Geography & Security, Security & Geography

Department of Geography, University of Cambridge. (c) 2011 Wikimedia.

Benjamin Sacks

Geography is one of academia’s oldest and most respected subjects. Yet, perhaps precisely because of its age and shifting priorities, the discipline has often been threatened with extinction or, at the very least, streamlined into a smaller field, open to the machinations of the sciences, anthropology, and sociology. Certainly, the field long ago lost its way in American higher education, relegated to a few institutions requiring geographic study for its broader mission of scientific research (e.g., the University of California at Berkeley, Dartmouth College).

Dr Chris Philo (University of Glasgow), the chair of next year’s RGS-IBG Annual Conference, has chosen the theme of ‘security of geography/geography of security’. Introduced in the January 2012 edition of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Dr Philo described ‘this double-barrelled construction’ as necessary for understanding (and responding to) geography’s requirements for survival, as well as the international arena’s need for geography for its own survival (1).

This so-called “flipped” approach responds to the ever-fluid nature of geographic discourse. The study of the constantly-changing Earth, its lands and peoples, requires a degree flexibility that few other disciplines need. This, naturally, creates a series of problems unique to geography. For instance, as Dr Philo argues, should geography narrow its security scope to national defence interests, at the expense of broader concerns about the planet (2)? Too, will geography that focuses on international affairs ‘crowd out’ human geographers, who traditionally share more with their anthropological counterparts than diplomats (2-3)?

Geography’s strength – a web connecting sciences with social sciences and the humanities – is also its weakness. Dr Philo highlighted Dr Trevor Barnes’ (University of British Columbia) concerns that the field was being gradually jammed into ‘a single big “S” Science approach’, albeit to detriment of human, historical, and political geography (3-4). His general solution is to maintain geography’s inclusiveness as much as possible, a spirit that will hopefully find a variety of answers at the 2012 RGS-IBG Annual Conference.

Philo, Chris, ‘Security of Geography/Geography of Security‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 37.1 (January 2012): 1-7.

 ‘Trevor J Barnes‘, Department of Geography, the University of British Columbia, accessed 19 December 2011.

 

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