I can’t claim to be an expert here, but there’s been some fascinating blogging by geographers and others on the conflict in Gaza over the past few days.
Firstly, Derek Gregory posted a great analysis of the conflict yesterday, whilst Craig Jones has been posting regular updates on his War, Law & Space blog. The links in the articles lead to a treasure trove of ideas, and also show the relevance of geography to real world situations as they are unfolding.
They’re also evidence of the commitment of some academics to engage and discuss ideas outside the traditional boundaries of ‘the academy’. The seminar I attended yesterday on the violence of housing organised by the good people of Sociology here in Liverpool Uni (see my previous post here) was interesting as some of the residents who have had their lives ripped apart by the Housing Market Renewal Initiative were critical of the role & limitations of academics. To some of the residents, by inhabiting the world of planning and academic jargon, the University was just as confusing and unreachable as the planning system. The lack of translation of specialist legal and academic terms into something understandable by ‘the public’ created a distinct boundary between them (the experts) and us (the victims of HMRI).
Whilst I’m not saying this view is representative of everyone who was at the seminar, it does expose a number of tensions about how ‘visible’ our research is (especially, in the UK context, with the rise of research being measured in terms of its ‘Impact’). To some of the residents yesterday, academic knowledge had little relevance to them, as terms such as ‘gentrification’ occlude and obscure the violence that has been inflicted on them and broken up some very real communities.
One part of me thought how much we will miss Neil Smith, whose work on issues of urban regeneration is still so prescient, whilst another part of me thought that if some of these residents had read some of the blogs that I mention above, maybe they would have a different idea about how academics can write in powerful, approachable ways about processes that are tearing communities apart in incredibly violent ways. However, it’s also no consolation to know that academics can write effectively and contribute to public debate when it’s your community that has been demolished – whether by an HMRI scheme, or by a missile.