Geography may cease to exist

Despite the best efforts of curriculum builders in schools and universities Geography may soon cease to exist. Like a firework, some disciplines burst into existence, burn brightly, explode into a thousand tiny sparkles and then disappear. This may be no bad thing: there is a school of thought that knowledge should not be broken up into disciplines and that it is only natural for a discipline to have a lifespan of usefulness and then die off. Following up the research I was doing recently into the Oceanic Turn of the 18th Century I was drawn into looking at work on “predisciplinarity”, or how ideas were organised before there were actual academic disciplines. From there I got into the idea that there might be such a thing as postdisciplinarity: a stage when disciplines stop being useful and cease to exist.  Geography as a named and labelled academic discipline isn’t actually that old, although people have been doing things that we would now call Geography more or less forever. The way that Geography can interact with so many other disciplines makes it a strong candidate for breaking up into little fragments, and I even have some colleagues who treat it as nothing but a bunch of fragments now. Of course they are wrong. There is a core, a heart to Geography that makes it much more than the sum of its component parts. Even though Geography overlaps with, and uses information from, a wide range of other disciplines, you can’t take a Historian, a Meteorologist, a Sociologist and a Geologist, shove them together in a building and call them a Geography Department! The heart, the Geography, the Geographers would be missing.  It is important for Geography students to learn (and for Geography staff to remember) what that heart is. Geography may be heading in the direction of the postdisciplinary, but it would be a little premature to think it was already there. Certainly Geography is the sort of discipline that can turn down that path very easily, but I don’t think it is time yet. Geography still needs some actual Geographers. If you are teaching Geography, or if you claim to be a Geographer, just make sure you know what Geography is and that you can tell the difference between what it reaches out to and what is at its core.

Note: This post was originally posted in my other blog at on August 1st 2011 and transferred to Blank Atlas as I moved my Geography posts into one location.

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