Engaging geography

– discussion

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@ ‘how did that happen?’

The opening panel talks were followed by round-the-room debate, and in the tea break participants were invited to suggest key topics’ regarding public geography that they felt emerged from this session on the ‘graffiti wall’. We then split into smaller groups to further discuss these topics, with most (not all!) writing some kind of notes regarding key points to feedback to the wider group.

It was agreed that we would ‘share’/present these notes on this website. While we appreciate that much of this material may – out of context – be a little difficult to ‘make sense’ of, we would like to invite both people present at the seminar and others engaging with this site to add their comments/thoughts below.

TOPIC: Academic/community collaborations

Points discussed

  • Different ways of negotiating the relationship
  • How do people hear about local projects?
  • Lack of academic understanding of how community groups work
  • Potentially exploitative relationship – how to recognise the community groups and achieve mutual benefit?
  • Can be successful – when benefit of activist comes first (eg ‘Living Wage’ campaign)
  • Need to write ‘user groups’ and dissemination into funding bids – gets around funding councils’ agenda
  • Links between attitudes of the University in public engagement with ability of academics to collaborate: need change of culture from neo-liberal model of ‘community engagement’ as top down
  • How does university use/open its spaces to public? Eg general public can become members of Swansea University library
  • COMMUNICATION! Does the public know what universities/academics are doing?
  • Academics’ inertia – ‘paper academics’ don’t want to engage
  • Professionalization of third sector – ‘social enterprise’ agenda compromises ability of community organisations to engage beyond their remits
  • General gulf between community sector and academia in terms of types of people drawn to them – lack of social skills in academia(!!!) how can they relate to communities?
  • Academia values theory over applied research
  • But how do academics value their work? – academia allows freedom of expression and thinking
  • Hidden agendas exist
  • Is activist research subjective and lacking rigour?
  • Doreen Massey = activist, David Harvey = commentator and both are respected …
  • Need to open up university to community
  • Following the academic line on outputs/writing papers – interests not only ‘careerist’ but also can be pragmatic (need to keep job/find new job/apply for further research grants)
  • How can academics let community groups know about potential benefits to groups of collaboration?
  • Lobby universities to allow academics ‘service work’ to include working with community groups
  • Dissemination through local and national networks – eg. community newsletters
  • TRANSLATION REQUIRED! In both directions!

TOPIC: Institutional pressures (on university lecturers/ researchers and school teachers) that inhibit engaging with publics

What are the pressures?


  • How one is audited/assessed etc. – written outputs especially, ‘theory’ valued over ‘policy’ or ‘public’ outcomes
  • RAE/REF ‘culture’ and measurements specifically
  • Institutional culture of ‘managed change’ … not revolution
  • Income generation/neoliberalist pressures to make money (business/consultancy/more students)
  • Lack of time – juggling tasks
  • Disciplinary (internal) colonisation – competition for funding means we comply with dominant expectations to not spend time engaging with public

What are we going to do?

  • Kill 2 birds with 1 stone / tick multiple boxes
  • Make most of flexibility in academia – get stuff done ‘under the wire’
  • Pressurise to get public engagement recognised and valued

TOPIC: Local and Global

  • Public geography’s difference from participatory geographies
  • How to co-produce knowledge in non-local spaces?
  • Universities’ regional engagement
  • Global citizenship? Languages?
  • Colonial legacy of geography … parochial? Exotic? Is local thrust trying to avoid colonial legacy?
  • Constraints of funders pushing for the local? Public funding = benefit to Britain?
  • The global in your local everyday world is different to the non-local global?
  • Can we engage students through the local only
  • Social justice lens … environmental justice lens … climate change education – knowledge about other places/people just to learn or should we really think about how to make a difference?
  • Young people living in socio-economically deprived areas … connection to their everyday world’s important
  • To teach, start with students’ experiences/worlds before horizon expansion

TOPIC: Gender

  • Teaching diversity … eg. Brunel feminist geog course focus on emotional and Durham feminist geog course focus on political … Bondi on revelation and disclosure … discomfort: vulnerability … Newcastle Uni focus on time/space destabilises teacher/taught boundary
  • Feeding material on inequality into other taught courses eg women’s poverty into GIS courses
  • How to highlight discourses of dismissal re gender/feminism
  • Self-editing
  • Therapeutic teaching spaces
  • Getting gender onto agenda at school and university
  • Needs to feed into school teaching especially
  • ‘evening courses’
  • Transcending teacher/taught relationship and RISK: address by appropriate geographical context
  • Ask students to write in different geo-writing styles (take out personal material – safe space) … ethical issues if student discloses? … academic/pastoral boundary? … public/private blurring

Thinking about public geog and gender is becoming private geographies …

TOPIC: Private geographies

  • how geography affects us individually
  • a private way of engaging people with geography
  • ‘The Geography Club’ by Brent Hartinger (teenage novel) – defined in the book as a club for the excluded!
  • much here interconnects with gender issues (see other flipchart)
  • privatisation of geographical research (in libraries eg. journals) … issues regarding accessibilities in publishing
  • ‘performing’ publicly but undermining privately – populist vs. participatory?
  • need for humble geographies – links to above point
  • do we need public geographers to speak “for us”?
  • politics of what gets communicated and how … on TV? Through education?
  • need to get left/feminist geog into school texts/publications – students as public – be evangelical for geography
  • the word ‘geography’ puts people off – why? Need to reclaim the word – need to name geography to publicise its excitement … do we need a soundbite?
  • including/bringing in the ‘public’ can exclude most geographers (eg. ‘game show’ idea)
  • the power of geography – a world view – a ‘different view’ (links to the Geographical Association


Written by kyeaskins

February 18, 2009 at 12:22 pm

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