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A concept, a sign system and an order of knowledge established at the centres of power
2009-02-05 10:41:44 - by Nicolas Malevé

«When I speak of geography I do not mean the materials we all studied at
school about land masses and cloud formations and climactic zones and
flora and fauna. Nor am I speaking about demographics and national
formations and geo-political resources. Instead I am contemplating the
possibility of rethinking the relations between subjects and places way
from the organising principles of the law; the law of the state that
controls privileged inclusions and desperate exclusions, or the cultural
law of naturalised and essentialised heritages that assume that a place
called France for example , is inhabited by French people who share a
language, a historical culture, a shared set of assumptions and attitudes.
What if a large part of the population is Francophone by coercion, if its
lives out its life in France, in French but also in resistance and in
resentment, if its complex allegiances are elsewhere and its presence in
France is a legacy of colonial histories and of contemporary economic
imperatives. - Could the map of that internally split entity still be
called by the overly simple term of ’France’, still be coloured a uniform
pink or yellow of whatever colour it is the atlas, a colour that would
over-ride all of the contradictory internal differences of which it is
made up?

To speak of Geography in relation to issues of cultural difference, is to
steer clear of identity politics, to navigate away from the internal
coherence of groups with an already established identity ’in common’. In
this form of politics known as identity politics the preoccupation is to
populate existing models of knowledge with a broader range of subjects. It
is to bring difference, whether sexual or cultural, into the existing
paradigms and expand their populations. For me, a far more important
project is to try and actually think difference; different modes of
knowing rather than different subjects within known modes. Geography thus
is a way of speaking cultural difference, a way of acknowledging that all
difference is always epistemologically embedded and subject to regimes
rather than simply subjugated to dominant powers.

It is made manifest in
the world through sign systems that include cartography, border marking,
landscape stereotypes, national cultures and many others. The
intersections between ’geographies’ as articulated through sign systems
and arts practices circulating as visual culture who might just have some
chance of rewriting these systems, is the heart of the subject I am trying
to produce here.

Geography is at one and the same time a concept, a sign system and an
order of knowledge established at the centres of power. By introducing
questions of critical epistemology, subjectivity and spectatorship into
the arena of geography we shift the interrogation from the centres of
power and knowledge and naming to the margins, to the site at which new
and multi dimensional knowledge and identities are constantly in the
process of being formed.»

Quote from Engendering Terror by Irit Rogoff.