So here it is: Topograph. Meaning literally 'writing place', the name appealed to us immediately. It at once captured our shared love of travel, landscape, relief, and exploration, and also our fascination with the ambiguity of spatial relationships and identities. This raised some key questions. Are we concerned only with maps and physical landscapes, or can we talk of a topography of an object or an idea? Is 'writing place' a verb – concerning the construction of place – or is it a noun – a place for us to write? The former suggests dynamic and ongoing processes of creation, implying that place is forever in a state of becoming, with potential for slippage or changes in meanings and implied images. But this blog is also – much more literally – a place for us to write: to express our thoughts, try out new ideas, to interact with others.
We are both geographers, although our interests have to some extent taken us beyond our disciplinary homeland as traditionally defined. Our sensibilities nonetheless remain deeply spatial. Even when the phenomena which we describe have few obvious spatial coordinates (knowledge, for instance), we remain committed to a relational ontology of emergent objects, practices and ideas whose meanings arise – or are constructed – through their proximities and their place in ever-evolving networks and assemblages. Put simply, we believe in the situatedness of things: in culture, in politics, in space.
As a consequence of this situatedness of things, the global reach or ambitions of certain knowledges and practices – mainly those which identify with the label ‘science’ – must be achieved through some exercise of power, rather than any innate universal applicability. We are thus interested in how knowledge is performed; both through its expansive reaching-out from the sites of its construction, and through the epistemic construction of different forms of space – territory, landscape, place, institution. In turn, we seek to question how these spaces inflect knowledge with partiality and cultural specificity.
If place is conceived as being in a constant state of becoming – rather than a mere point on a map or a passive backdrop for social action – we can begin to see how places and knowledges are so inextricably interlinked. Knowledge-making enacts dialogic relationships with often disparate objects and subjects: such is the joy and creativity of writing. Places are made – they become – when disparate entities, on their own unique trajectories, meet, clash and combine. Writings and places are thus united in their constitution by confluence and convergence, and this blog will seek to play with these affinities.
This blog is a place for stitching together thoughts and seeking new patterns, and in doing this it will seek to describe and connect with different places. As academic writers we are compelled to reflect on this relationality; on our own roles and responsibilities in the writing of ‘other’ spaces and places. In describing emergent epistemic landscapes, we are committed to reflection on the performative aspects of our own knowledge, and to thinking reflexively about our own epistemic practices as we contemplate those of others.
Our substantive agenda or purpose in these blog posts will therefore be to explore the production, contestation and transformation of different knowledges – whether those processes occur in formal scientific bodies or through spontaneous civil society mobilisations and epistemic controversies. Alongside this we will seek to investigate and critique the roles played by these different forms of knowledge and other actors in representative and deliberative modes of environmental governance, with reference to that other fascination of the geographer: humanity’s interactions with the natural objects of its environment. Finally, we will seek to fulfil an imperative to critically reflect on our own role as academics, operating as actors within – rather than outside of – the epistemic landscapes we seek to study.
More pragmatically we have created this blog in part to help to
raise our own academic profiles, in an environment where the worth of social
scientific research is increasingly called into question. As an increasing
array of different actors are enrolled in processes of knowledge-making within
the academy and beyond, we would also like to imagine that this blog can go
some way towards transporting our research and ideas (and the ideas of others)
beyond the exclusive conventional outlets for scholarly research. Far from the
image of a know-all academic imparting his or her comprehensive and perfect
knowledge to the masses, we view the writing of this blog as a chance to try
out different ideas and styles: to offer different opinions and views, which
will always be conditional, partial and subject to improvement and change.
Writing is itself a cognitive process, helping us to crystallise our
thoughts, but also to reflect on them and to learn something new.
We hope you enjoy reading this blog as it emerges. We also look forward to seeing how it evolves and grows not only with time, but with the input and feedback of others.