Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Critical Geographies of Jerusalem and Palestine

Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Critical Geographies of Jerusalem and Palestine

Article excerpt

Unorthodox Geography: Critical Geographies of Jerusalem and Palestine

Few matters engender more attention in Palestine than geography. As an intellectual pursuit, geography has been understood as the study of the features of the Earth’s surface. As a practical subject, it is traditionally understood as the material landscape upon which human activity takes place. Like those in other academic fields, geographers produced knowledge - including descriptions, maps, and surveys - in the service of modern colonial projects. And for many people, alas, “geography” merely evokes an unpleasant secondary school subject.

Yet the academic discipline of geography has been experiencing a rebirth as a field of sharp critical inquiry. Spared a rigid emphasis on canonical texts, geography departments in many countries have become hubs of unorthodox thinking, working to rethink the relation of society and space. Especially in areas like visualization (including but not limited to maps) and human-environment relations, geographers and others are pioneering new political, environmental, and economic horizons of analysis. Powered by a heterogeneous understanding of space, scholars working in what has come to be called “critical geography” consider social and environmental relations through coproduction of space and time. In this way, critical geographers understand power to be produced and performed through, rather than on, space.

A critical notion of geography as an uneven field of power has clear implications for understanding of Palestine. Although not necessarily associated with academic geography, I argue that both Edward W. Said and Mahmoud Darwish differently examined Palestine with a critical geographical lens. Said sought to upend Palestine as a continuous, static space, drawing from Antonio Gramsci’s notion that territory is productive of social formations rather simply the their stage. Emerging from another trajectory, Darwish remade Palestinian time-spaces of displacement and ruin, rejecting the now-predictable geographical frames of thought, present or past. More recently, younger generations of researchers have followed in the traditions of Said and Darwish, producing original examinations of Palestinian spatiality.

In this context, 2015 brought an important surge in critical geography work on, and in, Palestine. The Seventh International Conference on Critical Geography, “Precarious Radicalism on Shifting Grounds: Towards a Politics of Possibility,” was brought to Ramallah in the summer of 2015 by an innovative group of young geographers. …

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