I think you need to see the Deleuzification of geography in its proper socio-historical context. The radical, critical takes that poured into the social sciences in the 1960s and 1970s, built on alternative socialist/communist structuralisms, carried within them the seeds of their own inadequacy. At the same time these anti-capitalist social and economic critiques were informing subversive forms of knowing in the social sciences, the moral and social foundations on which they rested were constantly being demonstrated to be non-existent. Hungary ’56, Prague ’68, Afghanistan ’78 were a constant background drum-beat of failure and inadequacy – so in the social sciences the same set of events, processes and people that sparked iconoclastic intellectual revolutions in the West were moved by the feedback mechanism of failed stucturalisms to look beyond structuralism itself.
During the 1970s and 1980s this process came accompanied by the triumphal progess of neoliberalism, a universalist ideology transcending mere economism in arrogating to itself a moral, social and even a philosophical supremacy that it demonstrably does not possess. The fall of the Socialist Bloc in 1989 and the apparent ‘Triumph of the West’ persuaded geography to retreat further into the relativity of post-structuralism (what Matthew referred to as the ‘contingency of everything’) and an increasingly self-referential focus on the social, which seemed to be the major area of research left to geography. But it’s been a partial and self-regarding (white, middle-class) take on the social, demoralized and uncentred, which came to rely on the abstracted deconstructions of thinkers.
The social/cultural turn hasn’t meant the complete abandonment of social inequality or injustice, though, as the S&CGRG Mission Statement (2011) makes clear. Social geography stresses “that social injustice, poverty, and exclusion cannot be divorced from questions of representation and imagination”. How much that informs social and cultural geographies though depends on the extent to which you think culture produces ‘contingent and constructed’ phenomena or how much you believe (Kilgore, 2001: 53-59) that “Knowledge is socially constructed and takes form in the eyes of the knower… Knowledge is contextual rather than “out there” waiting to be discovered.” Ironically, this post-modern/post-structural way of knowing itself forms a metanarrative, 1) because the culture used as a referent is overwhelmingly white and occidocentric and 2) because the structures of learning (schools, universities, qualification) that increasingly determine the direction, the movement of this knowledge are neoliberal, market-based structures formed by white, anglo-saxon discursive knowledge.
So what do post-structuralist/cultural thinkers bring to the geography party? Well, I would suggest that you cannot understand the current global economic crisis and its spatial aspects (for one example) without applying ANT, particularly because of the increasingly hyperreal blend of human networks and machine/code space (Jones’ (2009) phase space) that continues to generate the crisis. Financialization theories (forgive me) don’t cover this, and if you read David Harvey’s 2010 book Enigma of Capital, it mentions cyber-space exactly once, as the ‘internet’, a mere conduit for capital – so much for structuralist critique. Signifiers developed by the crisis such as ‘shadow banks’, ‘austerity’ and ‘technocrats’ require linguistic and semiotic analysis because these are memes that have developed spatially in response to specific stages in the crisis, socio-political amphigorics of no relevance to what they purport to describe; in this respect using Baudrillard’s ideas concerning simulacra are also useful. These are specific ways in which (as Simon Battersbury said) “the use of philosophical ideas, and continental philosophy and social theory in particular.. are used to understand and inform actual geographical problems.”
It could be said that if we have arrived at a place where geographical CFPs include phrases such as “Ironically, both the pleasure of bestiality for the practitioner and the horror/humor of the shocked observer rely upon this projection of humanity onto the animal” and “Hunting is a negotiation with animals” means that the discipline is in real trouble. It could be worse, though – we could be economics. The same processes and events that led geography into the cultural turn pushed economics into an abstract mathematical unified theory of everything (a need which characterizes various disciplines from physics on down and which is suspiciously male and phallocratic) based around the concept of equilibrium, itself a mere fantasy derived from supposedly fundamental forces driving capitalism. If you have a look at this set of short videos by John Kay (The Limits of Consistency and Rigor, and Why Economics Needs Eclecticism, http://ineteconomics.org/blog/inet/rob-johnson-interviews-john-kay-rigor-consistency?utm_content=yves%40nakedcapitalism.com&utm_source= VerticalResponse&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=Link%20to%20video&utm_campaign=John%20Kay%3A%20Why%20Economics%20Needs%20Eclecticismcontent) and listen to the (fairly mild) critique of where economics has gone wrong, you’ll see what happens when fifty years of entirely spurious academic rationale and socio-political supremacy come crashing down around your ears.
Dr Jon Cloke
Loughborough LE11 3TU
Office: 01509 228193
Mob: 07984 813681