Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Big questions in Geography

In the attack each chapter in turn thesis strategy that is occurring in response to the great PhD meltdown of 2008 I'm currently going through my introduction.

Something I'm finding hard, and I'm sure its the imposter complex along with not wanting to sound big-headed is the contribution of my work to the big questions in my discipline. In my case this is Geography/Environmental Sciences.

Cutter et al. (2002) addressed the issue of what the big questions in Geography are. The article is from an American stand point (similar to Pattison, 1964), having come out of discussions out of AAG# but is useful in shaping my argument somewhat.

Cutter et al. (2002: 307) think that the 10 big questions are:
1. What makes places and landscapes different from one another, and why is this important?
2. Is there a deeply held human need to organize space by creating arbitrary borders, boundaries, and districts?
3. How do we delineate space?
4. Why do people, resources, and ideas move?
5. How has the earth been transformed by human action?
6. What role will virtual systems play in learning about the world?
7. How do we measure the unmeasurable?
8. What role has geographical skill played in the evolution of human civilization, and what role can it play in predicting the future?
9. How and why do sustainability and vulnerability change from place to place and over time?
10.What is the nature of spatial thinking, reasoning, and abilities?

My work fits into (5) and (9) as it involves contamination of resources (water and food), coping strategies that may be sustainable (urban agriculture, food networks, food security), issues of vulnerability (the poorer members of society having less choice and therefore perhaps less concern with risk*) and alongside these questions concerns perceptions and policy relevance.

Alongside my usual pigeonholes of environment and development (including health, pollution, toxicity, sustainability) its sometimes easier for me to say what big questions I'm trying to answer as my work by its very nature is inter/transdisciplinary.

#The differences between 'geography' in the British and American contexts let alone in university departments is definitely a subject for a post all of its own.

* Something that has often come up in focus group discussion with urban agriculturalists in the field is that they say they can't afford (in economic terms) to think about the quality of the food they eat, only getting enough in quantity. I wonder if anyone has done any research at what point in the economic growth cycle people start to become concerned with quality rather than just quantity issues (like when people start spending money on non-essential items).

Cutter, SL., Golledge, R. and Graf, WL.(2002)The Big Questions in Geography, The Professional Geographer, 54(3): 305-317. ( DOI link )
Pattison, WD. (1964) The Four Traditions of Geography, Journal of Geography, 63(5):211-216.

No comments: