Chris Philo (who is, among many, many other things, editor of the
Newsletter of the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group)
asked me to provide an update on the Critical Geography Forum for
the next newsletter. I'm reproducing below the text which I have
sent to Chris and which I hope is a fairly straightforward and
uncontroversial account of the forum aimed at those who haven't been
subscribers to this e-mail network. If anyone has strong objections
to anything I've said please let me know by return, so that I can
suggest changes before Chris goes to press.
THE CRITICAL GEOGRAPHY FORUM
Many members of the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group and
have been involved with (and others will know of) an embryonic
network of critical and radical geographers currently known as the
Critical Geography Forum.
The network emerged in a very informal way during the debate over
the merger between the RGS and the IBG, bringing together a wide
range of geographers who were unhappy with the idea of the merger an
d who wanted to explore alternatives to it. Since then the network
has grown and has provided a forum not only for discussion of the
merger and its consequences, but also for the communication of id eas
on a whole range of subjects related to critical and radical
To date, activities have focussed on three areas:
1 INTERNET DISCUSSION GROUP
An electronic discussion group has been set up, open (and free) to
anyone who has access to electronic mail. The group uses the
Mailbase System at the University of Newcastle, which operates as an
e -mail mailing list. Once you have subscribed you can contribute to
the discussion by sending e-mail to the list. All mail sent to the
list is automatically forwarded to all subscribers, and in turn you
receive copies of all the messages sent by other subscribers. The
system allows almost instantaneous communication between all the
subscribers wherever they may be in the world. At the time of
writing the group has 215 subscribers throughout the UK and beyond.
Topics of discussion are up to the subscribers, but have so far
included (among many others) the merger between the RGS and the I BG,
corporate sponsorship of the RGS/IBG and the role of Shell in
Nigeria, the nature of critical geography, announcements of
conferences and calls for papers, and requests for help with
teaching and research.
If you have access to electronic mail and you wish to join the
discussion group send this command message
JOIN crit-geog-forum first_name(s) last_name
(substituting your own first and last names as appropriate) as the
only text of an e-mail message to:
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From: [log in to unmask]
To: [log in to unmask]
Message: JOIN crit-geog-forum Jim Bloggs
You will automatically receive a message in return which will
provide full details of how the system works.
If you have any problems please contact:
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2 FACILITATING ACTION WITHIN THE RGS/IBG
Following the execution of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other
environmental activists in Nigeria, there was considerable debate
about the Shell oil company's twin roles as an oil producer in
Nigeria and as a corporate patron of the RGS/IBG. Much of this
debate took place on the Critical Geography Forum e-mail discussion
group and many participants in that group argued that the RGS/IBG
should end the patronage arrangement in the light of concern about
Shell's activities in Nigeria. At the RGS/IBG annual conference in
January this year a motion to that effect was proposed by David
Gilbert ( Royal Holloway) and passed overwhelmingly.
At each of the last two Annual Conferences of the RGS/IBG, informal
open meetings have taken place under the 'Critical Geography Forum'
label to discuss issues of interest to critical and radical
geographers, to debate the implications of the merger and its
consequences, and to consider possible future activities.
3 PROPOSALS FOR A MORE FORMAL ORGANIZATION
Among those attending the Critical Geography Forum meeting at the
last RGS/IBG conference there was widespread agreement that it would
be good to establish the network in a somewhat more formal fashion.
To that end nine of the people attending volunteered to form a
working group to consider the mechanics of such a development. In
addition, after the conference, there was considerable debate on the
subject in the e-mail discussion group. The following draft
statement of aims and draft constitution for the network were then
circulated for consideration by participants in the discussion group.
Draft Statement of Aims
The Critical Geography Forum is an international network of
geographers and others which seeks to promote:
a) the development and dissemination of critical and radical
perspectives in geography;
b) critical and radical research, publication and educational
activities undertaken by geographers;
c) links between academic geographers and radical political
activists and activities;
d) equality of opportunity;
by, among other things,
i) enabling communication and debate between geographers in all
kinds of educational and research institutions, between geographers
and others in related disciplines, and between academics and the
ii) supporting the work of marginalised and under-represented groups
iii) campaigning for reform in educational and academic institutions;
iv) emphasising work which improves understanding of, and seeks to
combat, unequal and oppressive power relations;
v) highlighting ethical and political issues in the practice of
geographical research and education.
The aim of the constitution is to provide the most skeletal
framework possible to run a membership organisation, using the model
of an international network. Self-governing local, regional or
nation al groups would provide the basic, decentralised structure,
but we would all get together at an international meeting (say)
every two years. Since the decentralised groups would undertake most
of the activities (seminars, meetings, campaigns etc) they would be
most likely to need money, and should therefore be responsible for
collecting it (in the appropriate currencies) and spending it. This
a lso avoids the problems of a) transaction charges and b) US or UK
subscriptions being set beyond the pocket of those in
non-'first-world' countries. Some local, regional or national groups
might want to set subscriptions at zero, at least at first.
If more detailed rules were found to be necessary about the conduct
of meetings, elections and so on, these could be spelled out in a
set of 'standing orders' which would be separate from the constitution.
[Eventually the phrasing may need to be more formal, but the content
is main thing at present]
1 The name of the association shall be 'The Critical Geography
2 The association shall have the following aims ... [see above -
they will be incorporated in the final version]
3 Membership shall be open to all those who support the aims of the
association and who pay a subscription at the relevant rate [this
could be set at zero to begin with, but it may be useful to inclu de
the possibility of a subscription from the start].
4 Members shall form such local, regional and national groups as they
may decide. These groups shall be responsible for the conduct of
their own affairs, including the setting and collecting of
subscriptions, if any.
5 The association and the groups shall undertake such activities as
the members shall from time to time decide in order to further the
6 There shall be an international committee, elected by, and
accountable to, the members of the association. The committee shall
consist of a Chair [responsible for the conduct of meetings], a
Secre tary [responsible for routine admin] and a Treasurer
[responsible for the money - if any], and such other members as the
membership shall elect.
7 The committee shall be responsible for organising the
association's activities. The committee shall have the power to
co-opt additional members to assist in its tasks.
8 The local, regional and national groups shall be responsible for
organising local, regional and national activities as appropriate.
At the time of writing the above drafts are being discussed by
participants in the e-mail discussion group with a view to producing
final versions shortly. As will be clear, the network, even in its
proposed more formal guise, is very much a 'bottom up' affair.
There are very few preconceptions about what it, we, might do - the
aim is enable communication and other activities which might other
wise not take place, but not to determine their character.
My personal view is that this means that the network is not really
in competition with more formal professional organisations such as
the RGS/IBG. I imagine many people would want to belong to both.
However, by establishing the Forum as a separate organisation we
provide a 'home' for those who, for whatever reason, don't or can't
belong to other groups.
Those who wish to get involved in the network can do so easily by
joining the e-mail discussion group as described earlier. If you do
not have access to e-mail, but would be interested in joining the
proposed new organisation, please contact me by post.
Department of Geography
University of Durham
Durham DH1 3LE
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