geographers I know, didn’t really choose geography at all. It chose us – it’s proved to be an unexpectedly creative and open space in which to find things out. Perhaps this grammatical difference – between choosing geography and being chosen by it – indicates a significant cleavage within the field more broadly. The active sense of choosing geography is associated with a strongly justificatory rhetoric of why geography matters in more or less useful, practical, even applied, ways. #ChooseGeography does reflect a wider embrace of the idea that Geography is ideally placed to address all sorts of ‘global challenges’ – because geographers are really good at understanding the interactions between local actions and global processes [they really are].
Of course, it’s worth remembering that all those ‘challenges’ that drive current debates about the value of research are externally sourced (remember, the establishment of UKRI means the Haldane principle is effectively dead – by defining it as a principle only relating to decision about individual research proposals) – which does raise the question of what is involved when whole scholarly fields define their own intellectual agendas by so openly embracing the logics of ‘challenge-led’ research (i.e. what the government of the day randomly decides is worthwhile, with no more arms length mediation).
The problem with the ‘really useful knowledge’ version of geography is that it tends to side-line that strand of geographical thought that focuses on how all those ‘challenges’ arise as matters of public concern in the first place [you could call that a ‘critical’ strand, or a ‘genealogical’ strand; or, just ‘science’, in so far as science is about problem-finding, not problem-solving, to borrow a line from Richard Sennett].
So, for example, lots of those ‘global challenges’ are now described as really complex, and therefore requiring integrative, ‘interdisciplinary’ approaches. Climate change is, obviously, the best example – it’s now routinely thought of as a “super wicked problem”. Now, if you take that idea seriously (and you should), then it means that this sort of problem can’t be solved (and certainly not by the application of scientific knowledge, however integrative and expansive it might be). A little bit of intellectual history can be a dangerous thing. Science doesn’t offer solutions. It’s difficult to roll that idea into grand funding bids though, isn’t it.
So, here is my final thought: Just what is the relationship between the idea of geography-as-useful-and-challenge-oriented, on the one hand, and the chronic whiteness of the discipline, in the UK, on the other?
To be more precise, how does the ongoing framing of a field of knowledge – one that seeks to understand the worldliness of the world – as a purveyor of beneficent knowledge which is able to solve other people’s/peoples’ problems (and especially, which is able to solve problems created by other people’s/peoples’ supposed lack of thoughtful action), how does that framing help to reproduce a problematic and unacknowledged paternalism at the heart of the Subject of academic Geography (whether as student, teacher, or researcher)? Just askin’. Seriously.
Anyway, I wonder if the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers, of course) might consider a similar exercise to the one undertaken by the RHS sometime soon. It would make interesting reading.