Geography is sexy. It offers multiple entry ways to the things we love to study. It opens up conversations across ideas, making room for the intricate wages of living and dying. But my dazzling understanding of the discipline is slowly tarnishing. I don’t think that it is necessarily the discipline, itself, or even the people in the discipline – rather it is a reflection of the wider academic way of being.
This trip, I have come to question the very intellectual nature of what we do. Not so much that we should not be intellectual about what we do, rather, that we dive in so very intellectually that we almost forget to be human. Moral discourses of the Other and the treatment of the subaltern by a more bourgeois ‘other’ (othered in just such a way as to insist that we are not they – we are not just different, but our identity is based on, in concert with, in dialectical tension against this power-ful, imaginary Other that as the embodiment of all the things that are oppressive, even as they are a stand-in for deeper complex social networks that act within the economic and political spheres) permeate all that we have to say and why we do what we do. And while we struggle to come to terms with our humanness there is, at the same time, something of a stifling of our human-ness – our hearts and souls.
I realize it is highly unpopular to talk about these things in academia. It is un- academic, ultra-feminist, un-scientific. But we are not simply scientific beings. And by focusing so much attention at the intellectual level, some of our more important ways of dealing with the world atrophy. Or maybe they never existed in the first place. I am speaking, of course, of the distractions we construct around us and between us.
What would academia, and more particularly, Geography, look like if we spent as much time working on ourselves as much as we work on The Problems of the World? What would taking the time to think about how we can improve ourselves do to how we think about each other? And why are we so afraid to engage in it?
It is not enough to intellectualize the relational, but requires that we each of us begin to practice a care ethics in our daily practices with each other. It requires that we ask questions of ourselves before we open our mouths – questions like: is what I’m saying kind? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? It requires that we constantly check in with ourselves, digging deeply to understand what drives the negativity in ourselves – what are we really disappointed by? Is it simply ourselves? What is it about ourselves that we are reacting to?
Until now, I’ve felt that the viciousness of graduate school was really manageable…benign, even in its cruelty, but as I move further into the academy, I begin to realize that everything we say within the confines of Geography will impact our entire careers. We are prey to the whims of the few particularly vociferous, and so we make ethically questionable decisions to protect our futures. The weak among us (I include myself at moments) fall into line, appropriately responding to the pros and cons as they are posited by those with the power to frame the discourses around people and places. We nod along, maybe even gleefully, sucking on the teat of the rancid milk of gossip, greedily slobbering over the delicious details of defects in others.
And this is where we are going to fail. If we cannot treat each other with respect, with any sense of dignity, how can we purport to do so for others? I’ve asked this question before, but I think it is important to point toward again: to recognize and work out our geography of compassion – the distance it requires (not just physically, but also socio-economically, politically, etc) to warrant our compassion and supposed caring ethics…