GA conference review – opening lectures with Professor Iain Stewart

Professor Iain Stewart & Professor Hazel Barrett: the opening lectures

The theme for this year’s GA Conference was ‘Crossing Boundaries’. The opening lecture was given by twitter.comte who gave a fantastic talk on Geoscience vs Geocommunication, which had many parallels with teaching.
Iain commented that from the media point of view, there is a dilemma between what the public should/need to know and what they want to know. Geo-scientific media programmes aim at the ‘non-attentive’ public in order to grab attention and to educate, which means that issues have to be simplified and exciting in order to gain interest and spark curiosities. Sound familiar? Is this not what we as educators have to do every day?

He discussed the need to capture the wonder of the world, to not let science and theory get in the way or ruin the sense of awe and wonder. How apt this is when considering the new national curriculum and the need to inspire students with fascination and curiosity. This is the boundary that needs to be crossed: between what students want to know, until they become engaged in what they need to know.

After a very interesting section on the issue of fracking, and all the socio-enviro-political conflicts involved here with environmental damage, energy management, cultural attitude, etc., Iain stated that there appears to be almost a schizophrenia of Geography. The artificial separation into ‘human’ and ‘physical’ Geography which can lead to sometimes forgetting the inextricable interconnectedness of humans and nature. The division does appear obscure, since the human world is controlled and constrained by the physical world just as the physical world is influenced and altered by the human world. Interlinked. Interdependent. Inseparable. So why try to study them separately?
Why not lose the divergent, divisive classification and just be….Geography?

This was echoed in GA President Professor Hazel Barrett’s keynote who asked ‘what is Geography today?’. Hazel queried whether we have moved too far along the lines of ‘what does the government say’ and become constrained by policy, programmes of study and pedagogical fashions at the expense of the subject itself. Have we forgotten what Geography is?

She asked whether we need a debate on what Geography is today, on how this dynamic subject has changed, and challenged whether we have lost focus on the heart of Geography. Geography has always been crossing boundaries, the boundaries between the human and physical world – this is the beauty of the subject. It requires and demands and interdisciplinary approach that crosses subject boundaries and removes constraints. Whether you are studying climate change, refugees, trafficking, tectonics or any of a limitless number of topics you will find these are dynamic and multifaceted. They could be studied by any one of many disciplines in super-specialised, highly focused ways that only look at a small part of the whole topic – it is only Geography that has the privilege and the challenge of combining all these approaches into one. We blend demographics, ethnography, climatology, environmental science, politics, GIS, technologies, numeracy, literacy, critical thought, etc., in order to investigate and draw conclusions on an interdisciplinary topic. Only Geography takes the world as a whole, and applies a spatial approach in order to funnel all these myriad methodologies into something concrete, applicable, and embed this into the real world.

Geographers are uniquely equipped to understand and address global issues, we should be at the forefront – and more importantly we should be teaching and training the next generation to be at the forefront of solving world issues. The division into ‘human’ and ‘physical’ is not helping.

So, let’s just be…Geography.

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