In our example we demonstrate that scientific discourses of development - pervasive in the media, popular culture, scholarship and indeed classrooms - have roots in dominant explanations of how economic development 'should' proceed, and how it is currently lacking (supposedly threatening the environment, food supply, etc.) in the Global South. We have also demonstrated that these discourses are remarkably tenacious and continue to persist because they are bolstered by a series of material and discursive power relations that re-inscribe our advantaged position in the world order. Our example challenges how we can, and should, think about the 'science' of development. On one hand, we value a range of kinds of evidence, including quantitative and technical information emanating from institutions such as the World Bank. As we show in our example, Mitchell uses World Bank data to demonstrate that the food supply is keeping up with population growth in Egypt. These forms of evidence are valuable because they often point directly to internal inconsistencies and contradictions within dominant explanations of phenomena such as 'overpopulation'. Indeed, similar analyses would reveal the discursive construction of 'sustainability', 'free trade' and 'globalization'. On the other hand, we demonstrate the importance of interrogating 'scientific' explanations to reveal the crucial historical, political-economic and discursive foundations for all interpretations of development. This type of critical analysis strengthens knowledge production and can make scientific development research more accountable to itself and its subjects.
Our larger point in building this example and in writing this chapter is to move beyond polarized debates over what is 'science' or 'beyond science' in geography. Our purpose is to reclaim 'science' as a critical, reflexive, politically accountable process of knowledge construction. Although we see important continuities within human geographic research involving reflexivity, open inquiry and rigour, we argue that critical human geography takes these practices further and that all kinds of geographic research can, and should, involve a constant re-examination of assumptions in the face of evidence. We illustrate that within human geography (and the social sciences more broadly), ideas of science are powerful and important to all of our work. As a result, our discussion stresses that it is not enough to simply refine our categories and questions. Rather we argue that scientific work is invested in, and has a strong tendency to reproduce, politically powerful discourses and material inequalities. For us, 'doing' critical science must involve a deeper analysis of the ways in which scientific knowledge is socially embedded and is always, inevitably and irrevocably, political. By building scientific knowledge that is accountable to its own embeddedness, we can construct 'worlds less organized by axes of domination' (Haraway, 1991: 192). The idea is not that there are no 'truths' or 'facts' in critical human geography, but rather that critical approaches within geography take seriously the notion that 'skepticism knows no bounds if it is really science' (Brown, pers. comm.., 2003).
essay questions and further reading
1 How would mainstream development be practised differently if 'overcon-sumption' were the central problem defined by the development establishment rather than 'overpopulation'? Take a look at Escobar (1995: chapter 2) for background on how poverty has been defined as a central problem in development. Then take a look at Durning (1992) for an incisive critique of consumption practices. What would be some of the major obstacles to replacing the current emphasis on 'overpopulation' with your emphasis on 'overcon-sumption' and what does this reveal about the politics of discourse? Mitchell's (1991a) article and Shresthsa's (1995) essay both provide insights on the workings and consequences of development discourses.
2 Why is reflexivity important if human geography is to be fully scientific? Compare and contrast reflexivity as defined and practised in 'spatial science' and 'critical human geography'. Dixon and Jones (1998) and McDowell (1992) present overviews of these different positions on reflexivity. Feminist geographers in particular have articulated rich analyses of reflexivity for critical human geography, see England (1994), Kobayashi (1994) and Rose (1997). For a recent 'spatial science' reading of reflexivity, see Wai-chung Yeung (2003).
1 Post-structuralism is distinct from 'postmodernism', a term that is loosely applied to historical epochs, artistic and architectural styles and strands of social theory. More broadly it is a wide-ranging movement of cultural critique which is sceptical of the ideals and scientific practices that have dominated Western science and society since the Enlightenment (Sim, 1998). Poststructural theory, as its name suggests, moves beyond structural analyses of society and rigorously questions the limits, inclusions and exclusions in all social theories (Sarup, 1993; Sim, 1998; McDowell and Sharp, 1999). Poststructural research is socially and politically accountable and committed to building constructive practice. This distinction is important because postmodern research is often labeled as sceptical, nihilist and apolitical and yet most critical human geography is consciously, socially and politically engaged.
2 Nevertheless, as Rose (1997) cautions, the very concept of reflexivity requires reflexive scrutiny, and an acknowledgement of the difficulty of actually achieving it.
3 The examination of discourses and the rise of discourse theory in the humanities and the social sciences can be traced to the intense questioning by many scholars of Enlightenment theories of universal truth and meaning, in particular by Michel Foucault. For an introduction to Foucault's work, see the review essays Gordon (1980) and Rabinow (1984) and on his influence on geography, see Gregory (1998) and Philo (1992).
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Key Debates in Geography
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