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Curriculum Studies, Critical Geography, and Critical Spatial Theory  

Robert Helfenbein and Gabriel Huddleston

During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, spatial terms have emerged and proliferated in academic circles, finding application in several disciplines extending beyond formal geography. Critical geography, a theoretical addition to the home discipline of geography as opposed to being a new discipline in itself, has seen application in many other disciplines, mostly represented by what is collectively called social theory (i.e., sociology, cultural studies, political science, and literature). The application of critical spatial theory to educational theory in general, and curriculum theorizing in particular, points to new trajectories for both critical geographers and curriculum theorists. The growth of these two formations have coincided with the changes in the curriculum studies field, especially as it relates to the Reconceptualization of that field during the 1970s. In terms of critical spatial theory especially, the exploration of how we conceptualize place and space differently has allowed curriculum studies scholars to think more expansively about education, schools, pedagogy, and curriculum. More specifically, it has allowed a more fluid understanding of how curriculum is formed and shaped over time by framing the spatial as something beyond a “taken-for-granted” fact of our lives. The combination of spatial theory and curriculum studies has produced a myriad of explorations to see how oppression works in everyday spaces. The hope inherent in this work is that if we can understand how space is (re)produced with inherent inequities, we can produce spaces, especially educative ones, that are more just and equitable.


Mapping and Spatial Studies  

Joshua Ewalt

Critical communication studies of space and place consider the ways power becomes located within a wider topography of social relations. How a body thinks, its exposure to pollutants, or access to societal resources: these all depend, in part, upon where that body moves in relation to the other bodies that share their historical moment. The logic of power becomes manifest in the spatial organization of a society, and subsequently influences social practice. Emergent from multiple intellectual traditions—including humanistic geography, the spatial turn in the critical humanities, and postcolonial theory—spatial studies understand space and place as the product of social relations and maintain a critical, de-essentializing politics: Spaces are always being made and remade with consequences for marginalized populations. Moreover, as sites of public identification, certain spaces and places (a national park landscape or urban park) are imbued with epideictic significance. In order to understand and critique the relationship between communication, space, and place, scholars employ a number of concepts, many of which they share with neighboring fields, including mobility, globalization, affect, imagined geographies, place-making, critical regionalism, heterotopia, omnitopia, and memory places. Scholars of space and place, moreover, remain committed to mapping both as method and object of analysis. If a society’s spatial logic (who and what resides where and with what consequences) provides insight into power and subjugation, then mapping offers a potentially useful critical methodological practice. At the same time, mapping remains a technology of colonialism, a way of seeing space that stabilizes its movements and continues to enable colonial domination. Thus, critical communication scholars of space and place also analyze and critique the rhetoric of mapping, analyzing both the ways in which maps are used to uphold operations of domination as well as those “countermapping” efforts that employ and subvert the history of cartography towards more emancipatory ends.