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"Having identified the faults we also need to address them." Blog post by Maja Essebo

Maja essebo

In this blog post by LUCSUS researcher Maja Essebo, she discusses academic critique, and highlights, that once we have identified the faults, we need to do what little or large we can to adress and amend them.

‘There is no outside to spectacular capitalism. Any alternative must be found from the inside.’ Don Mitchell speaking at the NGM, Stockholm, 19 June.

On June 18-21, the 7th bi-annual conference Nordic Geographers’ Meeting was held, this year at Stockholm University under the overarching theme of Geographies of Inequalities.  It was, yet again, the largest NGM to date, comprising about 760 participants and somewhere north of 680 papers. Over four days, all things space and place were debated and dissected, celebrated and critiqued. Sessions addressed issues of education, migration, urban development, landscape, gender, youth, and of course, a great many issues related to sustainability studies. For me, one of the more memorable sessions was a roundtable discussion of some of the many geographical consequences of Brexit, including the possible return of Irish border disputes as its boundaries will now become the new England/EU border.   

More than once during the conference it was suggested that never before has geography mattered more, never before has the intricate specifics of place and the inequitable distribution, use, and misuse of the earth’s resources been so at the forefront of people’s minds and lives. Fair enough.

In such times it is all but too easy to focus on the faulty, destructive, and seemingly inescapable practices of humankind. As a critical geographer it sometimes seems that my very job consists of going on endless fault-finding expeditions, measuring my academic prowess by how many references I can use while calling someone wrong. Yet students do not hunger for faults, practitioners do not crave academic witticisms, and nobody, let’s be honest, wants to get their tummy full of ‘here’s where you’re wrong’. That’s not to say we don’t need to be critical. Critique is good, critique is necessary, it keeps us on our toes, in check, and, at the very best of times, keeps us pushing ourselves to do better. But having identified the faults we also need to address them, to do what little or large we can to improve, to mend. One of the re-appearing questions on how to go about making the world a better place is whether it has to be done from within or from without current systems.

This leads me back to the NGM and a talk by human geographer Don Mitchell entitled ‘Revolution as Critique of Human Geography: Prospects for the Right to the City in the Society of the Spectacle after 50 Years’. In it he states: ‘There is no outside to spectacular capitalism. Any alternative must be found from the inside.’ So there you are. His point, as I understand it, is that capitalism, a system based on constantly making things useless, cannot be changed from without for the simple reason that there is no without. Instead, the useless must be infused with usefulness from within. ‘What is to be done’, he asserts, ‘is to take space and thereby make the critique of human geography material: out of the shell of the old, make a world where we can abide.’ A world, I might add, that can hopefully abide us in return.

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