Geography has a long history of usefulness, in times of peace and war, in contexts of imperialism and development. Looking back, not all would agree that these interventions have been to the obvious betterment of humanity. Harvey (1974) suggests that a legacy of racism, imperialism, and ethnocentrism leaves Geography with more to be ashamed of than proud of. The involvement of geographers with public policy has not, however, been either constant or uncomplicated, as Graf's account of
American river management shows (Graf, 1992). The paradox of an obviously useful discipline that has delivered policy-relevant research only inconsistently was observed 30 years ago and is still raised today. The discipline most certainly does have a range of theories, skills and insights that are particularly suited to conducting socially useful research, in human, environmental and physical geography. Concepts such as spatial and temporal scale, context-dependence, and the integration of human and physical systems are complemented by a good track record of practical field-based research, cartography, modelling and GIScience. The often overlooked roles of education and public information, bridging the communities of scientists, citizens and policy-makers, have a prominent position in the discipline. Most geographers would acknowledge the importance of teaching students as their major contribution to changing society (see Chapter 17 in this volume by Castree).
The explanation of this paradox lies partly in the range of obstacles or problems that separate geographers and the policy realm. The higher status accorded to pure science over applied work, something buried deep in Western science and ironically reinforced by government policies towards academia, remains one significant problem. Other institutional obstacles include the proliferation of levels of government and the concentration of geographers on downstream outcomes. There are also 'cultural' differences between academics and policy-makers that can only be bridged through persistent hard work. But beneath this is a more profound question. To what extent should geographers not only set the agenda of research, but choose to whom their work is relevant? One the one hand, there is research that assists the management of society and the environment, clearing up their messes without necessarily addressing the cause of the problem. A recent example is a collection of short essays by US geographers called The Geographical Dimensions of Terrorism (Cutter et al., 2002). Expertise in hazards, understanding risk, vulnerability and emergency planning, spatial analysis and the geopolitics of terrorism are brought together in a timely volume. Its lead editor wrote:
As I watched the September 11th events unfold on television, it was obvious that the discipline could assist in the disaster response and recovery efforts, but more importantly, that it should take a lead role in guiding public policy in understanding what made people and places vulnerable to these and other environmental threats. (Cutter, 2003: 5)
For some, however, the more relevant questions will lie in what responsibility the USA has had for fomenting terrorism and instability, or why western societies have provoked such violent opposition (see the special issue of Arab World Geographer 2001). These geographers may use their talents in peace campaigns, protest marches and educating citizens to the unpleasant realities of the twenty-first century. For all the internal wrangling it generates, that the discipline accommodates both responses is one of its strengths.
essay questions and further references
1 Do you agree that the relationship between Geography and public policy is necessarily a fraught one? This is the main theme of this chapter, and most of the references listed below are relevant. But you could start with Peck (1999), Coppock (1974) and Massey (2001) who set out the main issues. A more critical perspective concerning human geography is given by Martin (2001) and Dorling and Shaw (2002), but do not feel that you have to agree with everything they write. Graf's (1992) discussion of US river policy and Liver-man's (1999) account of climate change are more positive. You may have your own examples from other parts of the course you have done.
2. Is it possible for a geographer to be both a scholar and an activist? Nick Blomley (1994) asks whether one can be true to the values of academia, which might include detachment and objectivity, and at the same time be an activist or an advocate for a cause. There are political, ethical and personal issues at stake here. Start with the series of short articles in Area 1999 (see Kitchin and Hubbard, 1999) and the free on-line 'e-book' called Radical Theory/ Critical Praxis edited by Duncan Fuller and Rob Kitchin (2004), noting the different views taken by Don Mitchell in his chapter and most of the other contributors. For a rare discussion from a physical geographer, see Haigh (2002).
3 See http:/international.metropolis.net/frameset_e.html. The Canadian regional centres of excellence in Vancouver, Toronto and elsewhere can be accessed from this site and feature examples of ongoing geographical research on migration and cities. I have benefited from Dan Heibert's reflections on Metropolis.
Arab World Geographer (2001) Forum on September 11. Arab World Geographer 4, 77-99.
Banks, M. and Mackian, S. (2000) Jump in! The water's warm: a comment on Peck's 'grey geography'. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 25, 249-254.
Bishop, K.H. (1997) Liming of acid surface waters in northern Sweden: questions of geographical variation and the precautionary principle. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 22, 49-60.
Blomley, N.K. (1994) Editorial: activism and the academy. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12, 383-385.
Bray, M., Hooke, J. and Carter, D. (1997) Planning for sea-level on the south coast of England: advising the decision-makers. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 22, 13-30.
Castree, N. (1999) 'Out there'? 'In here'? Domesticating critical geography. Area 31, 81-86.
Coates, D.R. (1990) Environmental geomorphology. Zeitschrift fur Geomorphologie Suppl-Bd 79, 83-117.
Cooke, R.U. (1992) Common ground, shared inheritance: research imperatives for environmental geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 17, 131-151.
Coppock, J.T. (1974) Geography and public policy: challenges, opportunities and implications. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 63, 1-16.
Cutter, S.L. (2003) The vulnerability of science and the science of vulnerability. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 93,1-12.
Cutter, S.L., Mitchell, J.T. and Wilbanks, T.J. (2002) The Geographical Dimensions of Terrorism. Association of American Geographers, Washington DC.
Dorling, D. and Shaw, M. (2002) Geographies of the agenda: public policy, the discipline and its (re)turns. Progress in Human Geography 26, 629-646.
Fuller, D. and Kitchin, R. (2004) Radical Theory/Critical Praxis: Academic Geography Beyond the Academy? Praxis (e)Press, Vernon and Victoria, BC (available online at http:/www. praxis-epress.org).
Graf, W.L. (1992) Science, public policy, and western American rivers. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 17, 5-19.
Gregory, K. (2000) The Changing Nature of Physical Geography. Arnold, London.
Haigh, M.J. (2002) Land reclamation and Deep Ecology: in search of a more meaningful physical geography. Area 34, 242-252.
Harvey, D. (1974) What kind of geography for what kind of public policy? Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 63, 18-24.
Henderson-Sellers, A. (1998) Communicating science ethically: Is the 'balance' achievable? Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88, 301-307.
Hoggart, K. (1996) All washed up and nowhere to go? Public policy and geographical research. Progress in Human Geography 20, 110-122.
Johnston, R.J. (1997) Geography and Geographers: Anglo-American Geography Since 1945, 4th edn. Arnold, London.
Kitchin, R.M. and Hubbard, P.J. (1999) Research, action and 'critical' geographies. Area 31, 195-198.
Limb, M. and Dwyer, C. (eds) (2001) Qualitative Methodologies for Geographers. Arnold, London.
Liverman, D. (1999) Geography and the global environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 89, 107-120.
Martin, R. (2001) Geography and public policy: the case of the missing agenda. Progress in Human Geography 25, 189-210.
Massey, D. (2000) Practising political relevance. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 25, 131-134.
Massey, D. (2001) Geography on the agenda. Progress in Human Geography 25, 5-17.
McDonnell, R.A. (2003) GISystems, GIScience and remote sensing. In Rogers, A. and Viles, H. (eds) The Student's Companion to Geography. Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 167-172.
Newson, M. (1992) Twenty years of systematic physical geography: issues for a 'New Environmental Age'. Progress in Physical Geography 16, 209-221.
Orford, S., Dorling, D. and Harris, R. (2003) Cartography and visualization. In Rogers, A. and Viles, H. (eds) The Student's Companion to Geography. Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 151-156.
Pacione, M. (1999) In pursuit of useful knowledge: the principles and practice of applied geography. In Pacione, M. (ed.) Applied Geography. Routledge, London, pp. 3-18.
Peck, J. (1999) Grey geography? Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 24, 131-135.
Routledge, P. (1996) The third space as critical engagement. Antipode 28, 399-419.
Simmons, I. (1990) No rush to grow green. Area 22, 384-387.
Trudgill, S. and Richards, K. (1997) Environmental science and policy: generalization and context. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 22,5-12.
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