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Why you should do Cultural Geography

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Flowers planted in used tear gas grenades form a memorial garden on the spot where, in a 2009 demonstration in the West Bank village of Bil'in, Bassem Abu Rahme was shot and killed with a high-velocity tear gas grenade fired by Israeli soldiers, Bil'in, West Bank, October 4, 2013. The grenades are left over from clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians during the weekly protest in Bil'in.

Flowers planted in used tear gas grenades form a memorial garden in the West Bank village of Bil’in, source here

With 2016 finally behind us, many of the New Year’s resolutions have been to roll up our sleeves and get to work protesting the perceived injustices of more intense neoliberalism, creeping fascism, growing wealth and income inequalities, and further environmental degradation. Resistance to these large-scale ideological movements is in many, many forms; for example taking to the streets post-Trump’s election, the massive demonstrations in Seoul, industrial action from junior doctors and other public sector workers, organised campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, and a multitude of anti-gentrification campaigns; and these are just the few that have held my attention over the last 12 months or so – there are many, many more.

Resistance can be far more localised and personal, indeed many of the larger scale movements are held together by the constant enactments of ‘smaller’ acts of subversion within everyday life. This is because ideological injustices are themselves vying for the ‘everyday’. The slow erosion of community cohesion in favour of private living, the increasing codification and marketization of local public services; social relationships being boiled down to how many online friends you have and how many likes you can get; there are many ways in which the pressures of contemporary political economic life are attempting to affect the everyday functioning of society.

Therefore, the coming years will be the battle for the ‘everyday’. If large-scale injustices are to be countered, then we need to understand how, where and why they happen, in, through and because of everyday life.

Cultural geography, as a discipline, has seen different themes come and go over the years, but one thing that has always anchored it, has been it’s focus on the everyday. Moreover, its themes and methodological weaponry are fine tuned to analysing the deep workings of everyday activities. If the coming years are going to be about ‘rolling up our sleeves’ and countering injustices, then cultural geography will be a vitally important analytical discipline to explore.

At Royal Holloway, the MA in Cultural Geography (Research) has been running successfully for over 20 years, and it has produced some the finest geographers working today. But more than that, it has given students the tools to explore the complexities, nuance and yes, even the beauty of everyday life. Cultural geography, I believe, will an important discipline in the years to come as it connects and speaks to wider social sciences and the academy as a whole. It will be a critical tool for societal change. As the new course director I handle all the applications – email me if you’re interested in applying.

So if you’re looking to change the world, do cultural geography.

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Author: Oli

Human Geographer at Royal Holloway, University of London

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