Or Letting Things Develop Naturally

If geography is 'in a bit of state' with divisions between human and physical geographers, why can't it just continue like this? Is there any real evidence for geography being seriously threatened by division? Although many authors have written about tensions, schisms and differences, we may ask whether they are actually affecting the progress of research and teaching. Or are they just an excuse for the 'chattering classes' in academic geography to knock off a quick journal article?

Is there anything to be said for trying to maintain a continued state of 'uneasy co-existence'? I suggest that there are four main reasons why such co-existence might be worth preserving. First, it works. Although human and physical geographers may not publish in the same journals, and although we have many differences and do not share very much, geography hasn't blown apart. Two tribes can perhaps cover similar academic territories without threatening each other, but also without necessarily competing. Something about our uneasy alliance must be working. We can effectively devise, and share teaching for, meaningful geography undergraduate courses which remain popular. Second, to use an ecological analogy, diversity may be just as healthy for an academic discipline as it has often been seen to be for an ecosystem. Perhaps geomorphologists occupy the same sort of niche in academic geography as earthworms do in a temperate grassland - although no doubt most geomorphologists would rather be referred to as a top carnivore rather than a worm. We could argue that, even if limited, the scope for intellectual cross-fertilization of ideas between different parts of the discipline is useful - we physical geographers may occasionally get some really good insights into particular scientific problems by talking to a human geographer, but are not under pressure to do so all the time. This allows all of us to engage in creative collaboration with others in chemistry, physics or biology departments, for example. Collaboration between economists, geomorphologists and ecologists might be just as able to tackle important issues of human-environment relations in multi-disciplinary projects, as a group of physical and human geographers. New ideas generally arise from the juxtaposition of quite different concepts and assumptions, whether it's in advertising or academia.

Keeping physical and human geography in bland co-existence may be the easiest alternative, but it is only likely to work if we can keep a creative and healthy tension and diversity. It might, curiously, enable more work to be done on human-environment relations by geographers working as part of multi-disciplinary teams, without trying to claim that geography somehow 'owns' that territory.

Whether the subject becomes re-integrated or whether the divide widens, the forces encouraging increasing divergence between physical and human geography research may combine to provoke a major reassessment of the status of geography as a university discipline today. This may be very timely at the start of the twenty-first century when academic disciplines largely defined in the nineteenth century may require reassessment in order to facilitate the best, most useful research. If, as Becher and Trowler believe, specialisms are in many ways the fundamental unit of academic grouping, then it may be that combinations of specialist fields from within geography and outside could form the basis of new, developing tribes moving onto fertile new academic territories.

Geographers could be at the forefront of attempts to set up new interdisciplinary research and teaching units focused on areas of the world, big issues or methodologies.

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