Reading for difference in the archives of Tropical Geography: Imagining an(other) Economic Geography for beyond the Anthropocene

J.K. Gibson-Graham

This paper is based on the 2016 Neil Smith lecture presented at St Andrews University. It honours the work of a geographer whose pioneering work on uneven development and the complex relations between capitalism and nature shaped late 20th century thinking inside and beyond the discipline of Geography. Today the collision of earth system dynamics with socio-economic dynamics is shaking apart Enlightenment knowledge systems, forcing questions of what it means to be a responsible inhabitant on planet earth and how, indeed, to go onwards ‘in a different mode of humanity’ (to quote eco-feminist philosopher Val Plumwood). ‘The Great Acceleration’ since the 1950s of trends in key aspects of earth system health and socio-economic change highlights powerful dynamics that have shaped a new geological epoch, contentiously named the Anthropocene—or more perhaps to Neil’s liking, the Capitalocene. In this paper I ask how might we do geographic research in these times? I reflect on this question by drawing on the feminist anti-essentialist thinking strategy of reading for difference developed by J.K. Gibson-Graham.  I attempt to open up new ways of working with uncertain possibilities. I do so with reference to field research into place-based knowledges of resilience in Monsoon Asia—a region that is experiencing increasingly uncertain and extreme ‘natural’ events that signal Anthropogenic climate change. I return to ‘area studies’ scholarship of Monsoon Asia conducted in the 1950s when the engines of economic change were starting to rev, fuelled by dire predictions of population explosion and the fear of communism. Like Neil, I am interested in the genealogy of geographical scholarship and the institutional contexts in which it developed and was influential. I look back to see how local knowledge was described and appreciated by two of our geographic forefathers and I consider how reading against the grain of capitalocentrism might play a role in making other worlds possible.

This article is freely accessible from the publisher's website.

Suggested citation

J.K. Gibson-Graham, 2020 “Reading for difference in the archives of Tropical Geography: Imagining an(other) Economic Geography for beyond the Anthropocene” The 2016 Neil Smith Lecture, Antipode 52, 1: 12-35.