Derek Jones
Aug 30, 2014 · 6 min read

Sessions 1 and 2 on Friday at #RGSIBG14 were on Ecosophical Geographies ☺.

That’s the philosophy of ecology.


Before we start, I had not come across Ecosophical Geography before. Or (it turns out) modern Geography either. So I will use some terms ‘incorrectly’ — I don’t have the background here. (But one thing I learned from this conference is that that’s ok: it’s A Very Good Thing to be humbly open about your perceived extents of knowledge.)

There was a bit of a sense that we shared a conception — an idea at the two sessions. Perhaps even a new or slightly new take on an idea.

Here’s a quick bit of text-straight-from-the-head on what this space of thinking might be:

1 Firstly, we recognised the lack of language we all have in trying to do several things, namely: transfer concepts; discuss concepts; articulate concepts in existing domains and modes; create and find new domain/modes arising from the concepts directly. The main point for this text is that I will undoubtedly use language poorly in places here — I am a product of my context !

“Beyond embodiment — New languages and forms of discussion required to enable new understandings and realities.” (Shaw, session 330, #rgsibg2014)

2 And that’s another point perhaps — we are ‘products’ of our contexts. Tony Brauer posited an interesting definition of agency as a summation of our relations in contexts — not as something that derives from the ‘self’. This leads us straight into one of the BIG ones (for me — apologies for bias) — that of the ‘self’:

“Agency is practically located as inherent in an interdependent, co-created space” (Yates, session 330, #rgsibg2014)

3 Many of the speakers skirted around the notion of embodiment, recognising the difficulties in trying to get some conceptual or even epistemological grip on the topic. This point is difficult to explicate since we genuinely do lack the language to do this — how on earth do we separate ‘I’ or ‘we’ from discussion? (By even separating it, have we actually created another duality?). Another point made by Carlin reinforces this “That language arises from our understanding of the world” but this then has to go full circle and feed back into understandings and epistemologies. Just as the world informs our language, so our language then informs the world — in fact, if it is genuinely embodied, it is cannot be separated like this and I would love to see that properly looked into (perhaps like spatial understandings of concepts ala Lakoff and Johnson?).

“We are always trying to work our ways out of these dualisms” (Carlin, session 330)

4 The gender thing was interesting — an entirely male panel arising from entirely male submissions to the call. Is it a male thing to want to theorise at this level? Or, could we ask is it a bearded thing? Or thick-rimmed glasses thing? This is in no way a trite comment — I suspect that this (out of all the points here) might turn out to be the most interesting and forward thinking. If we are considering genuine embodiment, how might gender and the deep literature on that subject inform notions of embodiment in wider contexts? Perhaps many of these questions have already been asked or explored? But starting form our bodies and the unique intra-relationship between

5 The topic of practice came up time and again at different scales and relations. The academic practice of ‘this’ compared to the ‘normal’ practice of it (what ’this’ is has not yet been defined, btw…). Interestingly, a point made by one of the audience (sorry — I didn’t pick up your name! Please get in touch if you see this…) was wonderfully made — this difference is perhaps simply another construction we have made. Imagine a genuinely embodied epistemology. It needs no further intellectualisation other than the mode within which it exists — its ontology IS its epistemology(!). Bottom line is that it’s not necessarily a negative thing — in fact it might be perfectly positive.

6 Temporality is important here at several scales — we are temporal beings and this perhaps does lead us into contradictions of embodiment (we see things happen in ‘order’ — one thing after another or leading to another. Embodiment doesn’t really like one thing leading to another…). But there are many other constructions of reality that we have to consider if we are going down the embodied route. Firstly, our idea of the world matters more than the real world (yes, if you get hit by a bus you get hit by a bus. But why did you get hit by a bus in the first place? Mind *elsewhere*? Cough cough). Secondly, the temporality of our constructed ideas and memories is REALLY not what you think it is — it is very far from being linear (to the point of it being a constant reconstruction with associated noise…).

7 Design and design thinking research has a lot in common with so much of this — particularly in terms of approach and attitude, which newer theorists of design promote over problem/solution centred practices. For me, design is a conceptual gestalt — an attitude that only achieves solutions by accident or agreement and that these are very often only apparent long after the ‘designer’ has left. I saw a lot of similarities to the permaculture stuff introduced by Gerald Aiken — might be some interesting overlaps and exploration there in terms of design ecologies…

8 A few quick shout outs to some other points: Loved the notion of “shocking people into doing meditation” (ala Situationist urban theatre :D); Mindfulness, observation taking time in space all came up as methods/attitudes/approaches (whether they are through meditation, walking, thinking, doing, being, etc);

The big question for me is what the extended implications of embodied cognition might be? The spatial, affective, social, or political implications? I am not aware of anyone really looking into this from the unique perspective(s) of open-ended geographical enquiry…


So I am going to be exceptionally bold on this one and suggest a new sub-discipline (or whatever) that explicitly starts with embodied cognition and explores the boundary and nature of that embodiment along spatial and temporal dimensions and scales (the ecology of embodiment).

Even if that boundary is argued to be the physical limit of the body, the wealth of literature, methods and epistemologies on identity, self, body, etc in geography has an incredible value here. If the boundary might be said to exist beyond the body then a whole further ecology of econo-philoso-socio-politico-etc-geography might be utilised.

In particular that the embodiment itself might be a form of epistemology and ontology at one and the same time (perhaps this is the ‘epiphany’ here?). That if our thinking (epistemology) is embodied, it is actually very real (ontological) in some sense — ok, that’s for very liberal values of ontology and epistemology but that might be the other beautiful pragmatic opportunity here (keep that light and see what happens)?

The ‘easy’ tie here is between embodied cognitive neuroscience / AI research / psychology / linguistics / etc that are already asking ‘what are the consequences of embodiment for our discipline?’

Definitely time for geographical sub-disciplines to do the same thing?

Even better if there might be created some slightly new way of seeing from all of this that is elicited from the unique socio-spatio-temporal nature f the subject itself — perhaps we saw a glimpse of it on Friday 29 August 2014…


    Derek Jones

    Written by

    Lecturer in Design at The Open University and architect. Into ideas, creativity and things thinky. Views are not my own — dunno where they come from…

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