What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding anyway? A response to Joel Wainwright (with apologies to Elvis Costello)

Last week we published a powerful intervention by Joel Wainwright, “A remarkable disconnect”: On violence, military research, and the AAG. ‘A remarkable disconnect’ are Eric Sheppard’s words, quoted in Joel’s essay: “violence is now so pervasive, at every scale, that we take it for granted”, he argues; there is “a lack of attention to and critical reflection on violence by geographers”; geographers need to not only “study geographies of violence” but also “examine the role of Geography in shaping violence” and in doing so develop “a pro-peace agenda”.

Joel’s essay leaves open the questions ‘What constitutes a pro-peace agenda? What does it mean to be ‘pro-peace’ at a time when the word has been so abused (e.g. Obama’s Nobel peace prize)?’ and here Joshua Inwood (University of Tennessee, [email protected]) and James A. Tyner (Kent State University, [email protected]) take them on, offering some thoughts on the development of Geography’s pro-peace agenda…

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Joel Wainwright’s recent intervention on the disconnect of many geographers with the militarism that is infecting Geography is a welcome and stinging rebuke of the actual existing conditions of Anglo-American geographic scholarship. In solidarity, we applaud both his desire to “nudge AAG policy on the military” and his underlying condemnation of the practices of the military-industrial complex. As part of his call, and in response to a column written by AAG President Eric Sheppard, Wainwright asks the basic question “what constitutes a ‘pro-peace agenda’?” Here is our answer.

First, the pro-peace agenda that Sheppard mentioned is based loosely on a broader treatment of peace that appeared in ACME in 2011. That article outlined the role that militarism has historically played in Geography; explored the continuance of a ‘war culture’ that permeates academic institutions; and forwarded an agenda for achieving a more peaceful world (Inwood and Tyner 2011a: 444). In particular we argue for the creation of a pro-peace pedagogy (cf. Tyner 2009; Tyner and Inwood 2011) that entails a discipline-wide discussion about how academic institutions are complicit (or active) in practices that contribute to war. We advocate for engaging in political organizing that facilitates the building of a broad coalition in support of peace. At a minimum this would foster Geography’s ability to confront the military-industrial complex and also transform the underlying social and economic relations that are driving universities and academic institutions to engage with and in militarism (Inwood and Tyner 2011a: 450). A pro-peace agenda—at a most basic level—calls for a rejection of militarism in Geography; our paper was an impassioned call for geographers to organize themselves to do just that. As we argue, part of developing a pro-peace agenda in Geography is to destabilize and transform the very meaning of peace to get our colleagues and students to understand and accept that the proliferation of killing in the War on Terror “relies on Geography” and links modern society with “war and inequality” in myriad, contradictory ways (Inwood and Tyner 2011a: 446).

Moreover, a pro-peace agenda in Geography would counter the way research and teaching about peace are marginalized in the discipline or dismissed as ungrounded or mealy-mouthed. This includes recognition that militarism is but one facet of a much deeper problem, one that connects heteronormative versions of geography that proffer whiteness and militarism as the norm and all other engagements with geography as outside of the bounds of acceptable practice (cf. Dowler 2012).

Our engagement with a pro-peace agenda, therefore, is part of a wider and more robust engagement with the geography of peace and anti-violence. This effort is being carried on by some of the most committed and politically engaged geographers the discipline has to offer (many of whom the Antipode Foundation has supported through the Institutes for the Geographies of Justice). For example, at last year’s AAG meeting there were several sessions dedicated to exploring and working towards peace, of which an engagement with militarism is one piece of that project. Specifically, a series of ‘Peace’ sessions were held; crucially, a key component of these presentations was interaction between invited local and international activists and academic geographers on the role of militarism in society. These efforts were spurred in large part by recent ‘peace’ scholarship (e.g. Inwood 2012; Inwood and Tyner 2011b; Koopman 2011; Loyd 2011; 2012; Megoran 2010; Williams 2013 ). Collectively, these Geographers demonstrate a sustained commitment toward the transformation of Geography along the lines of a pro-peace agenda.

Yet if we are to be honest with ourselves, and despite the hard work of some on the AAG council, we have clearly failed to persuade our colleagues and the broader Association to confront, if not outright reject, militarism and violence. The decision of the AAG council to not examine Geography’s role in militarism is one example of a spate of setbacks for those of us who have been advocating for the discipline to engage more forcefully with its role in creating the conditions for a killing-society to proliferate. We ran into the same stony silence that Wainwright speaks about two years ago when, in the wake of the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords—which left six people dead and 14 people wounded—we called upon Geography to make gun control and gun regulation legislation central to the discipline’s research focus (Inwood and Tyner 2011b). Likewise, in 2012, in the aftermath of the Newtown School massacre, which left 26 children dead, we attempted to bring forward a resolution to the AAG council to make research on gun violence a central focus of Geography; this attempt was incorporated into the failed effort to confront militarism within Geography.

In closing, we agree with Wainwright’s assertion that the time to organize for peace is now. It is no mere hyperbole to suggest that lives are at stake. For this reason we welcome Wainwright’s call as an opportunity to re-issue the broader challenge peace research represents to the discipline and to reach across the pedagogical and theoretical aisles, to actively seek and promote peace through our teaching, our research, and our service to the discipline. If there ever was a moment for solidarity building around the broad issues of violence and militarism this is it!


Dowler L (2012) Gender, militarization, and sovereignty. Geography Compass 6(8):490-499

Inwood J (2012) The politics of being sorry: The Greensboro truth process and efforts at restorative justice. Social and Cultural Geography 13(6):607-624

Inwood J and Tyner J A (2011a) Geography’s pro-peace agenda: An unfinished project. ACME 10(3):442-457

Inwood J and Tyner J A (2011b) Guns and geography: Rights, rhetoric, and regulations. Association of American Geographers Newsletter March

Koopman S (2011) Alter-geopolitics: Other securities are happening. Geoforum 42(3):274-284

Loyd J (2011) Peace is our only shelter: Questioning domesticities of militarization and white privilege. Antipode 43(3):845-873

Loyd J (2012) Geographies of peace and antiviolence. Geography Compass 6(8):477-489

Meogran N (2010) Towards a geography of peace: Pacific geopolitics and evangelical Christian crusade apologies. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35(3):382-398

Tyner J A (2009) War, Violence, and Population: Making the Body Count. New York: Guilford Press

Tyner J A and Inwood J (eds) (2011) Nonkilling Geography. Honolulu: Center for Global Nonkilling

Williams P (2013) Reproducing everyday peace in North India: Process, politics, and power. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103(1):230-250