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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.

Article

Qualitative Methods, Critical Geography, and Education  

Robert J. Helfenbein

The work known as critical geography, a distinct yet varied subfield of spatial analysis, seeks to understand how the social construction of both space and place interact with, resist, and reinforce structures of power and the work of individual and collective identity. A critical geography approach to qualitative educational research privileges inquiry that includes how the lived experiences of schools (i.e., students, teachers, schools, communities) are defined, constrained, and potentially liberated by spatial relationships in both discursive and material ways. That is, a critical geography approach includes how such understandings may be used, for example, to critically examine how spaces are used, by whom, when, and how in the process of learning and not learning; what spaces mean (and mean differently) for different people inhabiting the spaces of education; how spaces are used to construct identities, allegiances, and bodies; how they act pedagogically to position bodies to know and be known; and the kind of pedagogies they help make possible and intelligible for both teachers and students in classrooms.

Article

Critical Food Studies  

Helene A. Shugart

If food studies is an inherently interdisciplinary field of enquiry, communication is central to its uptake in any scholarly context, for food is inherently relational, symbolic, and deeply cultural, a powerful discourse in its own right and imbricated in a host of other discourses. Accordingly, while food studies is a relatively new area of study within the communication discipline, scholarship in that vein has had rather seamless entrée into the broader scholarly arena and has proliferated along the same general lines of investigation that characterize the field in general. Originally rooted in cultural anthropology, early studies of the cultural significance of food assessed how food both reflects and accomplishes social identity and status, a focus that has been sustained and expanded in more contemporary studies as relevant to how food signals and mobilizes particular identities, such as race/ethnicity, nation, class, gender, and sexuality. Matters of identity are sometimes apparent in studies of the role(s) of food in global flows, including globalization, colonization, immigration, diaspora, and tourism. Much of this scholarship also or instead takes up food in terms of production and consumption, assessing the politics, economics, and geographies of food. Endeavors in this vein, in global, national, and local contexts, examine food policies and patterns of industry and how they privilege certain interests while disenfranchising others: food safety, security, and justice feature prominently in these investigations. These motifs are reflected, as well, in scholarship that examines social movements around food that seek to disrupt or resist problematic industry and farming policies and/or practices as relevant to, for example, environmental exigencies, animal welfare, eradication of the local, and availability of and/or access to safe, healthy foods. The mediation of food is perhaps a natural subject of study for communication scholars, ranging from representations of food in film to food packaging and advertising. The recent rise of “foodie” culture has generated a proliferation of media fare, signaled by indices ranging from the now recognized genre of “food films,” to multiple television networks devoted to food, to the rise of “celebrity chefs”; food is, moreover, an increasing presence on the Internet, proliferating especially across social media. The imaginaries of authenticity and egalitarianism and the materialities of class that frequently drive foodie culture have been the focus of much of this scholarship, and they have been further identified as figuring prominently in urban practices ranging from the establishment of farmers’ markets to gentrification. Even within the communication discipline, food studies is a wide-ranging topic, but it is not simply a diverse subject of study for communication scholars. The inherently liminal and malleable nature of food renders it difficult if not impossible to engage or theorize in terms of conventional binaries or rifts that characterize many if not most fields, such as subject/object and self/other; perhaps most salient for the communication discipline, food denies the particularly nettlesome materiality/discursivity binary. Accordingly, food studies holds considerable promise for the field relevant to theoretical innovation and expansion.

Article

Classical Geopolitics Revisited  

Klaus Dodds and Chih Yuan Woon

An exploration of the genesis of classical geopolitics lies in a conviction that location and resources are pivotal to the exercise of political power over territory. The term geopolitics was first coined in the late 1890s by the Swedish writer Rudolf Kjellén. Classical geopolitics, the term used to describe the earliest writings, was for Kjellén an intellectual field that recognised that it was “[a] science which conceives of the state as a geographical organism or as a phenomenon in space.” Later authors thought that geopolitics was more than a science. It was a way of understanding designed to signal a rather hard-nosed or realist approach to international politics. What made it reliable was its ability to generate law-like statements about the importance of the facts of physical geography, such as the distribution of landmass, the extent of the oceans, and the importance of particular, strategically located regions, in determining patterns of global political power. This article reviews in some detail the core features of this field—and interrogates a series of core ideas and principles at play. It also notes some other pertinent characteristics, such as the case that most classical geopolitical writers were committed nationalists and imperialists, under the intellectual influence of social Darwinism. The global map for these authors was fundamentally divided between the imperial great powers and the colonized world, now referred to as the Global South. Finally, these authors were convinced that they were offering a “god's eye view” of the world to fellow citizens and policy makers, uncorrupted by ideology or prejudice. The fate of classical geopolitics is uneven in the English-speaking world, in particular with a formal decline in the post-1945 period, signs of revival in the 1970s and 1980s, decline in the 1990s, and now re-emergence in a new era characterized by nationalism, nativism, populism. Animated concerns about borders and population composition and size provide fertile ground for old ideas to re-emerge about the needs of nation-states to secure their territories and peoples from others. The reader is introduced to a newer field critical geopolitics. It calls into question some of those core principles of classical geopolitics and emphasizes more the deliberate framing of space, the rejection of a hard separation between the domestic and the foreign, and it eschews the idea of the nation-state as a “living organism,” operating in a territorial container. It also draws attention to popular geopolitics, and the manner in which ideas about geography and cognate disciplines are produced and circulated through public cultures. Classical and critical geopolitics share a common concern—geography matters—but where they differ is how, where, and why geography matters.

Article

Critical Gender Geographies  

Boni Wozolek

Critical geography, as it is studied in North America and parts of Europe, has been growing since the 1970s. However, focusing on gender, sexual orientation, race, home language, or the like, was not a primary concern of the field until the mid-1980s. As radical critical geography shifted toward cultural and critical geography, marginalized voices could be heard in and across the field in local and less-local contexts. As critical geography began to intersect with education in the mid-1990s, it became a tool for studying marginalization across layers of scale. Fields of geography are impacted as much by contemporary sociopolitical dialogues as they are by educational research and its related historical boundaries and borders. Finally, it is significant to consider what a critical gender-queer geography might mean as the field continues to grow.

Article

Queer Theory  

Lilith Acadia

Queer theory describes a network of critiques emerging from a legacy of activism and looking ahead to utopian futures. The analytical tools queer theory provides as a mode of close reading and critique makes it a relevant contemporary approach to literary theory. Beyond reading for queer characters and desires in texts, queer theory is a tool for seeing below the superficial, and supporting unconventional readings that deconstruct normative assumptions. The activist roots of queer theory in the 1969 Stonewall Riots places drag, trans issues, class, race, violence, gender, and sexuality at the heart of queer theorizing. Subsequent work engages topics such as temporality, ecology, geography, and diaspora through the analysis of culture and politics, but also literature, film, music, and other media. Queer theory attends to both the rhetorical power of language and the broader structures of knowledge formulation. As feminist epistemology asks whose knowledge matters and who creates knowledge, queer theory asks whether knowledge matters and whether naturalized knowledge is constructed. Textual or discursive construction of knowledge is a key theoretical approach of queer theory with important implications for literature. Queer theory embraces a multidisciplinary and diverse set of influences, methodologies, questions, and formats. The critiques can be applied to help deconstruct naturalized epistemic frameworks around topics notably including, language, gender, sexuality, history, the subject, universality, the environment, animals, borders, space, time, norms, ideals, reproduction, utopia, love, the home, the nation, and power. Queer theory empowers novel readings of the world, and worldly readings of the novel, opening up new ways of viewing life and text.

Article

The Geography of Diplomacy  

Herman van der Wusten and Virginie Mamadouh

The fields of geography and diplomacy have traditionally been closely intertwined. Diplomacy is conventionally the conduct of statecraft in the nonviolent manifestations of external relations by a specific institution. These nonviolent manifestations can be variously merged with the use of armed force. The political order of the system of states—statecraft emanates from its separate entities—is deeply permeated by geography, notably by the application of territorial control. The art of diplomacy is inextricably linked to spatial perceptions, aims at place-based assets, and plays out in a given geographical context. As the system of states has evolved by incremental increase, functional cooperation, fragmentations and mergers, and internal centralization and decentralization of separate states, the diplomatic institution has had to adapt. As more and more non-state parties commit themselves to transboundary relations or find themselves so implicated, diplomatic practice becomes more widely required, the core of the diplomatic institution still settled in the apparatus of states. This article is consecutively concerned with different aspects of the overlap of geography and diplomacy. In the introduction the ways in which academic geographers have over time shed light on this common ground is briefly reviewed. The next section provides an inventory of the mappings of the diplomatic web to get a sense of its general cartography, followed by descriptions of the diplomatic niche, the places where diplomacy is practiced. In the diplomatic worldview and the geographic frame, the geographic notions that are relevant to the diplomatic institution are followed according to reasoning and travel practice. Finally, shifts in the practice, contents, and functions of diplomacy are dealt with over time, based on the major geographical forces that affect the system of states in and beyond which diplomacy operates.

Article

Critical Geopolitics  

Merje Kuus

Critical geopolitics is concerned with the geographical assumptions and designations that underlie the making of world politics. The goal of critical geopolitics is to elucidate and explain how political actors spatialize international politics and represent it as a “world” characterized by particular types of places. Eschewing the traditional question of how geography does or can influence politics, critical geopolitics foregrounds “the politics of the geographical specification of politics.” By questioning the assumptions that underpin geopolitical claims, critical geopolitics has evolved from its roots in the poststructuralist, feminist, and postcolonial critique of traditional geopolitics into a major subfield of mainstream human geography. This essay shows that much of critical geopolitics problematizes the statist conceptions of power in social sciences, a conceptualization that John Agnew has called the “territorial trap.” Along with political geography more generally, critical geopolitics argues that spatiality is not confined to territoriality. The discursive construction of social reality is shaped by specific political agents, including intellectuals of statecraft. In addition to the scholarship that draws empirically on the rhetorical strategies of intellectuals of statecraft, there is also a rich body of work on popular geopolitics, and more specifically on resistance geopolitics or anti-geopolitics. Another emerging field of inquiry within critical geopolitics is feminist geopolitics, which shifts the focus from the operations of elite agents to the constructions of political subjects in everyday political practice. Clearly, the heterogeneity of critical geopolitics is central to its vibrancy and success.

Article

Communities in Macro Practice  

Mary Ohmer and Emily Underwood

Communities are shared spaces that can be geographic, virtual, or based on shared interest, identity, or function. All three types of communities can exist on their own and overlap with one another. Virtual communities have grown considerably over the years and were particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic. Study of these communities begins with conceptual definitions of communities and a historical overview of communities in macro social work practice. A discussion follows of theoretical and conceptual frameworks that can help macro social workers better understand how to engage communities in their work, including systems theory and the ecological perspective, theories that inform community social processes, conflict and consensus approaches to working with communities and the role of power and community empowerment, and critical race theory. Illustrative examples demonstrate how these theories and conceptual frameworks can be applied to communities.