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Colloquium – Rebecca Lave
October 9, 2015 @ 3:35 pm - 5:00 pm
Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Indiana University
Integrating critical human and physical geography in practice
The relationship (or lack thereof) between physical and human geography is a longstanding discussion within our field. Some commentators assume the possibility of synthesis and call for integrated work; others assume no deep integration is possible or desirable. But even a brief review of the literature on this topic makes two points glaringly clear: this discussion has been going on for a long, long time and, given its regular reoccurrence, it would seem we have little to show for it. Rather than debate the possibility/desirability such integration, I argue here that there is already a strong and growing body of work that draws together critical human and physical geography in an emerging field: critical physical geography. Individually or in teams, critical physical geographers are bridging the gap, combining insights from geomorphology, ecology, and biogeography with approaches from political ecology, science and technology studies, and environmental history. The key characteristics that unify this work are according careful attention to 1) biophysical landscapes and the power relations that have increasingly come to shape them, and 2) the politics of environmental science and the role of biophysical inquiry in promoting social and environmental justice. The “critical” in critical physical geography thus refers not only to deep concerns with social and environmental justice, but also to reflexive engagement with the politics of knowledge production. By way of illustration, I present the results of a critical physical geography study of market-based environmental management in the US that I conducted with Martin Doyle (Duke), and Morgan Robertson (U Wisconsin). Drawing on social science data from document analysis and interviews and natural science data from geomorphic fieldwork conducted from 2010 through 2013, I argue that while the fluvial landscape bears a surprisingly clear signature of environmental policy, the development of ecosystem service markets in “stream credits” has different and far less dire consequences than could be expected.