Putting Our Feet Down

Although all four of the strategies reviewed above implicitly acknowledge the predicament of dancing on hot coals, only one side of this predicament has been thoroughly dealt with by scholars. Human geographers now have a fairly sophisticated sense of the instability of the representations that make up our stock of knowledge. But we still struggle to come to terms with the other side, the inevitability of taking a great deal for granted, of putting our feet down somewhere. I have argued elsewhere that the inescapable need to rely on unjustifiable assumptions is best understood as a matter of finitude of scope (Hannah, 1999). Finitude of scope is a basic feature of human beings, but is rarely remarked upon in studies of human knowledge. The term recognizes that individual human beings are the indispensable hosts, the only 'homes' for 'knowledge'. However impressive the accumulation of knowledge at a societal scale, however powerful the 'stock' of scientific knowledge, it can only ever be produced and treated as knowledge, accessed, understood, interpreted and reproduced by individual human knowers. But we knowers are fundamentally limited; we cannot 'pay attention critically to everything at once', indeed, we cannot call into question more than a tiny fraction of our fields of engagement. The fact that we can only be at one place at any one time, and can only do a finite number of things, is fundamental to our nature as materially embodied beings. This limitation was recognized decades ago in geographical discussions of social action in a general sense, but it applies also to specifically intellectual activities. In this section of the chapter I take some time to flesh out the notion of finitude. The point here is to set the stage for thinking about how geographers produce and debate representations. This, too, is of immediate relevance to students of the subject. The more students know about the details of where scholarly representations come from, the easier it will be to recognize the common ground they share with their teachers as 'incomplete knowers'. This in turn should make it easier to see learning as properly a matter of dialogue rather than authoritative dispensing of 'truth' by the experts to the uninitiated.

Again, many professors are very aware of the changes in human geography that have been described in this chapter. We understand the representations we offer in lectures, seminars and readings are very often contestable, both because of the impossibility of 'non-political' knowledge and because of the selectivity imposed by our finitude as individuals. Not only do we not know anything beyond all shadow of a doubt, we are also necessarily very selective in the issues with which we are at all familiar. This may come as a surprise, given that many professors appear to 'know everything'. Social scientists do indeed have a sort of 'head start' in discussing the issues with students because of the sheer amount of time and energy we're obligated to put into thinking about such things. It is, after all, our job. Most people, even if they wanted to, could only think carefully and systematically about the way societies work for at most a couple hours out of every day: their energies are absorbed by other occupations. But this 'head start' of academics have should not seem as intimidating as it may once have appeared. In the larger scheme of things, even the 'head start' doesn't get scholars very far. The most widely read scholar on earth (were it possible to determine who that is) would still never have a hope of developing an informed opinion about more than a microscopically tiny fraction of all there is to think about. And, based on the arguments given above, even that tiny fraction of hard-won knowledge would be inherently debatable.

Let me make some schematic suggestions about how best to take advantage of the new openness to debate which students can and should expect from their professors. First, if representations construct realities, and if human geographers are aware of this, it is fair to ask why professors construct their representations of the world the way they do. Why do we represent 'globalization' the way we do? Why does this professor use the term 'Third World' and that one not? Sometimes, the answer will be simply 'For convenience', or 'Because the textbook does it this way'. But sometimes there are more interesting thought processes behind such decisions, and by asking professors to be explicit about them, students can get a more complete sense of what they're learning (and perhaps also help the professors organize their own thoughts more systematically). Second, it is worth keeping a special eye out for dualisms. Since they are practically unavoidable, they will pop up from time to time. But which ones do professors rely upon and which ones not? Does a particular instructor seem to buy into the gender dualism, and treat domestic work as though it's unimportant and inferior to work in the public sphere? Ask about it. You might get a wide range of reactions, from genuine engagement to nervous, defensive dismissal. But even in the latter case, asking the question in the first place will help you and your fellow students get a better sense of the limits of what's being presented to you.

In principle, of course, there are no limits to the representations students can (and should feel free to) challenge in the classroom. But even the most omniscient professors must choose to rely upon countless concepts as though they are unproblematic, so it's rather cheap and easy to make the accusation of 'incompleteness' or 'neglect to mention something'. It will always be possible to bring up some consideration a professor has neglected, or point out a way in which an explanation is incomplete. A more difficult but also more useful skill to cultivate is to be able to recognize when the holes and gaps are important and when they are not. And anyway, as finite beings themselves, students cannot truly question everything at once. Trying to be totally critical of everything is generally a pointless exercise. The key, again, is to learn to think carefully about how to select those representations one would like to challenge. Here a couple of rules of thumb may prove useful: you could either (a) single out those concepts the professor seems to rely upon most frequently and uncritically; or (b) try to identify those representations you yourself take most deeply for granted. The latter path is the more difficult one, as it requires a higher degree of critical reflection on one's own assumptions. But it is also a very fruitful exercise.

Another strategy for directing critical energy in the classroom, suggested by a number of the schools of thought mentioned above, is also tremendously useful beyond the halls of education. According to this strategy, critical attention should be paid first and foremost to those representations put forward by powerful individuals and institutions. What are the representations most strenuously and deliberately put forward by the scientific establishment, national governments or other large organizations (such as major newspapers or other multinational corporations)? Does the way these representations construct the world have anything to do with the fact that these institutions enjoy a great deal of prestige, influence, and economic power? In many cases, the answer is yes. A good experiment is to look for different ways in which the term 'globalization' is used. Almost invariably, organizations which benefit from globalization in its current form will represent it as natural or inevitable. This is because they benefit from it. By encouraging people the world over to accept the inevitability of globalization, they help fulfil their own prophecy and ensure their own prosperity . . . the particular form of globalization we now see will indeed become inevitable if nobody takes the trouble to think through and work toward (that is, perform) alternative forms. In many areas of human geographic scholarship, the government documents and media reporting that supply us with such representations are important sources of information, and need to be examined carefully.

In a sense, all these suggestions merely amount to an updated version of the famous ancient dictum: the unexamined life is not worth living. This has always been especially true for life in the classroom, though that fact has been obscured by the authority granted professors as the keepers of privileged representation. As a result of recent developments in the way representation and reality are understood, professors of human geography are now free to step down from the pedestal. And students should feel free to give the pedestal a helpful nudge. In this spirit, it is appropriate to close with an adaptation of another hallowed piece of wisdom: 'Truth will not make us free, but taking control of the production of truth will' (Hardt and Negri, 2000: 156).

essay questions and further reading

1 'Representations do not simply ''express'' reality.' Discuss this proposition on the basis of the following reading about science, a practice normally thought to produce accurate representations of the world: Latour (1987, Chapters 1, 2) and Demerritt (1998).

2 'Maps, as representations of the world, are inherently political.' Discuss this statement on the basis of the following readings: J.B. Harley (1989) and the chapters on maps in Barnes and Duncan (1992).

Barnes, T. (1998) A history of regression: actors, networks, machines and numbers. Environment and Planning A 30, 203-223. Barnes, T. (2002) Performing economic geography: two men, two books, and a cast of thousands. Environment and Planning A 34, 487-512. Barnes, B., Bloor, D. and Henry, J. (1996) Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological

Analysis. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Barnes, T. and Duncan, J. (eds) (1992) Writing Worlds. Routledge, London. Best, B. (1999) Postcolonialism and the deconstructive scenario: representing

Gayatri Spivak. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 17, 475-494. Bhaskar, R. (1986) Scientific Realism and Human Emancipation. Verso, New York. Braun, B. and Castree, N. (eds) (1998) Remaking Reality: Nature at the Millennium.

Routledge, New York. Butler, J. (1993) Bodies That Matter. Routledge, New York.

Callon, M. (1995) Four models for the dynamics of science. In Janasoff, S., Markle, G., Petersen, J. and Pinch, T. (eds) Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Sage, New York, pp. 29-63. Castree, N. (1995) The nature of produced nature and knowledge construction in

Marxism. Antipode 27,12-48. Collier, A. (1994) Critical Realism: An Introduction to Roy Bhaskar's Philosophy. Verso, New York.

Cosgrove, D. (1992) Orders and a new world: cultural geography 1990-1991.

Progress in Human Geography 16, 272-280. Demerritt, D. (1998) Science, social constructivism and nature. In Braun, B. and

Castree, N. (eds) Remaking Reality. Routledge, New York, pp. 173-193. Demeritt, D. (2001) Being constructive about nature. In Castree, N. and Braun, B.

(eds) Social Nature: Theory, Practice, Politics. Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 22-40. Dewsbury, J.-D. (2000) Performativity and the event: enacting a philosophy of difference. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18, 473-496. Doel, M. (1993) Proverbs for paranoids: writing geography on hollowed ground.

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 18, 377-394. Doel, M. (1999) Poststructuralist Geographies. Rowman and Littlefield, New York. Gibson-Graham, J.-K. (1996) The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It). Blackwell, Oxford.

Graham, J. (1990) Theory and essentialism in Marxist geography. Antipode 22, 53-66.

Gregory, D. (1978) Ideology, Science and Human Geography. St Martin's Press, New York.

Gregory, D. (1994) Geographical Imaginations. Blackwell, Oxford. Hannah, M. (1999) Skeptical realism: from either/or to both-and. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 17,17-34.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A. (2000) Empire. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Harley, J.B. (1989) Deconstructing the map. Cartographica 26,1-20.

Hetherington, K. and Law, J. (2000) After networks. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18, 127-132.

Latour, B. (1987) Science in Action. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Latour, B. (1999) Circulating reference. In Latour, B. Pandora's Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 24-79.

Latour, B. and Woolgar, S. ([1979] 1986) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Law, J. (ed.) (1991) A Sociology of Monsters. Routledge, New York.

Murdoch, J. (1997) Inhuman/nonhuman/human. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 15, 731-756.

Peet, R. (1998) Modern Geographical Thought. Blackwell, Oxford.

Pile, S. (1994) Masculinism, the use of dualistic epistemologies and third spaces. Antipode 26, 255-277.

Sayer, A. ([1984] 1992) Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach. Routledge, New York.

Sidaway, J. (2000) Recontextualising positionality. Antipode 32, 260-270.

Soja, E. (1996) Thirdspace. Blackwell, Oxford.

Spivak, G. ([1985] 1996) Subaltern studies: deconstructing historiography. In Landry, D. and Maclean, G. (eds) The Spivak Reader. Routledge, New York, pp. 203-236.

Thrift, N. (1999) Steps to an ecology of place. In Massey, D., Allen, J. and Sarre, P. (eds) Human Geography Today. Blackwell, Malden, MA, pp. 295-322.

Thrift, N. (2000) Afterwords. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18, 213-255.

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