Start Geo Dictionary | Overview | Topics | Groups | Categories | Bookmark this page.
geology dictionary - geography encyclopedia  
Full text search :        
   A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z   #   



travelling theory

  Intellectual ideas that circulate from discipline to discipline and from situation to situation. The term has its origins in the writings of the Palestinian/American cultural critic Edward Said (1983), who acknowledged the existence of a general \'transplantation, transference, circulation and commerce of theoretical ideas\': \'The movement of ideas and theories from one place to another is both a fact of life and a usefully enabling condition of intellectual activity\'. This is a generalized condition of all contemporary intellectual work: laboratory scientists are drawn into a global traffic of ideas as much as scholars labouring in the archives. To make such distinctions is to be reminded that this \'inter-disciplinary space\' is not homogeneous, and Said draws particular attention to the existence of interruptions and irregularities that fracture the planes of the humanities and social sciences. He might also have noticed the striations and circuits that channel flows of ideas in particular directions: most often, at least in the humanities and social sciences, from the hegemonic sites of the Western academy to sites elsewhere in the world. Other critics have taken Said at his word: they argue that the \'commerce\' of theoretical ideas to which he refers is increasingly valorized through a generalized commodification of knowledge in which universities have become transnational corporations and theory (including critical theory) has been turned into another form of \'symbolic capital\' (cf. Dhareshwar, 1990; Gregory 1994, pp. 181-3). This bears directly on Said\'s larger concerns — the critique of Orientalism and the politics of post-colonialism — and there has been a lively and anguished debate about the possibilities (or otherwise) of calling upon European \'high theory\' to subvert Eurocentrism (cf. Young, 1990).

These are vitally important concerns, but Said\'s original point was a different — though no less critical — one. In the humanities and the social sciences, he proposed, \'theory is a response to a specific social and historical situation of which an intellectual occasion is a part\' (p. 237). Such a claim intersects with arguments about situated knowledge and, anticipating those discussions, Said welcomed the possibilities for alliance, affinity and solidarity opened up by the mutual exchange of ideas. But he also sounded a serious caution: he warned that powerful ideas, simply because they are so powerful, run the risks of being reduced to narrowly dogmatic, closed and irreflexive versions of their original forms or of being inflated to imperial, exorbitant and arrogant versions of their original forms (p. 239). For this reason, Said urged the need for what he called a \'critical consciousness\', \'a sort of spatial sense\' that would be capable of grasping the historico-geographical circumstances out of which particular theories have emerged and the distances that intervene and leave their marks when such theories are set in motion (pp. 241-2). Only then, Said believed, would it be possible to keep theory open: to treat theory as always partial, always unfinished: \'No theory exhausts the situation out of which it emerged or to which it is transported\' (p. 242).

Seen thus, for Said and for many others, \'travelling\' can become a way of resisting the imperial ambitions of theory, of making those who work with it accountable for its movements, and of challenging the politics of closure. The origins of travelling theory need to be scrupulously acknowledged, therefore, since it will always be freighted with assumptions and dispositions which may not — and often should not — survive the journey intact. Talcott Parsons\'s sociology produced a supposedly general model of \'the social system\' that turned out to be a highly partial model of postwar US society (see structural functionalism); Jürgen Habermas developed a programmatic account of the project of modernity that was in substantial degree a response to the predicament of post-war Germany coming to terms with the Holocaust (see critical theory). This does not mean that such formulations are inescapably context-bound; and both these examples draw on sources from a wide range of other sites, so that their \'local knowledge\' is conspicuously not \'local\' even in its originating versions. Said\'s point, rather, is that the multiple local geographies written into any theory need to be opened up for inspection.

And yet other critics continued to be worried by Said\'s root metaphor. Images of travel — of movement and mobility, of tours and visits, of nomadic theory (see rhizome) and \'travelling theory\' — have become commonplaces of contemporary theorization. But the metaphor of travel comes with its own cultural and political baggage, and when that is opened up and inspected it reveals much about the privileges accorded to \'cosmopolitan intellectuals\' within the Western academy and about the situated and highly unequal freedoms of Western intellectual culture more generally within the global production and dissemination of ideas (cf. Wolff, 1993; Kaplan, 1996; Clifford, 1997). (DG)

References Clifford, J. 1997: Routes: travel and translation in the late twentieth century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Dhareshwar, V. 1990: The predicament of theory. In M. Kreiswirth and M. Cheetham, eds, Theory between the disciplines: Authority, vision, politics. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 231-5 0. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. Kaplan, C. 1996: Questions of travel: postmodern discourses of displacement. Durham: Duke University Press. Said, E. 1983: Travelling theory. In his The word, the text and the critic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: Faber (1984 publication), 226-47. Wolff, J. 1993: On the road again: metaphors of travel in cultural criticism. Cultural Studies 7: 224-39. Young, R. 1990: White mythologies: writing History and the West. London and New York: Routledge.

Suggested Reading Gregory (1994), 9-14, 181-3. Kaplan (1996), 101-42.



Bookmark this page:



<< former term
next term >>
travel writing, geography and
trend surface analysis


Other Terms : rural planning | foundationalism | optimum population
Home |  Add new article  |  Your List |  Tools |  Become an Editor |  Tell a Friend |  Links |  Awards |  Testimonials |  Press |  News |  About
Copyright ©2009 GeoDZ. All rights reserved.  Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us