An experiment in teaching geohumanities

As someone whose work gets framed as ‘geohumanities’, I often get asked about my take on the field, both in terms of research and teaching. I usually answer that I feel that geohumanities is in danger of becoming a mere rebranding exercise for cultural geography or environmental humanities. Looking at articles from journals across those three fields, it becomes difficult to make out a difference. This dynamic seems aggravated by the demands of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) that evaluates research output according to discipline. Many academics have complained that, while contemporary problems (and research funders) demand interdisciplinarity, the current research (and academic career) assessment punishes discipline transgressions. Your work will always be scrutinised for sufficient adherence to disciplinary boundaries, and it seems not enough that most of your work can be accounted for in this way, and the fact that there are dedicated journals for this field in which you can publish. Although the new framework promises to pay more attention to interdisciplinarity, the paranoia around disciplinarity persists. Certainly, during last year’s job interviews, I experienced anxiety around my work and the journals in which I decide to publish. Even at interviews for geohumanities themed posts, when bringing up potential practice based or inter/cross-disciplinary outputs, the answer was often ‘no’.

Moreover, some geographers have started to define geohumanities as a meeting of geography and art, sometimes to contrast with environmental/ecological humanities, which tend to be perceived as a meeting of literature and environmental geography. Frequently, geography itself is seen as a science (in the art-science vein), and also as an already pre-defined aesthetic project in itself, due to its dealings with things such as landscape and weather. For me, this definition feels too limited, and frequently leads to a predictable division of labour: geographers write about art, while artists engage with geography. Referring to some attempts at role reversal, some sceptics have joked that it is perhaps best if geographers don’t try to ‘do art’, although there are a few successful examples around. The greater problem, for me, however, is the loss of the wide humanities spectrum, which all creatively engage with and affect geography, from theatre to history. Many of our key concepts that have altered the course of geography, in academia and beyond, come from the humanities, such as ‘postcolonialism’, the ‘nonhuman’/ ’posthuman’, the ‘subaltern’ or ‘slow violence’. In addition, there is a danger of losing the breadth within the geo, which includes all sorts of levels, layers and scales through e.g. geology, geophysics, GIS and especially geopolitics.

A related issue is interdisciplinary teaching. There are many different ways of doing this, depending on institutional logistics (timetabling, student location, connection to other departments etc), levels (undergraduate, postgraduate) and staffing. An increasing number of universities claim to have interdisciplinary undergraduate teaching programmes such as ‘Liberal Arts’, but in reality, subjects are still being kept separate and taught by specialists. The location of an interdisciplinary programme also often determines the angle. For instance, if an art and science programme is located within an arts faculty, the syllabus is more likely to be art centred, no matter how diverse the student body.

Factors that contribute to disciplinary adherence include assessment and employability. In terms of assessment, existing people need to assess work in an existing framework. Although there is some leeway in terms of content, method, tasks and outputs – usually attached to a lengthy process of approval and external scrutiny – there are considerable benefits in staying with the old system, from economic to identity-related ones. One argument that has been rolled out for as well as against interdisciplinarity is employability. Employer requirements are, of course, all over the teaching excellence framework (TEF). How is this supposed to shape teaching, according to the reports? The paper “Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice”, at first glance, emphasises student choice and flexibility, but on closer scrutiny, this mainly relates to financial issues: all students should have the same consumer choice of institution. Nothing about potential links to earlier statements in the same report such as “business problems often require rapid solutions, and are rarely focused on a single research discipline”.

With so much woolly “guidance”, institutional and disciplinary anxieties, how is one to teach an interdisciplinary geohumanities module? One way of going about this is to ask: what would I like this module to do? In my case, what I would be interested in trying is to teach geography arts and humanities style. I would like geography students to see not only where many of their concepts come from, but also how the arts and humanities are used at different sites to attempt to reimagine and overwrite geographical narratives that are at the heart of many environmental and geopolitical problems. Geohumanities work often presents itself as “crisis focused”, and it is a good idea to discuss examples of interventions that people in different positions around the world have made in the face of crisis. In practical terms, what I would be looking at is to include consideration of different humanities disciplines, different media (also to teach aesthetic literacy), geographical breadth and high-low culture dynamics. This is quite a lot to consider for one module, which probably allows for 10 sessions at the most. I do not worry too much about covering everything, as the module building process will be naturally limited by the research interests of whoever teaches it. In fact, this limitation will open up the possibility for students to bring their own examples of which they are “experts”, also often due to a generational difference, thus creating a more equal position in the classroom.

Over the last few years, I have drafted different geohumanities modules that are structured by different emphases: issue focused, concept focused, medium/output focused (not just to work on/through different media, but to perhaps also not privilege reading as a mode of knowledge transmission), discipline focused (covering as many humanities/”geos” as possible with or without co-teaching from other subject areas), format focused (non-lecture) etc. While I currently do not teach any of these modules, I integrate aspects of them (and of my “postcolonial” science studies module) into some of my current courses.

So, to liberate at least one of my full “fantasy modules” from my drawer and to put it out there for discussion, I’d like to show a hybrid medium/issue focused one. While comparatively conservative in format – it was written to pass a particular course approval system in geography – it can easily be adapted to suit different institutional and non-institutional needs. Feedback/discussion welcome! Also, please feel free to post links to other courses below. Today, I found an interesting mapping themed teaching syllabus, developed by Garrett Nelson at Dartmouth, which can be found here.


Image: Actors from Shakespeare’s Globe perform “Hamlet” at the Good Chance Theatre Tent in the Jungle, Feb. 3, 2016. Source: Al Jazeera/Getty Images/Dan Kitwood.

The main aim behind this module is to enable (geography) students to get a sense of how different humanities-based disciplines engage with pressing global environmental and geopolitical issues, and why this is interesting for geographers. Further aims include: to help students understand links between social, economic and institutional dynamics around art and culture; to map the reach of the humanities, especially the feedback loops between popular culture, ‘high culture’ and wider global (political) dynamics; to identify, challenge and perhaps contribute examples of creative attempts at challenging geopolitical dynamics and stereotypes; to study and experiment with a variety of media and formats (e.g. press release, podcast, photograph, zine, arts grant application) to improve communication of critical geographical issues; and to build confidence in engaging with difficult debates and in communicating these to different audiences.

1 Introduction to the Geohumanities

This introduction situates the geohumanities vis à vis fields such as environmental humanities, cultural geography and ecocriticism. Through a variety of examples, the session seeks to illustrate why the field has evolved and how it contributes to discourse. As part of this, it also draws attention to institutional dynamics such as issues of race and gender in academic authorship, funding, publishing and syllabus design. Further, by explaining the rationale behind this module, this introduction prompts the question:
What have the geohumanities set out to do so far and what would you actually like them to do?

Bird Rose, D, van Dooren, T, Chrulew, M, Cooke, S, Kearnes, M, O’Gormand, E (2012) Thinking Through the Environment, Unsettling the Humanities.

Cosgrove, D (2000) Cultural Geography. In: R.J. Johnston, D. Gregory, G. Pratt, M. Watts (eds) The Dictionary of Human Geography. Oxford: Blackwell.

DeLoughrey, E, Handley, G B (2011) Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hawkins, H, Cabeen, L, Callard, F, Castree, N, Daniels, S, DeLyser, D, Munro Neely, H, Mitchell, P (2015) What Might GeoHumanities Do? Possibilities, Practices, Publics, and Politics. GeoHumanities1(2).

Other examples of works discussed: Juliana Spahr, This connection of everyone with lungs (2005) and The Transformation (2007); Vanessa Agard-Jones, Toxic Symposium (2017)

2 Is the Museum a Battlefield? Art, culture and global power

Taking inspiration from artist Hito Steyerl’s performances Is the Museum a Battlefield (2013) and Guards (2012), this session looks at the museum, the artwork and the art world as a site of geopolitical struggle. What actually makes a museum or gallery? Who funds, views and buys art and why? What are artists, curators and institutions doing to challenge problematic dynamics? This lecture also looks at geopolitical use of cultural “soft power” to garner wider support from populations, explaining terms such as culture washing, pinkwashing.

Bennett, T (1995) The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics. London: Routledge.

Puar, J K (2007) Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sharp, J (2000) Condensing the Cold War. Reader’s Digest and American Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Steyerl, H (2012) The Wretched of the Screen. Berlin: Sternberg Press.

Other examples of works discussed: Hito Steyerl, Is the Museum a Battlefield (2013) and Guards (2012); Barnard, L (2014) Hyenas of the Battlefield, Machines in the Garden. TLV in LDN. MODCaR, Imaging Detroit Festival (2012).

3 Inhuman Conditions: Documenting human rights abuses

Prompted by Pheng Cheah’s question of how the humanities can make a difference in addressing global human rights abuses, this session looks at how photographers, documentary film makers, journalists, lawyers and even architects are attempting to change the way we think about violence. This session looks at experiments with human empathy in relation to geographical and cultural distance and proximity. It also looks at the ways in which violence against humans is linked with (real, imagined) environmental factors and special practices such as erasures in the built environment.

Azoulay, A (2012) Civil Imagination: Political Ontology of Photography. London: Verso (reprint).

Cheah, P (2006) Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Herscher, A (2010) Violence Taking Place: The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict. Redwood City: Stanford University Press.

O’Tuathail (1996) An Anti-geopolitical Eye: Maggie O’Kane in Bosnia, 1992-93. Gender, Place & Culture 3(2).

Examples of works discussed: Eyal Weizman, Forensic Architecture (2017); Susan Sontag, On Photography (1977); pro/anti-Refugee Campaigns; war campaigns; Ai Wei Wei controversies; debates around public monuments; apartheid architecture; cultural economy of ‘ruin porn’.

4 Shakespeare in the Jungle: Can theatre help refugees?

When the Globe Theatre in London sent actors to the Calais ‘Jungle’ refugee camp, their actions were both lauded and condemned. Of all things, do refugees need theatre, dance or music? And, if yes, what kind of performances? What can such interventions do in terms of affecting different publics, including decision-makers? This session looks at a variety of controversial but also ‘quiet’, less high profile examples of how well-meaning performances have negotiated prevalent geographical imaginaries.

Daley, P (2005) Bob Geldof and the Livingstone connection: Africa not yet saved? Pambazuka News. URL:

Nagar, R (2014) Muddying the Waters: Co-authoring Feminisms across Scholarship and Activism. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

Rogers, A (2017) Advancing the geographies of the performing arts: Intercultural aesthetics, migratory mobility and geopolitics. Progress in Human Geography [Online First].

Salhi, K (1998) African Theatre for Development: Art for Self-Determination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Other examples of works discussed: Geraldine Pratt and Caleb Johnston ‘Nanay’ (2009); Aimé Césaire, A Tempest (1969); Live Aid (1985); WOMAD; Beyoncé’s Superbowl performance (2013).

5 “These girls are the future!’: subculture visions

‘These girls are the future!’ was an overheard exclamation by a male visitor of the 2016 DIY Zine Fair in London. The person pointed at the stall of ‘OOMK’ (One of my kind), a small independent journal primarily devoted to the creative experiences and ambitions of young Muslim women. This session looks at related examples and strategies of supposed ‘low culture’, such as DIY zine making and DIY fashion as part of experimentation with identity and geography.

Ashery, O, Sansour, L (2009) The Novel of Nonel and Vovel. Milan: Edizioni Charta Srl.

Dasgupta, R K (2015) Articulating dissident citizenship, belonging, and queerness on cyberspace South Asian Review, 35(3)

Feigenbaum, A (2012) Written in the mud. (Proto)Zine-making and autonomous media at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp. Feminist Media Studies 13(1).

Hall, S, Jefferson, T (1993 [1975]) Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-war Britain. London: Routledge.

Other examples of works discussed: Oomk, Odd One Out, Mashalla News, Bidoun, The Henceforward (Eve Tuck), Indian & Cowboy, Skin Deep, Sticky Institute gay marriage controversy.
→ Possibility of visit to zine fair.

6 Technologies of Struggle: whose future/ism?

Afro, Asian and Arab Futurism are contemporary cultural movements that often take technology as an inspiration for re-imagining cultures and global divisions. This session looks at the role of technology (and technology censorship) in shaping global dynamics and (natural, built) environments, and at humanities based takes on dominant techno-narratives. It especially focuses on film and video games as a medium of exploration, but also makes links with interventions into geographical mapping and multi-dimensional visualisation technologies such as GIS and CAD.

Chude-Sokei, L O (2015) The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics.

Majali, S (date unknown) Towards Arab Futurism/s: Manifesto. Novelty 2

Moore, K (2007) Towards a Postcolonial GIS. In: A. C. Winstanley (ed) GISRUK 2007 Proceedings. National Centre for Geocomputation. National University of Ireland Maynooth.

Mavhunga, C (2017) What do Science, Technology, and Innovation Mean from Africa? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Examples of works discussed: Harun Farocki Parallel I-IV (2014); Larissa Sansour Nation Estate (2013); Fatima Al Qadiri, GCC Transmission (2013); Sophia Al Maria, Black Friday (2016); Alondra Nelson (ed) Afrofuturism (2002); Simon Rittmeyer, Drexciya (2012); Wanuri Kahi, Pumzi (2009); Liu Cixin, Zhongguo 2185 (1989); Mitnick/Roddier, Off the Radar (2013); Sabine Gruffat, I have always been a dreamer (2012); Russian ‘Paper Architecture’; what3words project.

7 Geopoetics: Disrupting colonial orders by becoming geography

This session looks at how natural forces have been critically appropriated in invigorating cultural identity and movements. Students are invited to trace this strategy through examples from recent anti-colonial literature and poetry from areas such as the Caribbean and Polynesia, and are encouraged to find other examples from across the world where this strategy has been employed. This session also looks at the journeys and production conditions of supposedly immaterial art forms such as poetry and sound.

Césaire S (2012) The Great Camouflage: Writings of Dissent (1941-45). D. Maximin (ed). Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.

Glissant, E (2010) Poetics of Relation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Hau’ofa, E (2008) We Are The Ocean. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Noxolo, P. Preziuso, M. (2012) Moving Matter. Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 14(1) 120-135

Other examples of works discussed: Manthia Diawara, One World in Relation (2009), Aimé Césaire, Moi, laminaire (1982), Edouard Glissant, La Lézarde (1957); Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, My Poem To My Daughter (2014); Femi Nylander, A poem that migrates through tongues; Anthropocene related works.

8 Back to the future: rewriting geography by rewriting the past

How do historians, archaeologists and anthropologists contest geographical and geopolitical narratives? This session looks at how supposedly ‘backwards looking’ humanities participate in the rewriting of the present world, for instance, by contesting existing theories about human and nonhuman cohabitation. Does it matter how old the earth is? Does it matter that there were black Romans? Does it matter that Haiti had a revolution? This session also looks at the ways in which historical knowledge is disseminated to wider audiences.

Buck-Morss, S (2009) Hegel, Haiti and Universal History. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Graeber, D (2011) Debt: The First 5,000 Years. New York: Melville House.

Tolia-Kelly, D (2011) Narrating the postcolonial landscape: archaeologies of race at Hadrian’s Wall. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36(1)

Yusoff, K (2013) Geologic Life: Prehistory, Climate, Futures in the Anthropocene. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31(5).

Other examples of works discussed: British slave owner database; white supremacist histories (e.g. Vinland, Mary Beard controversy, white slavery, Nell Irvin Painter’s ‘The History of White People’ (2010)); geological discovery of ‘deep time’.

9 Into Eternity: ways of working against environmental ‘slow violence’

How do we deal with long-term problems such as nuclear waste and severe environmental pollution? How are the differences in responses between developed and developing countries? Which populations are the most effected by such environmental risks? Students will be invited to research examples of how a variety of actors, including governments, businesses, artists are trying to tackle issues that will exceed their life-times.

Agard-Jones, V (2014) Spray. Somatosphere (Commonplaces: Itemizing the Technological Present) May 2014.

Nixon, R (2011) Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Teiawa, K M (2015) Consuming Ocean Island: Stories of People and Phosphate from Banaba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Van Wyck, P C (2005) Signs of Danger. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Other examples of works discussed: Michael Madsen, Into Eternity (2011); Bodil Furu, Mangeurs de Cuivre (2016); Josh Fox, James Spione, Myron Dewey, Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock (2017); LaToya Ruby Frazier, A Haunted Capital (2013); Vanessa Agard-Jones, Toxic Symposium (2017).

10 Geophilosophy: why imagine the Earth without us?

Why are philosophers interested in imagining a world without humans? Why are some of them looking at medieval mysticism and turning to Black Metal and Noise music as part of this pursuit? This session looks at the intellectual movement of ‘geophilosophy’ and its strange nihilist challenge to environmental and social movements. Is this ‘environmental pessimism’ just a pure celebration of human and nonhuman extinction or is there a more profound challenge to rethinking how we think about ourselves in the world?

Connole, E (2017) On the Meaning of Style: Black Metal’s “Black” Or So, Black Is Myself. in P Webb, S Jacobs et al (eds.) Through the Subcultural Lens: Hebdige and Subculture in the 21st Century. London & New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mackay, R (2010) Editorial Introduction. Collapse 6: Geophilosophy. Falmouth: Urbanomic.

Negarestani, R (2008) Machines are digging. In: R. Negarestani Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials. Melbourne: Re:press.

Woodard, B. (2013) Introduction, or, Abyss Lessons. In: B. Woodard, ‘On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy’. New York: Punctum.

Other examples of works discussed: Wojciech Doroszuk, Festin (2013); Bela Tarr, The Turin Horse (2011); Lars von Trier, Melancholia; Black Metal, Noise Music.


Steal this module! Or: why teach postcolonial science studies to human and physical geographers?

Image: “This map shows the growth in scientific research of territories between 1990 and 2001. If there was no increase in scientific publications that territory has no area on the map.” (Source: Worldmapper)

When I worked as a postdoc at the University of Glasgow, I was approached by a group of Geography PhD students and university teachers about giving a talk on ‘decolonising physical geography’. It became a mini talk that I co‑presented with Dave Featherstone, who focused on the human geography side. I was very grateful to be approached, because, as in other all-white or almost all-white departments, any mention of race in the context of higher education is often considered ‘too far out’. Fellow white geographers often do not feel like it concerns them, or affects their teaching, and besides ‘we’re still struggling with gender’. Students are often much more alert to issues of race, through campaigns such as ‘Why is my curriculum white?’, but also through related debates that are taking place in campuses not only nationally but internationally. And it is not only students of colour, but white students who find the often all white, all male curriculum strange. At Glasgow, an almost all-white human geography undergraduate class recommended that staff consider syllabi that went beyond white male middle class authors and issues.

While the topic of the necessity to ‘decolonise the university’ has obviously reached geography – the next national UK Geography conference theme, with all its problems (critical commentary from RGS-IBG RACE Working Group coming out soon), is called ‘Decolonising Geographical Knowledges’ – there is too little evidence that things have started to change. Especially when it comes to the geographical sciences, the idea seems to persist that science is neutral, objective, and colour/gender blind. However, as physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein put it in a recent talk at Birkbeck College (podcast available on this site soon), ironically, the most supposedly most ‘objective’ fields, such as physics and philosophy, are dominated by a white male academic culture that associates gender, diverging sexual orientation and ethnicity with lack of intellectual purity. This not only translates into an absence of especially academics of colour, but also a lack of funding for research that affects ethnic minorities (even those who are not so much in the minority) in general. Prescod-Weinstein also feels that this exclusion of alternative viewpoints and issues translates into growing intellectual stagnation in many fields. In UK Geography, we have an increasing number of female staff and students, but when it comes to BME (Black and Minority Ethnic, the official UK term in education) geographers the reality looks pretty dire.

Image: Physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (Source:

The other problem for Prescod-Weinstein is that most science curricula perpetuate the impression that non-Europeans are new to scientific innovation and knowledge production. Often, the view is implicitly perpetuated that white people do the research, while everyone else is being researched – a critique also mirrored in the human sciences by indigenous activists such as Linda Tuhiwai Smith or Vine Deloria Jr. There is a notable absence, for instance, of the Middle Eastern influence on European science (and social scientific method!) and a frequent lack of engagement with other cultures and their scientific discoveries. Conversely, the colonial roots of science are rarely mentioned. Prescod-Weinstein points to the astronomical observation missions by Huygens and Cassini whose aim was to improve navigation to St Domingue (Haiti/Dominican Republic) in order to ‘make the delivery of slaves and export of the products of their labour more efficient’ (her essay on this can be read here). The consequence of such a detached, ahistorical portrayal of science is that science can present itself as being interested in the ‘common good’ while remaining in the service of economic and political power that perpetuates inequalities.

In Geography, there is a similar tension around the colonial past, as the discipline continues produces expertise for resource extraction and the military. This also translates into revenue: many departments – and especially the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers – are sponsored by oil and mining companies, and sometimes old colonial families. This became one of the reasons for the emergence of ‘critical geographers’ who, amongst tackling other significant issues, sought to critically engage with the on-going effects of geography’s problematic past. For Prescod-Weinstein, too, the move to increase diversity ‘needs to become a ‘reclamation project’: an anti-colonial project that seeks to reorient science towards more benevolent goals that benefit all of humanity’. This seems quite a stake. Some critics say that in order to be a totally equitable system, the university has to be redesigned from the ground up, since it participates in the creation of elites and is increasingly inaccessible (e.g. through fees, tests). I agree with this opinion. At the same time, there are people who still have to operate within the current system, and, for this long-term aim to be achieved, people first need to know why this is an aspiration. One way to bring attention to this problem is, I feel, through teaching.

Image: “India’s ‘space women’ (from left) Ritu Karidhal, Anuradha TK and Nandini Harinath. Two years ago, as Indian scientists successfully put a satellite into orbit around Mars, a photograph that went viral showed women dressed in gorgeous saris with flowers in their hair celebrating at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) in the southern city of Bangalore. It was reported that the ecstatic women were scientists and the photograph challenged the stereotype that rocket science in India was a male preserve. Isro later clarified that the celebrating women were administrative staff, but it went on to add that there indeed were several women scientists who had worked on the mission and were in the control room at the time of the launch.” (BBC NEWS)

There are quite a few geographers, and especially geographers of colour, who are currently looking at pedagogy as well as new curricula that reflect the present situation. Some recent examples from Geography will appear in a forthcoming AREA teaching and race special issue (edited by James Esson). For me, one approach is to teach about Geography as a science – and to teach this both physical and human geographers. The framing as ‘science’ allows for a variety of topics to be explored: the feminist and postcolonial critique of science studies; global knowledge production; the history of geography and science and their ties to (neo)colonial practices. There are many similarities between physical and human geographers in terms of their ‘knowledge making practices’: both types of geographers tend to go on (frequently international) field trips, they share knowledge at international conferences and through academic journals, they apply for funding to national and international programmes, they take part in international collaboration, they teach an international student body, and they are invited to give public talks. All of these tasks benefit from an in-depth knowledge of inequalities in knowledge production.

Practically, there are different ways of teaching this, from a single seminar to (preferably) an entire course, depending on departmental logistics. The content of the proposed seminars/lectures is not new – geography teaching includes a lot of science studies based teaching and teaching on race. It is just that science and race/inequality are rarely found in one module. Looking through curricula across the country, science studies and postcolonial/development studies are not only kept apart, and they are usually only taught to human geographers. And although there is constant talk of joint teaching and project building between physical and human geography, the most obvious cross-over of postcolonial science studies has largely been ignored. With this in mind, I hope there will be more crossovers in teaching beyond ‘human geographers should also know physical geography’. A full module could look as follows (please note, the readings are just examples from a longer reading list – more reading suggestions welcome!):



1 Why look at geography as a science? What is a science? Science and knowledge are terms that are usually associated with neutrality and objectivity. How can uneven global development affect how science is conducted and how knowledge is shaped?

Hacking, I (1999) The Social Construction of What? Cambridge MA: Harvard University Pres.

Kropotkin, P (2014 [1885]) What Geography Ought To Be. In J Dittmer, J Sharp ‘Geopolitics: An Introductory Reader. London: Routledge

Suman, S (2017) Colonial History and Postcolonial Science Studies. Radical History Review 127

Tadaki M et al (2015) Cultivating critical practices in physical geography. The Geographical Journal 181(2), 160–171

2 Global divisions of science, or why look at science’s geography? Why do pharmaceutical industries move their experiments to the global South? Why are most science papers published by Western scholars? How is science funding distributed?

Benjamin, R (2009) A Lab of Their Own: Genomic sovereignty as postcolonial science policy. Policy and Society 28, 341–355

Blicharska, M et al (2017) Steps to overcome the North–South divide in research relevant to climate change policy and practice. Nature Climate Change 7.

Noxolo, P (2008) ‘‘My Paper, My Paper”: Reflections on the embodied production of postcolonial geographical responsibility in academic writing. Geoforum 40, 55–65

Sunder Rajan, K (2007) Experimental Values: Indian Clinical Trials and Surplus Health. New Left Review 45

3 Knowledge controversies: Whose knowledge counts? How are decisions made when it comes to socio-environmental problems? How are the voices of different actors weighted in and across the developing and developed world? What counts as an issue? How are current shifts in knowledge inequalities managed e.g. in spaces such as environmental law or the museum?

Bassey, N (2010) To cook a continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa. Cape Town: Pambazuka Press.

Cooke, B, Kothari, U (2001) Participation: The New Tyranny? London: Zed Books.

Escobar, A (1998) Whose Knowledge, Whose nature? Biodiversity, Conservation, and the Political Ecology of Social Movements. Journal of Political Ecology 5(53)

Tolia-Kelly, D P (2016) Feeling and Being at the (Postcolonial) Museum: Presencing the Affective Politics of ‘Race’ and Culture. Sociology 50(5) 896–912

4 Human, nonhuman: how to divide the world (differently)? Who decided on how we categorise things around us? Who decided on hierarchies among humans, animals, plants and stones? Are there other possible ways of dividing or uniting what exists in the world? What proposals are being sidelined and why? Would a new world view change our current predicament? Why are science and legal scholars so obsessed with taking the ‘nonhuman’ into account?

Kohn, E (2013) How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Latour, B (2004) The Politics of Nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Todd, Z (2016) An Indigenous Feminist’s Take On The Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology Is Just Another World For Colonialism’. Journal of Historical Sociology 29

Verran, H (2001) Science and an African Logic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

5 Science and policy in an unequal world What does it mean to do science and make policy in an unequal world? What are the options and limitations that practitioners have? What are good and bad examples?

Jasanoff, S (1987) Contested Boundaries in Policy Relevant Science. Social Studies of Science 17, 195-230.

Hart, C (2013) High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society. New York: Harper.

Hecht, G (2012) Being Nuclear: Africans and the Uranium Trade. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Nelson, A (2013) Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

6 Managing Environmental Hazards across North & South How are environmental risks being managed differently in the developing and developed world? What happens in the case of a disaster? Who are the actors that respond and what consequences does this dependency have for the affected countries? What is environmental racism?

Bullard, R D (1993) Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots. New York: Southend Press.

Hannigan, J (2013) Disasters Without Borders: The International Politics of Natural Disasters. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.

Ngosso, T (2013) The Right to Development of Developing Countries: An Argument against Environmental Protection? Public Reason 5(2) 3-20.

Nixon, R (2011) Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

7 The Racial Economy of Science How does race or ethnicity affect science and knowledge production? How does the history of racial science still affect science today? How do scientific methods take ‘race’ into account?

Mbembe, A (2017) Critique of Black Reason. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

McKittrick, K (2010) Science Quarrels Sculpture: The Politics of Reading Sarah Baartman. Mosaic 43(2)

Painter, N I (2010) The History of White People. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Rusert, B (2017) Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture. New York: NYU Press.

8 Science and Gender How does gender inequality affect science and knowledge production in general? Do women do science differently? How do imaginaries of gender norms affect science? How have women and non-normative people worked towards equal access to science and scientific professions? What is Geography’s history in this respect?

Agard-Jones, V (2013) Bodies in the System. Small Axe, Volume 17, Number 3, November 2013 (No. 42), pp. 182-192

Haraway, D (1989) Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science. London: Routledge.

Johnson, D R (2011) Women of Color in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). New Directions for Institutional Research 152

LeVay, Simon (1996) Queer Science. The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

9 Contesting science from the margins What are the reasons for contesting science? What are histories of scientific abuse of marginalised populations? How can marginalised populations contest science? What is the difference between a marginalised population, a marginalised issue? What is ‘fugitive science’? What is the difference between marginalisation and ‘bad science’? What are existing networks that try to change the way science is conducted?

Charters, C, Stavenhagen, R (2009) Making the Declaration Work: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Copenhagen: IWGIA.

Kukutai, T, Taylor, J (2016) Indigenous Data Sovereignty: Towards an Agenda. Canberra: ANU Press.

Shiva, V (1993) Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology. London: Zed Books.

Third World Network (1993) Modern Science in Crisis: A Third World Response. In S. Harding, The Racial Economy of Science. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

10 ‘Decolonising’ Science? What do calls to ‘decolonise science mean’? How has science been implicated in colonialism and how has the science curriculum been shaped by it? What might a science look like that more strongly amplifies its global history and connections? What are the obstacles and possibilities? What could it mean to ‘decolonise Geography’?

Prescod-Weinstein, C (2016) Intersectionality as a Blueprint for Postcolonial Scientific Community Building. URL:

Simpson, L B (2017) As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Smith, L T (1999) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books.

Stengers, I (2012) Reclaiming Animism. E-flux. URL:

Basically, this module aims to

  • sensitise students to the embeddedness of science and knowledge making in geopolitical/economic dynamics
  • expose students to the debates that run across theory and practice, and also directly affect the higher education setting
  • support students in considering these wider dynamics in their own work
  • engage students with a variety of perspectives from across the world, in order to enable students to communicate to across different backgrounds in academic and professional careers

Further reading (suggested by readers)

Mavhunga, C (2017) What do Science, Technology, and Innovation Mean from Africa? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Further Resources

Here are a few further resources from the talk that Dave Featherstone and I gave at the Glasgow Geography teaching away day (19 May 2016).

Useful questions

1) How do we, especially as white academics, develop an awareness of these issues and knowledges?

  • There are a number of really good academic/activist books, articles, blog posts and reports that have a strong relevance for geography (see list at the bottom of this post) e.g. Decolonising Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith.
  • You can also follow specific tags on social media or initiatives specific to your subject (e.g. Black Physicists, Black Philosophy Network, Black Geographies, Race In Geography etc)
  • Look out for events at your local university or geographical area

2) Being reflexive when it comes to putting together reading lists, assignments, or even field trips: how is the subject or field being portrayed?

  • Ask yourself questions, for instance: What image do you have of who/what makes a geographer/scientist? How do you affirm students’ identities as scientists? What overt or hidden messages about science do your students receive by the way you teach your curriculum? How do you learn about your students and connect the relevance of science to their daily lives? (from: US National Association for Multicultural Education) What is your visual narrative in your lectures, teaching and open day materials?

3) What practices can we adopt to support BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) and other ‘minority’ students? And to support white students in learning about whiteness as an issue in science?

  • Educate yourself and other white academics about whiteness/heteronormativity/ableism etc through academic and activist literature and integrated this knowledge into your teaching practices
  • There is an increasing amount of teaching resources on the net for both sciences and social sciences e.g. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein’s Decolonising Science reading list, the Global Social Theory project
  • Make colleagues aware that everyone (staff, students) benefits from diversity in the curriculum (e.g. see UCU Black members campaign): young people in general have a more global sense of place
  • There are mechanisms/training in place that can help you (university internationalisation schemes, Equality & Diversity units, Equality Challenge Unit workshops related to the Athena Swan/Race Equality Charter Mark)

4) How can we consult formally or informally with students and colleagues regarding experiences and suggestions?

  • Let people know you have an interest in the topic.
  • Strategies are far from agreed, so it is useful to attend/organise workshops, public lectures and meetings, contact local groups with BME/intersectional focus such as BME staff network, BME student groups.

Reading, mailing lists, contacts

Feedback/additions appreciated.


RACE Awards & Teaching Workshop now open for registration

Image: Ellen Gallagher IGBT (2008)

Two exciting things are happening at the RACE (Race, Culture & Equality) Working group.

1) Two of our members, Margaret Byron (our chair) and Parvati Raghuram (committee member) are receiving awards from the RGS-IBG on 6 June. Margaret is receiving the Taylor & Francis Award for the promotion of diversity in the teaching of human geography, and Parvati is receiving the Murchinson Award for furthering geographical understandings of mobility.

2) Our RACE teaching workshop has been confirmed by the RGS-IBG conference organisers. It will take place on the Tuesday of the conference and will be free to attend (no conference registration needed!). The workshop is divided into two themes: Race in the Curriculum and Challenging Exclusionary Spaces. We hope to see you there! You can register for the workshop on our Eventbrite page.

SciFi shorts for geography teaching

After coming across some great scifi short films recently, I thought they might also be useful in geography teaching – both at university and in schools. Unlike full-length films, they could be used to introduce topics at the beginning of a course, to break up really long lectures or to serve as quick discussion hooks.

JONAH from Factory Fifteen on Vimeo.

Jonah seems ideal for stimulating discussions about tourism, globalisation and economic trajectories. Can there ever be a benign tourism? And, if yes, under what conditions? What role does tourism play in development and what are potential alternatives?

FUTURESTATES is a series by independent channel ITVS. It can sometimes be a bit too didactic, but provides a great selection of topics and questions. The above film imagines one potential trajectory for gated communities where parents genetically engineer their children to fit into their conservative society. ‘White’ is another good one that discusses climate change and race in a new light: dark skin (melanin) has become a sought after commodity.

Payload from Stu Willis on Vimeo.

In ‘Payload’, Australia has become a smuggler haven. Despite its brevity, the film covers a staggering number of issues including class, gender, poverty, human and organ trafficking, prostitution, smuggling, (food) security, education and corruption.

The treatment of piracy in Somalia in the form of a commercial (for Turkish appliance company Vestel) should make some disturbing or at least curious watching for post-colonial and geopolitics researchers.

Beautifully shot, Pumzi touches on a variety of themes, including future water and energy shortage, climate change, related wars, surveillance societies, politics of scientific research, ‘green’ approaches and the unequal (media) representation of world views.

Alive In Joburg – Neill Blomkamp from Spy Films on Vimeo.

The predecessor to District 9, this short comments on xenophobia, racism, speciesism, inhumanity and related infrastructure.

This is obviously just a small selection. If you have any other recommendations, feel free to post them below.