A geography of big things
The journal Cultural Geographies, and its predecessor Ecumene, has provided flagship scholarship in cultural geography for over a decade. Cultural Geographies has played this part in a period that has witnessed both unprecedented enthusiasm for the (now not so new) cultural turn, and an emergent scepticism around what cultural geography has come to stand for, and specifically its apparent over- emphasis on representation. As Catherine Nash and I have observed elsewhere, this new scepticism is evident in a range of cultural geographical writings. For example, the recent Handbook of Cultural Geography, itself an exemplary account of the vital contribution of cultural geography to the discipline, opens with a picture of a tomb with the epitaph ‘Here Lies Cultural Geography, Born 1925, Died 2002. In Loving Memory’. There could be no clearer expression of the peculiar combination of commitment to and disenchantment with the concept of culture in contemporary geography. It is not the only death wish that cultural geography has had to endure recently. Don Mitchell concludes his review of Mike Crang’s Cultural Geography with the following epitaph: ‘Despite a brief and brilliant beginning, in the end, it never amounted to much’. A mere decade ago cultural geography was seen as an analytic frame that could promise not only a productive, but also a necessary, reshaping of geographical scholarship. Now it seems we can’t decide if we want this sub-field to be dead or alive! This paper is not a defence of cultural geography per se, nor even an attempt to police the ways in which we might use the term ‘culture’ in our geographies, although that has been one evident response to the confusion over the value of cultural geographical approaches. It does, however, have something to say about things being alive or dead – and it does presume that the approach taken, in significant and worthy ways, is indebted at least in part to the vital novelty bequeathed by a sub-disciplinary field known as ‘cultural geography’. Not least, the paper’s focus on building technology and building practises self-consciously resuscitates and extends a theme common to cultural geographical scholarship, old and new.