[Iag-list] Actionable and Policy-Relevant Geography

BRUCE RYAN cincinnati5 at bigpond.com
Thu Feb 9 11:55:11 AEDT 2017

February 9, 2017

Here is the text of a comment I sent to the Iag-list on February 6. I’d be very grateful if you would circulate it to those on the Iag-list.

Why it has not been circulated already I don’t know. Perhaps I addressed the original submission incorrectly. Perhaps the heatwave has knocked out South Australia’s power supplies. Perhaps an anonymous editor decided it was too scurrilous to broadcast, and quietly deleted it.

So I try again. Please let me know if it is still unacceptable, so that I can circulate it privately to some fellow geographers. 

With many thanks for your trouble.   Bruce Ryan (Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Cincinnati, USA; FIAG).


From: Bruce Ryan [cincinnati5 at bigpond.com <mailto:cincinnati5 at bigpond.com>]
Sent: Thursday, February 9, 2017; 11:55 AM
Actionable and Policy-Relevant Geography


Bravo, Brendan Whyte, for drawing our attention to politically-motivated research restrictions in the United States! [IAG-list, 3 February 2017]


If an American database of geospatial information can be crippled by science-averse politicians, such data can also be blocked here in Australia. As Brendan suggests, Australian geographers should join their American colleagues in opposing any such restraints.


Here in Australia, some useful lessons might be learned from the proactive approach taken by the American Association of Geographers. The AAG now has a “policy office.” It monitors and updates members on issues that affect geography. It works in concert with similar organizations to support and promote science and academic freedom. It has already supported geographers affected by President Trump’s travel ban, and issued a related statement on Trump’s Executive Order. As Brendan notes, it has already responded to U.S. Senate Bill 103.


Another advocate of more policy involvement is AAG President Glen M. MacDonald (see “Creating and Preserving Actionable and Policy-Relevant Geography,” AAG Newsletter, February 2017). He deplores how geographers are “sometimes accused of being removed and aloof from the issues of the real world” with their research denigrated “as being of purely scholarly interest.”


Does the IAG already have its own kind of “policy office?” Is there a committee of concerned specialists—vigilantes assigned to maintain a watching brief on looming threats to environment and society (like the Wentworth Group)? Why not alert members to gathering storms through the IAG list?


Three benefits might accrue from such a clearinghouse. First, collaborative engagement would be facilitated. Second, students looking for a socially useful thesis topic might find one here. Third, we prescient Geographer-Dinosaurs (aka retirees) might identify policy issues that are beyond our capacities to pursue, but nonetheless warrant publicity. Fully-tenured retirees can afford to be whistle-blowers, whereas younger geographers still need to cover their backsides.


Several recent political conflicts have merited such scrutiny by geographers. In New South Wales, the cavalier attempt to amalgamate local government councils has a very geographical base (see J. Macdonald Holmes, The Geographical Basis of Government, 1944). So has the selling off of such choice public assets as open space and heritage buildings. Surely the bipolar reconfiguration of metropolitan Sydney also deserves some concerted geographical input.


Like the Americans, we endure our own data constraints. The dubious KPMG statistics that supposedly supported council amalgamations have never been made public. Transparency be damned! Taxpayers have every right to access data for which they have paid. Then there is the egregious privatisation of the land registry office in New South Wales. Geographers should join the lawyers and historians in opposing this blatantly commercial initiative. Surely the ownership, value, and use of land are absolutely crucial ingredients of geographical research.


Bravo, Brendan! 

5 Minnamurra Street
Kiama, NSW 2533
Phone 61+2+4233 1525

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