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activism and the academy

  Refers to both debates over, and the practice of, political activism within academic geography. The question of geographical activism is old, stretching back to anarchist geographer Peter Kropotkin (1899) and his Fields, factories and workshops. However, in the modern era spatial science instituted a separation between facts and values which encouraged geographers to consider questions of politics and personal intervention beyond the scope of their inquiries and actions. The advent of radical geography in the late 1960s thus marked the return of a \'dissenting tradition\' (Blaut, 1979) in geography. However, it was a return with two differences from Kropotkin\'s time. First, geography was by the late 1960s a well established university discipline, part of the settled fabric of \'normal\' educational life in most western countries. By contrast though, and secondly, the real world was anything but settled because the late 1960s was an era of civil unrest, environmental protests, student riots, anti-war campaigns and anti-colonial struggles in and against the US, France, Britain and other countries. It was this disjuncture between academic geography and real world socio-economic problems and struggles that inspired the early radical geographers like William Bunge, James Blaut and Richard Peet to call for a people\'s geography in which geographers would (i) study crucial social, economic and environmental problems with (ii) an eye to devising viable solutions in (iii) a way that included the ordinary people subject to those problems and solutions. This, then, was a form of geographical activism in which (i) research was focused on politically charged questions and solutions and (ii) in which geographers actively involved themselves with the peoples and communities studied. Bunge\'s (1971, 1977) \'Geographical Expeditions\' in Detroit and elsewhere were perhaps the most original and unique examples.

Radical geography was the impetus for two subsequent developments regarding activism and the academy. The first was the emergence of a less radical welfare geography which sought to use existing scientific geographical theories and methods in a more socially relevant and useful way (Smith, 1977). The second was the development, in the 1970s and 1980s, of a number of full-blown critical paradigms like Marxist and feminist geography. However, what is ironic is that these paradigms, notwithstanding their critical nature, became far more academic and less practically engaged than their radical geography forebears. Thus, by the early 1990s, some leftist geographers were once more complaining of a chasm between geographical \'activism and the academy\' (Blomley, 1994). In response some, like Blomley, advocated a return to grass-roots involvement, while others, like Tickell (1995), argued that geographers should more actively involve themselves in the local and national state apparatus in order to influence public policy. More recently, Castree (2000) has suggested that much of the activism and the academy debate in geography is overly preoccupied with reaching out from the university to intervene in the so-called \'real world\', as if intervening within the university system itself is somehow a less worthy form of activism. As professional geographers are subject to increased pressures to teach more students and publish more research in countries like the UK and the US, such \'in here\' activism is likely to increase. (See also applied geography; relevance.) (NC)

References Blaut, J. 1979: The dissenting tradition. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 69: 157-6 4. Blomley, N. 1994: Activism and the academy. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12: 383-5. Bunge, W. 1971: Fitzgerald: geography of a revolution. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman. Bunge, W. 1977: The first years of the Detroit Geographical Expedition: a personal report. In R. Peet, ed., Radical geography. London: Methuen, 31-9. Castree, N. 2000: \'In here\', \'out there?\' Domesticating critical geography. Area 31: 81-6. Kropotkin, P. 1899: Fields, factories and workshops. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Smith, D.M. 1977: Human geography: a welfare approach. London: Edward Arnold. Tickell, A. 1995: Reflections on \'Activism and the academy\'. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13: 235-7.



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