What is Geography nowadays anyway?

COLOURING IN!? No. Well, actually, sometimes yes. It’s funny how coincidental it is that whenever someone accuses me of doing a soft science I happen to be changing the symbology of a shapefile or highlighting a paragraph in a journal article with a marker pen.Another pretty map...I wonder what it means...

Contemporary Geography is a maelstrom of diverse subjects that incorporates elements of pretty much any other field you would like to think of. In our department alone there are people studying cattle, sexuality, subglacial processes, child nutrition, the effects of large wood in rivers, the garment industry, landscape evolution, agriculturual production in India, epidemiology, the management of orchards and methane release from Arctic thaw lakes.

However, modern Geography is far more than simply a bridging subject; it’s not just a place for other disciplines to meet up and have a chin-wag. Geographers possess unique skills in holistic research that allow for the observation, recording and analysis of natural and human phenomena at different temporal and spatial scales. Eloquent and insubstantial bullshit you deride? Not at all, and I’ll provide an example to explain why.

My colleague and good friend Simon Dixon is investigating the effects of in stream large wood on flood risk and flood hydrology. This is not an easy task. To do this research Simon requires technical expertise in computer-modelling, field-based research methods, geographical information systems and statistical analysis. He also needs a background knowledge of ecology, hydrology, geomorphology, river, habitat and fisheries management, tree-growth and vegetation life-cycles, stakeholder concerns, European legislation (Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive) and flood risk modelling. Then, when he has applied all this knowledge and expertise to produce some results he has to write it up in a coherent, scientifically acceptable and (most importantly) interesting way. Very few (if any) other disciplines demand this extensive level of understanding of complex albeit interconnected topics.

The other thing Geography does remarkably well is apply itself. Although there is a large base of theory in Geography (as with any subject), the output of geographical research can invariably be employed to improve management, policy and more broadly, people. And it’s not just the stuff that’s obvious, such as Alan Smith’s space-time specific population modelling, but also the things where the links are less straightforward, such as Carla Barrett’s work into the changing experiences of carework in the contemporary UK, which will improve the provision of support for LGBT carers.

With all this in mind it’s not hard to see why everyone is crying out for Geography graduates (or at least should be!) We’re living in an increasingly connected and globalised world. The role of Geographers as people who can see, understand and act upon connections between disparate objects is more important now than ever.

And yes, you still need physicists to find God-particles such as the Higgs boson, but only a Geographer would be able to work out what that particle has to do with colouring in.

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One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Isopleth's Blog and commented:
    I really enjoyed your article. It helps explain a misunderstood subject.

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