This project came out of a collective attempt to re-describe and engage with the questions of what public scholarship is, how it’s made, and how as radical geographers we might aim to effect changes and interest in the field.

We undertook this conversation and investigation collectively at the Institute for the Geographies of Justice (IGJ) in Durban in June 2013. Through discussions of public geography projects in which we had been involved, we mapped our various experiences of research and what the public meant to us within them, identifying similarities and points of contention. This investigation is based on the collective and varying experiences of those who attended the IGJ, rather than a representative or exhaustive list of public geographies.

Figure 1

Figure 1: The IGJ participants making the map at the workshop

By using a rigid mapping structure (see Figure 3 below), we were forced to question some of the normative assumptions of what “the public” meant, as well as what constituted “public” scholarship. This tool facilitated a number of informative discussions, as well as allowing us to compare and see differences between our projects. Through developing these maps, analysing the discussions and literatures on public geographies, we hope to engage with what it might mean to “do public geography” or “make geography public”. Consequently, we hope that this tool can be used as a way of engaging with thinking about publics from the start of a research project, rather than after a project has already happened.

Figure 2

Figure 2: The map

Following these analyses and debates a key difference that we identified was when the idea of a public was conceived of in a project. In this sense, there is a distinction between “doing public geography” and “making scholarship public”: each conceives of a different time when engagements take place. The temporality of engaging in public highlights a different imagination of engagement, either as something outside of the research process or as a part of shaping and creating it from within. This demonstrates a different role for the public, either as key to the production of knowledge in a space, or as separate actors with which knowledge will be shared. This difference in conception of what a public is highlights very different approaches to research and engagement, either as from within the academy onto an audience, or as part of co-creating knowledge within communities. Therefore, the use of the same term for these different movements is confusing. This initial difference sparked numerous debates and explorations at the IGJ that we elaborate through this intervention. Particularly, how these different uses of public have been articulated within neoliberal research frameworks, as opposed to as strategies of engaging in research and activism, and how consensus around the idea of a general public might be produced, as opposed to how we can create an iterative and connected understanding of general public and activism.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Mapping structure with projects indicated by colour

Next – (1) Neoliberalizing and counter-neoliberalizing forms of publicness

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