Editorial: Changing Perceptions

By Lambert, David | Geography, Autumn 2016 | Go to article overview

Editorial: Changing Perceptions


Lambert, David, Geography


Welcome to this, the first post-Brexit issue of Geography. The result of the referendum on 23 June on whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union was carried by 'Leave' (by 52% against 48% of votes cast). The geographical significance of this is potentially enormous. Potentially, because - despite the apparent finality of the opening sentence, and the assurance of Prime Minister Theresa May (a geography graduate: Oxford, 1977) that 'Brexit means Brexit' - the UK has not yet left the EU. If it does happen, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has stated that Brexit does not mean Britain leaving Europe in 'any way, shape or form'; what it does mean is far from clear.

The potential is for Brexit to change the map of Europe significantly. It is possible that the UK will leave the EU entirely, withdrawing from the single market and the provision for the free movement of people (the two go hand-in-hand). It is possible that, somehow, the negotiated exit terms for Scotland and Northern Ireland are different from those for England and Wales - a price to be paid for keeping the UK together. It is possible that nationalistic sentiments across the EU are emboldened by Brexit, further referendums take place and the EU begins to fall apart. Thereby, the ambitious post-War intentions of European nations sharing some degree of sovereignty in order to avoid open conflict and mutually-assured destruction would be undermined.

Geographically we live in interesting times. And geographical perspectives are more than a little useful when it comes to explaining the referendum result, let alone trying to pick a way through the possible outcomes of this momentous decision. It was intriguing for instance that when Mr Johnson was leading the 'Leave' campaign he opined that - in response to words of caution from President Obama - the USA would never dream of joining something like the EU. To compare the UK to the US, as if they were equivalent, was misleading - whether we look at spatial extent, size of population or political structure. With regard to the latter, it is perhaps part of the brilliance of the USA that a federal structure has enabled people from California to Maine, from Louisiana to Wyoming to share sovereignty with Washington DC - distances in physical, climatic, economic and cultural terms as stark as those between Scotland and Greece or Poland and Portugal. The Editorial Collective of Geography will endeavour in the coming months to publish articles that address these matters more fully. Following the point made by Nick Clifford (2016) in the last Geography Editorial, an 'ascendant geography' (a view of the discipline we certainly wish to promote) should not only attach itself to the nexus of food, water and energy security, the age of Big Data and the 'fourth industrial revolution', but address changing political geographies on a variety of scales - including that of the nation state.

Geographically, we always live in interesting times! In this issue we are very pleased to include Martin Evans's Reflections on the changes to A levels (as the first of two Spotlight on... articles); changes that have been influenced by the wider discipline to an extent not seen for a generation (a responsibility taken on by ALCAB, which Martin chaired). These changes are highly significant: for example, in relation to the final point in the previous paragraph, 'Global governance' (GA, 2015) is now an aspect that all A level geography students will study, a requirement that could easily be read as an example of geography's ascendancy as a discipline. More generally, there is renewed emphasis on students being able to demonstrate critical thinking (and writing). One aspect of this, with which the Editorial Collective believes Geography can help teachers, is to induct students into critical reading. Part of this, we argue, is beginning to read articles that may have contentious lines of argument and which use citations and references in order to support or acknowledge sources and ideas. …

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