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Critique And Critical Geography Notes

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Critique and critical geography Notes discussing critique and critical geography, including its definition, debates over critique's role in geography and its future Contents







What is Critique/Critical Geography? - Definition, Key tenets, History Critique has run out of steam - arguments for critique's irrelevance Critique hasn't run out of steam- arguments for critique's role in geography How to adapt critique What role should critical geography take in the future?
Key Texts

Key debates

What role can critique play in geographical research?
How has critique in geography developed and changed?
What future does critique have in geography?
How useful is critique to geographical agenda?
Are methods used for critique still relevant considering a new context?
What possibility for adapting it/improving it to new context relevance is there?
What role does the Left have in critical geography?


1. What is Critique/Critical Geography?

seeking to change the world through melding of theory and political action (Blomley 2008) Critique is not neutral, it is an instrument that must have a political function (Foucault, 2007) Critique has multiple meanings o Blomley 2008: to be critical means different things in different places, critical theory does not float between places but is locally produced, inflected and taken up o Anderson and Harrison (2010): critique by its very nature would have to be itself multiple, itself composed of many things. It would have to be continually changing, not settling in the satisfaction of a judgement but keep experimenting

Critical geography:

Emerged to mould geography to the new issues of the time - civil rights, war (Peet, 2000) An organisation of ideas that challenge the hierarchies of our own academic labour, and differs from policy relevant work as it is not funded by institutions/governments (Smith, 2005) Emerged in 80s/90s to take on the power structures of the Quantitative Revolution (QR) and modernism (McDowell and Sharp, 1999). Emerged in four key forms:

1. Post structuralist
 Written representations do not mirror of the world but are a social creation (Barnes and Duncan, 1992)
 Everything is relational (Murdoch, 2006)
 Geography fails to appreciate complex relationship between material landscapes and representations (Williams, Cosgrove, Harvey, Daniels)
 Relational assemblage- material and immaterial worlds are linked (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980)

2. Post colonialist
 Recognising the situation of people within the world and how this influences their power to act (Said 1978, Gregory 1994/2004)
 Powerful groups in society have imposed their own interpretations of landscape and nature onto it (Jackson, 1993) (Marxists would argue this is capitalism)

3. Feminist - See below

4. Post modernist
 Ontological stance that engages multiplicities in our own way of seeing
 Refuses to accept the closure of intellectual debate
 Lefebvre (1991)- critique that Marxists focus too much on big issues not everyday life All forms have a shared commitment(Painter, 2000):

1. Emancipatory politics

2. Promoting progressive social change

3. Developing critical theories

Key tenets of critique in research/geography:

Core values (Castree, 2005)- commitment to open inquiry, continual questioning and reflexivity Social change: Commitment to promoting progressive social change and to exposing the socio-spatial proceses that reproduce inequalities(Blomley, 2006). Parallels Marxist argument that the point is not only to study the world but to change it (Fay, 1987). Encourages progress through scholarship and academia (Agger, 1988)

Questioning objectivity: 'meanings are not natural/universal but instead constructed through specific power relations and situated interactions' (Hickey and Lawson, 2005), facts are value laden, knowledge production is contextual, social construction arguments (Gregory et al, 2009) Critique was central to projects of enlightenment (critique of religious authority) and modernity (critique of conditions of existence) Faith in the agency of everyday change with an associated rejection of determinism (Blomley, 2006)

Critique and Marx

Marx was a key figure in the establishment of modern social science Critique as: analysis, criticism, contributing to change 'Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways: the point is to change it' (Marx, 1888) New forms/adaptations of Marxist geographies have increased, new strands becoming more important in critical geog with purely Marxist arguments seen as outdated (Amin and Thrift, 2007, Peet, 2000) Harvey 1973- Marxism offers a why/where/how does social justice exist, social relations are space dependent and space forming, geography should no longer be an academic discipline in its ivory towers rather active participants in the social process

Critique and feminism

Feminism critiqued geography's QR and the belief that facts speak for themselves (Dixon and Jones, 2006) Argument that critique of geography has encouraged care and reflexivity in knowledge production= valuable benefits to knowledge production, meant research more reliable (Smith, 2005) Feminists critiqued positivist era- knowledge/science cannot be value free, cannot be outside realms of political influence (Dixon and Jones, 2006), spat in eye of 'western industrial scientific approach' which centred on rational and quantifiable (Stanley and Wise, 1993) Geographers began to question objective basis of knowledge (Hickey and Lawson, 2005), embraced reflexivity and reflect on role of researchers in knowledge production (Dixon and Jones, 2006) Harraway 1988- all knowledge is situated, feminist empiricism moves beyond male centric view that science can be taken as fact..Sharp (2005)- feminist methodologies aim to encourage diversity of knowledge production (not just masculine dominated)

History of critical geography:

Emergence of critique due to opposition to geography's quantitative revolution in the 1970s, by radicals, activists, Marxists and feminists (Smith, 2005) 1970s o Radical geographers analysed civil rights, pollution and issues with the QR o Discipline of Critical Geog arose from radical geography in early 1970s, but long tradition of critique and reflexivity in geography o Inspired by opposition to Vietnam War o Tried to transform the scope of the conventional discipline criticised as irrelevant to the great issues of the time (Peet, 2000) 1980s o Fragmentation into humanistic, feministic and Marxist critical streams (Peet, 2000) See Peet (2000) in key texts section

2. Critique has run out of steam How has critique run out of steam?





Stops us from trusting facts/research Not relevant to current issues Loss of radical edge/power due to mainstreaming Lack of public connection/impact

Stops us from trusting facts/not relevant to current issues Key Text: Latour 2004 - 'Why has critique run out of steam?'

Writing on social science, not just geography Current practice of critique renders it dangerously close to irrelevancy Excessive distrust of facts - we need to get closer to the facts again o Academic training has led to a distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases o ... Must therefore return to a realist attitude and develop a second empiricism- where critique reveals and gets closer to objective facts (so as to maintain credibility)
 Dominance of debunking forms of critique- prevents people from inviting critique to research
Critique is weakening facts and fighting empiricism rather than strengthening facts' claims to reality. Ability to critique everything has led to a rejection of even sound knowledge- there is no sure ground anymore
 Critique hasn't adapted to changing conditions
 'Matters of fact to matters of concern' o A focus on matters of fact and debunking/deconstructivist techniques is the wrong target

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