Radical Geography and its Critical Standpoints: Embracing the Normative

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Abstract:

Abstract: 

This paper throws down a challenge to radical geography and invites a selection of leading geographers to respond. It proposes that radical or critical geography cannot escape normative foundations in terms of some conception of the human good or flourishing, and that this is not necessarily at odds with the descriptive and explanatory aims of social science. Various attempts to define and justify critical thought without such a conception are shown to be deficient, and incapable of distinguishing oppression from well-being. Objections that such a project will be subjective, ethnocentric, essentialist and implicitly authoritarian are discussed and rejected. Normative thinking needs to go beyond liberal concern with freedom, to address what Sen and Nussbaum term “capabilities”—the range of things people need to be able to have and do to flourish. The power of this kind of normative thinking is illustrated by reference to examples from development studies. The paper concludes with some basic questions for radical geographers.

Keywords: capabilities; critique; development human flourishing; normativity

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00661.x

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK;, Email: elizabeth.olson@ed.ac.uk 2: Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK;, Email: a.sayer@lancaster.ac.uk

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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