Bridging the Gap: Integrating Critical Human and Physical Geography in Practice

Friday, March 10, 2017
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Rebecca Lave, Indiana University

The relationship (or lack thereof) between physical and human geography is a longstanding discussion within the field of geography. Rather than debate the possibility/desirability such integration, Dr. Lave argues that there is already a strong and growing body of work that draws together critical human and physical geography in an emerging field: critical physical geography. Individually or in teams, critical physical geographers are bridging the gap, combining insights from geomorphology, ecology, and biogeography with approaches from political ecology, science and technology studies, and environmental history. The key characteristics that unify this work are according careful attention to 1) biophysical landscapes and the power relations that have increasingly come to shape them, and 2) the politics of environmental science and the role of biophysical inquiry in promoting social and environmental justice. The “critical” in critical physical geography thus refers not only to deep concerns with social and environmental justice, but also to reflexive engagement with the politics of knowledge production. By way of illustration, Dr. Lave presents the results of a critical physical geography study of market-based environmental management in the US, drawing on social science data from document analysis and interviews and natural science data from geomorphic fieldwork conducted from 2010 through 2013. She argues that while the fluvial landscape bears a surprisingly clear signature of environmental policy, the development of ecosystem service markets in “stream credits” has different and far less dire consequences than could be expected.

Rebecca Lave is an Associate Professor in Geography at Indiana University. Her research takes a critical physical geography approach, combining political economy, STS, and fluvial geomorphology to focus on the construction of scientific expertise, the privatization of science, and market-based environmental management.