Tag Archives: epistemology

Exploring Cultural Geographies of Coastal Change

By Cormac Walsh, Hamburg University, and Martin Döring, Helmholtz-Zentrum Centrum Geesthacht


© Cormac Walsh, Wadden Sea coast, Northern Germany, looking towards Nordstrandischmoor (Hallig island).

Coasts are gaining increased attention worldwide as sites of dramatic and disruptive environmental change. Coastal settlements and ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise (Moser et al 2012). Exploitation of marine resources also contributes to coastal change, resulting in subsidence or loss of land at coastal locations, including at Louisiana and the Dutch Wadden Sea (Wernick 2014, Neslen 2017). Despite the evident interweaving of the natural and the social, the ecological, and the political at the coast, coastal geography has long been firmly positioned within the domain of physical geography with comparatively little input from human geographers. Indeed within the social sciences more generally, coastal and marine spaces have tended to be marginalised in favour of land-based narratives of societal development (e.g. Gillis 2012, Peters et al. 2018).

Physical, social, economic, and cultural processes come together at the coast, and meanings become enmeshed and intertwined. The power of the sea and the physical evidence of geomorphological change at the coast is a reminder of the materiality of place and the potential for dramatic and disruptive change. But coastal landscapes are also lived spaces, often embodying historical narratives of struggles against the sea, building coastal defences, reclaiming land, and learning to work with the daily and seasonal rhythms of a dynamic and fluid environment. In our recently published Special Section of Area on ‘Cultural Geographies of Coastal Change’ (Walsh & Döring 2018), we bring together diverse perspectives concerned with the cultural dimensions of understanding, interpreting and responding to processes of both environmental and socioeconomic change at the coast. In recognition of the need for a broad spectrum of diverse perspectives, we deliberately write of cultural geographies in the plural. Indeed our understanding of cultural geographies extends beyond the discipline of geography itself, to embrace related endeavours in the environmental humanities (Palsson et al. 2013) and the applied field of spatial planning (McElduff & Ritchie). The papers in the Special Section address issues of place attachment and climate change adaptation at the Wadden Sea coast of Germany and the Netherlands (Döring & Ratter, Van der Vaart et al, Walsh), conflicting perspectives on marine conservation in the Scottish Hebrides (Brennan), questions of land- and seascape designation in the UK (Leyshon) and pathways towards place-based coastal resilience in Ireland, North and South (McElduff and Ritchie).

Conceptually, the Special Section explores the concepts of ‘liminality’, ‘metageographies’, and the ‘coast-multiple’ in an effort to grasp the complexity of a multiplicity of ways of knowing the coast, and the potential for coastal places to occupy in-between-spaces of possibility and alterity at the boundary between the land and the sea. We emphasise the need for a reconceptualization of the coast which opens up possibilities for imagining alternative futures, of thinking the coast differently (Leyshon 2018, also Köpsel et al 2017). We thus seek to move beyond established categories of mutually exclusive land and sea spaces, natural and cultural landscapes and fixed, immovable coastlines in favour of a hybrid geography of fluid and dynamic spaces of hybrid nature-culture relations (also Ryan 2011, Satizabal & Batterbury 2017). Such spaces of possibility require inclusive processes of dialogue among a broad range of stakeholders and community interests, proactive, forward-looking leadership and informed input from the social sciences, humanities, and arts (McElduff & Ritchie 2018, van der Vaart et al 2018). It is hoped that the Special Section will provide a point of departure for future engagements with the complex geographies of socio-environmental change at the coast.

About the authors: Dr Cormac Walsh is an environmental geographer at Hamburg University, Institute for Geography. He is also co-editor of the recently launched Marine Coastal Cultures research blog. Dr. Martin Döring is an interdisciplinary researcher in the Human Dimensions of Coastal Areas Working Group at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Centrum Geesthacht. 


Brennan RE. 2018. The conservation “myths” we live by: Reimagining human–nature relationships within the Scottish marine policy contextArea50:159–168. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12420
Döring M, Ratter BMW. 2018. Coastal landscapes: The relevance of researching coastscapes for managing coastal change in North FrisiaArea. 50:169–176. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12382
Gillis, J. R. 2012. The Human Shore: Seascoasts in History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Köpsel, V., Walsh, C., & Leyshon, C., 2017. Landscape narratives in practice: implications for climate change adaptation The Geographical Journal. 183: 175-186 https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12203
Leyshon C. 2018. Finding the coast: Environmental governance and the characterisation of land and seaArea50:150–158. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12436
McElduff L, Ritchie H. 2018. Fostering coastal community resilience: Mobilising people‐place relationshipsArea. 50:186–194. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12419
Moser, S. C., Williams, S. J., Boesch, D. F. 2012. Wicked Challenges at Land’s End: Managing Coastal Vulnerability under Climate Change Annual Review of Environmental Resources 37 51-78
Neslen, A. 2017. Gas grab and global warming could wipe out Wadden Sea heritage site, The Guardian, 16th June 2017.
Palsson, G., Szerszynski, B., Sörlin, S., Marks, J., Avril, B., Crumley, C., Hackmann, H., Holm, P., Ingram, J., Kirman, A., PardoBuendía, M., Weehuizen, R. 2013. Reconceptualizing the ‘Anthropos’ in the Anthropocene: Integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research Environmental Science & Policy 28 4 3-13
Peters, K., 2010. Future Promises for Contemporary Social and Cultural Geographies of the Sea,  Geography Compass, 4, (9), 1260-1272.
Ryan, A. 2011. Where Land Meets Sea: Coastal Explorations of Landscape:  Representation and Spatial Experience Farnham: Ashgate
Satizábal, P. and Batterbury, S. P. J. 2017. Fluid geographies: marine territorialisation and the scaling up of local aquatic epistemologies on the Pacific coast of Colombia. Trans Inst Br Geogr. doi:10.1111/tran.12199
van der Vaart, G., van Hoven, B., Huigen, P.P.P.  2018. The role of the arts in coping with place change at the coastArea50:195–204. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12417
Walsh, C. 2018. Metageographies of coastal management: Negotiating spaces of nature and culture at the Wadden SeaArea50:177–185. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12404
Walsh, C., Döring, M. 2018. Cultural geographies of coastal changeArea50:146–149. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12434
Wernick, A. 2014. Louisiana’s coastline is disappearing at the rate of a football field an hour, Public Radio International, September 23rd 2014.




Crowdfunding: new spatial media to fund education

by Fiona Ferbrache

crowdfundingTwo issues have caught my attention this week: the headline that “Universities fell short of recruitment targets by almost 30,000 students this year” (The Telegraph), and crowdfunding, on which there seems to have been a recent wave of articles (see, for example The Guardian).  The two can be linked.  It has been noted that the rise in university fees has dissuaded many young people from applying to university, while crowdfunding has been put forward as one way of tackling student debt (ibusinessblog).

Crowdfunding – the practice through which individuals pool financial contributions to a larger collective in the name of a particular issue or effort – has generated much support for civic projects, disaster relief, and business start ups (The Guardian), but has had little impact for students’ educational purposes, until more recently.  CrowdFundEDU is a new platform that was established earlier this year to fundraise for tuition fees, and even as an alternative to reduce student loan debt (although mainly in America).

Sites such as CrowdFundEDU represent “new opportunities for activist, civic, grassroots, indigenous and other groups to leverage web-based geographic information technologies in their efforts to effect social change” (Elwood and Leszczynski 2012).  This description is given by Elwood and Leszczynski (2012) in their early view article exploring different examples of new spatial media, of which crowdfunding is one example.  The significance of these relatively new crowdsourcing sites, they argue, is the role they play in advancing different epistemological strategies i.e. for establishing the legitimacy and authority of knowledge claims.  Based on analysis of several organisations using new spatial media, the authors suggest that understandings of what constitutes activism are being transformed for different publics.

In the context of crowdfunding for educational benefit, young people may look towards new social media as a means of side-stepping conventional forms of funding.  We might gain some sense of how this could develop, as an accepted source to enable or enhance abilities to learn, by exploring the successes of other initiatives interacting with crowdfunding online  (The Guardian).

books_icon  Elwood, S. & Leszczynski, A. (2012) New spatial media, new knowledge politics. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00543.x

60-world2  CrowdFundEDU  

  60-world2Crowdfunding Tackles Student Debt CrisisNews10 ABC,  2013

 60-world2  Crowdfunding offers alternative to traditional investments. The Guardian May, 04 2013

60-world2  Crowd-funding powers dynamic business. The Guardian, 31 May 2013

60-world2  How Crowdfunding Is Tackling Student Debt in Britain. iBusiness Blog

60-world2  Universities suffered huge student shortfall after fees hike. The Telegraph, 2013

Minding the Gap in Cartography: from maps to mapping practices

by Fiona Ferbrache

World Map from 1664

World Map from 1664

If the biologist’s iconic tool of the trade is a microscope, then the geographer’s might well be a map.  Both tools offer an alternative perspective of the world, but unlike the microscope, which enlarges for the biologist, the map serves the geographer through reduction.  Maps and processes of mapping are the topics of enquiry in a TIBG paper by Kitchin, Gleeson and Dodge (2012) – one of the latest pieces of work on cartography by these authors.

For those unfamiliar with the scholarly literature, it is perhaps assumed that “a map is unquestionably a map” (Kitchin et al. 2012:2) – something that exists to measure and represent the world, even through its different forms.  For example, the London Tube map, celebrated this year as part of the 150-year anniversary of London Underground, is a topographical map showing connections between stations, rail lines and fare zones.  This is different to geographically scaled maps such as the Michelin Road Atlas or Ordnance Survey maps.

Different again is the set of maps (cartograms) comprising the Worldmapper collection, available online (see below).  These are based on a flat map of the world and territories are re-sized according to particular variables e.g. total population, fruit exports, disease, internet uses and migration.

Kitchin et al. challenge the idea of a map as something complete, fixed and stable – that which they refer to as being “ontologically secure”.  Instead, they rethink mappings as processual (thus the importance of using the verb ‘mapping’ rather than the noun ‘map’): practices that are never complete but unfold out of and into specific relational contexts.  Their paper is written from a more-than-representational standpoint to challenge the assumed ontology of maps and then consider what this means epistemologically for cartography.

The theory behind this article can be applied to other visual materials – photography, for example.  However, Kitchin et al. will hopefully inspire you to look again and rethink how you understand those maps blue-tacked to the wall in your teacher’s room.

60-world2  Mind the map: London Underground turns 150. BBC News

books_icon Kitchin, R., Gleeson, J. and Dodge, M. 2012. Unfolding mapping practices: a new epistemology for cartography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00540

60-world2 Worldmapper collection

Content Alert: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 37, Issue 4 (October 2012) is Available Online Now

Cover image for Vol. 37 Issue 4

Volume 37, Issue 4 Pages 477– 657, October 2012

The latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break for a full list of articles in this issue.

Continue reading

Religion, science and geography

I-Hsien Porter

Adi Holzer, "Die Taufe"Earlier this month, it was announced that the astronomer Martin Rees had been awarded the Templeton Prize. Administered by the Templeton Foundation, the prize rewards a person who has made “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension”.

Critics of the Templeton Foundation warn against placing religion on a par with science, arguing that the two are “incompatible.”

However, as a geographer, I’m interested in seeking to understand the world around us. To this end, I believe that science and religion are both important forms of knowledge. Religion cannot explain the complex mechanisms of climate change. Nor can ‘rational’ science can fully understand the social, cultural, emotional and spiritual complexities of people around the world; our actions are often apparently irrational.

A quick search for ‘religion’ through the geographical journals linked on the right of this page returns dozens of articles. In one paper in Area, Benedikt Korf discusses an idea of “spiritual geographies” – engaging with religion, rather than treating religion as an object for scientific study.

Korf argues that, in research, much is to be gained from engaging with both science and religion. Such an approach offers a broader understanding of how we humans interact with our world. It also provides a useful context in which to critique the motivations for our research; for example, whether geographers should be seeking to actively change some of the situations we encounter.

Science is not without its own uncertainties and assumptions. So to frame science as superior to religion is itself an act of belief. I don’t intend to argue that religion is a viable alternative on its own. However, as geographers, much is to be gained from listening to both, as forms of knowledge and a means to understanding our world.

The Guardian (6th April 2011) ‘Martin Rees wins controversial £1m Templeton Prize’

Korf, B. (2006) ‘Geography and Benedict XVI’, Area 38 (3) 326-329