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moral geographies

  The study of the interrelationship of moral and geographical arguments. Work has focused on the ways in which the conduct of particular groups or individuals in particular spaces may be judged appropriate or inappropriate, and the ways in which assumptions about the relationship between people and their environments may both reflect and produce moral judgements. Both forms of study further the Social and Cultural Geography Study Group Committee\'s (1991, p. 26) suggestion that: \'human geography must engage with the articulation of the moral and the spatial\'. Smith (1998) sees moral geographies as one of six possible research areas linking geography and moral philosophy, the others being the historical geography of moralities, issues of inclusion and exclusion in bounded spaces, the moral significance of distance and proximity, questions of social justice, and environmental ethics (see also moral landscapes; moral order; religion, geography of).

Driver (1988) uses moral geographies to consider nineteenth-century social scientific studies of the city in terms of their alliance of \'environmentalism and moralism\', whereby environmentalist forms of social science assumed a relationship between the conduct of populations and their habitat: \'Moral science was … a science of conduct and its relationship to environment, both moral and physical\' (p. 279). Driver argues that such moral geographies \'permitted the birth of social science in England\' (p. 276), the implication being that subsequent work by academic geographers may itself have contributed to such moral geographies by drawing on moralistic assumptions concerning environment and society. Livingstone (1992, pp. 221-31) thus shows how geographical accounts of the relationship of climate and society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries worked through \'moral assumptions concerning racial character and levels of civilisation\'. Matless (1994) discusses such issues in relation to geographical discussions of the use and misuse of land, and also develops the theme of moral geographies of conduct by considering how the geography of a particular region, the Norfolk Broads in eastern England in this case, can be understood in terms of competing formulations of appropriate behaviour in the landscape, tourism, nature study, wildfowling etc. Moral geographies are here shown to be constituted through assumptions concerning class and the relations between locals and outsiders, themes extended in a wider discussion of moral geographies of leisure and the body in twentieth-century England (Matless, 1997).

Work on moral geographies echoes work on geographies of exclusion and transgression in highlighting the basis on which people may be labelled as in or out of place. Cresswell (1996) shows how a consideration of events and groups labelled as transgressive of a dominant moral order, such as travelling groups, peace camps and graffiti artists, can reveal the taken-for-granted assumptions underlying the use of everyday space. Moral codes are revealed when their limits are transgressed. Sibley\'s (1995) study of the geographies of exclusion suggests that to understand such moral judgements we might look to psychoanalytic theory, specifically those theories which highlight the role played by senses of purification and dirt in the human psyche. Sibley shows how the social exclusion of groups such as gypsies, and more general processes of racism, can be understood in terms of the labelling of groups as being out of place, a polluting threat to a dominant social order in their deviance from a norm, whether in terms of ethnicity, nomadism or specific cultural practices.

With some exceptions (Birdsall, 1996), the term moral geographies has not been used in a prescriptive way. Geographers are generally not seeking to moralize. Smith (1998, p. 14) indeed has referred to such moral geographies as \'geographical exercises in descriptive ethics\', but it would be wrong to assume that such studies seek a position of moral neutrality. Rather, work on moral geographies has been informed by a philosophical and political assumption that senses of moral order are produced through environmental and spatial practices which are always bound up with relations of power. The connection of the moral and the spatial in moral geographies is therefore often bound up with a suspicion regarding any claim to be able to define morality, and with a critical attitude to the social power of the moral.

The reader should therefore be aware that different meanings of the term moral geography may apply according to the approach to \'morality\' taken by any one author. As in other areas of philosophical and political debate the definition of terms is crucial. Care should also be taken to establish the way in which an author may be distinguishing between the \'moral\' and the \'ethical\'. In some accounts the two are interchangeable, while in others they carry precise and different meanings. What is defined as \'ethical\' by one writer may be defined as \'moral\' by another. The key point is to remember that the distinction between morality and ethics is a fluid one, and that understanding an author\'s argument will demand a clear sense of the terms upon which that argument is being made. (DM)

References Birdsall, S. 1996: Regard, respect and responsibility: sketches for a moral geography of the everyday. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96: 619-29. Cresswell, T. 1996: In place/out of place: geography, ideology and transgression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Driver, F. 1988: Moral geographies: social science and the urban environment in mid-nineteenth century England. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 13: 275-87. Livingstone, D. 1992: The geographical tradition. Oxford: Blackwell. Matless, D. 1994: Moral geography in Broadland. Ecumene 1: 127-55. Matless, D. 1997: Moral geographies of English landscape. Landscape Research 22: 141-55. Sibley, D. 1995: Geographies of exclusion. London: Routledge. Smith, D. 1998: Geography and moral philosophy. Ethics, Place and Environment 1: 7-34. Social and Cultural Geography Study Group Committee 1991: De-limiting human geography: new social and cultural perspectives. In C. Philo, ed., New words, new worlds: reconceptualising social and cultural geography. Lampeter: Social and Cultural Geography Study Group, 14-27.

Suggested Reading Driver (1988). Matless (1994).



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